Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lugosi takes a turn as hero in 'The Invisible Ray'

The Invisible Ray (1936)
Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Frances Drake
Director: Lambert Hillyer
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Scientific genius Janos Rukh (Karloff) discovers an amazing new radioactive element, but accidentially becomes poisoned by it. His equally bright collegue Dr. Benet (Lugosi) devises a serum that surpresses the deadly effects, but the chemicals and radioactivity drive the already mentally unstable Rukh over the edge, and he soon starts using his new radioactive powers to kill everyone he feels as wronged him. Will the kindly Benet and the police stop manage to stop Rukh's murderous rampage in time to save Rukh's ex-wife (Drake)?

"The Invisible Ray" has all the makings of a cool little Science Gone Mad film (complete with Karloff delivering the "they called me mad" speech!), but it is sabotaged by pedestrian direction, some of the tinniest dialogue ever put on film, and a too slow build-up before the killings start. Throughout the film, I saw glimmers of what it COULD have been if someone had written decent dialogue for the actors to deliver, but as "The Invisible Ray" currently exists, it's not until the action move to Paris and Rukh goes on his mad rampage that the film becomes entertaining. (There's enough going on at that point that the bad dialogue is no longer such an irritant.)

I think the only reason to watch the movie is for seeing Lugosi play a role that's almost entirely unlike any other part he's played; everyone else appearing doesn't really deliver performances that are noteworthy for being good or bad... they're just in the movie. Lugosi, however, is not only the film's indisputable hero (even if Dr. Benet is just about Rukh's equal when it comes to Mad Science... but he uses the WonderTech and crazy discoveries for good!), but he gives a more-restrained-than-usual performance that lets us see why he was such a respected stage actor. It's another one of those those pictures that makes it easy to understand why Boris Karloff described Lugosi as "Poor Bela" in interviews following Lugosi's death. It's another Lugosi film that gives a glimpse at what moviedom lost because Universal management treated him like a throw-away bit player and because Lugosi managed his overall film career badly.

(Oh... I don't usually do much trivia in this forum, but there is an amusing bit of stock footage in the film. The scene where Janos lowers himself into the meteor crater in protective gear was taken from the matinee serial "The Phantom Creeps". It is actually Bela Lugosi wearing the suit.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mad science creates a four-sided love triangle

Four Sided Triangle (aka The Monster and the Woman) (1954)
Starring: Barbara Payton, Stephen Murray, James Hayter, and John Van Eyssen
Director: Terence Fisher
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Robin and Bill (Murray and Van Eyssen) are childhood friends who both grow up to be scientific genuises. Together, they create a device capable of replicating any object, no matter how complex, including living beings. When Robin marries Lena (Payton), a girl they've both loved since childhood, Bill is dispondant. However, with the help of Lena and his mentor Dr. Harvey (Hayter), he uses the Replicator to create an exact copy of Lena. It perhaps goes without saying, but things don't work out as Bill and his friends expect.

"Four Sided Triangle" is a Frankenstein-type story with a twist, and a higher-than-average number of morals-, ethics-, and compassion-challenged characters. That Bill, obsessed as he is with having a relationship with Lena, would want to make a copy of her is understandable. That his supposedly intelligent friends wouldn't understand the signifcance of what they are taking part in is a huge flaw in the film. They aren't creating something from nothing--they are creating a full-fledged, exact copy of Lena... who loves Robin, not Bill, and who doesn't want to be Bill's slave.

Maybe the issues of the film are clearer to me than most, because it's something that have been a recurring theme in my long-running "Star Wars" RPG campaign, or maybe my perspective is different from that of people in the 1950s, but I am amazed that none of the characters saw what their actions would lead to, and I am slightly appalled at the actions (or rather, the inaction) on the part of some of the characters when Bill sets about to reshape the Lena copy's mind to fit his desires.

Like all Fisher-directed movies, the film is great to look at. It takes full advantage of the black-and-white medium. The actors also give excellent performances. Unfortunately, the film is too ponderous and slow-moving to be really entertaining... even if you aren't as outraged at the behavoir and attitudes of some of the characters as I was.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lugosi is wasted in this so-so comedy

One Body Too Many (1944)
Starring: Jack Haley, Jean Parker, Bernard Nedell, Bela Lugosi, Lyle Talbot, and Lucien Littlefield
Director: Frank McDonald
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Insurance salesman Albert Tuttle (Haley) arrives to sell a millionaire life insurance, only to find that his customer is already deceased and his greedy family members are at his house to fulfill the terms of his unusual will. Albert's night goes from bad to worse when he is recruited to help watch the body (which is laying in state in the house until construction on a special crypt is finished), as the estate's executor (Nedell) fears the some of the relatives may try to circumvent the terms of the will. And can anything more happen once Albert is attacked and the body is stolen? Well, there's always murder....

"One Body Too Many" is a film that history has passed by. It's a straight-up spoof of "the dark old house" mystery subgenre that flourished in the 1930s and early 1940s. That genre so long out of favor that it is barely remembered (although several horror movies in recent years have incorporated elements of the genre, with "See No Evil" being perhaps the most prominent of them), and much of its humor is therefore somewhat muted to the modern viewer. Although, those who remember the "Scooby-Doo" cartoons are familiar with the standard elements of the genre, as bioth "Scooby-Doo" and this film features (and pokes fun) at all them, such as the setting of a gothic mansion that is honey-combed with bad electrical wiring and secret passages, full of creepy servants, crooked relatives, andshadowy killers, and beset by rain and thunderstorms that come and go depending on the needs of the plot.

The film features a solid cast and decent sets, even if the rooftop observatory left a lot to be desired. Jack Haley, as the hapless Albert Tuttle, brings about many chuckles, and he does a fine turn as the start of this comedy. Despite the fact that Bela Lugosi's name and face are huuuge on the DVD case of this film, his part is rather small. Further, while he and Haley play off each other in one of the film's funniest exchanges--where Lugosi, playing Murkil the butler, has to explain the mud on his shoes--he doesn't get to show off his all-too-rarely used talent for comedy. The running gag with the servants and the coffee, which pays off in the film's final scene, isn't one that required a great deal of skill to deliver.

Script-wise, it's okay, but there's nothing particularly bad, but there's also nothing particuarly spectacular. There only one part that doesn't work on any level, and that's when three of the relatives decide to take the coffin and hide it in the pool. The action makes no sense and the schtick that it lets Haley do isn't particularly funny. The rest of the fillm is pleasently amusing, however.

While "One Body Too Many" isn't a film that I would necessarily recommend buying on its own, it does add to the value of any DVD multipack it is featured in. It's also a fine candidate for a Netflix rental if you enjoy comedies and mysteries from the 1930s and 1940s.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Christie adapation that's a true classic

And Then There Were None (1945)
Starring: Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Roland Young, Louis Hayward and June Deprez
Director: Rene Clair
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Ten strangers are invited to a manor house on an uninhabited island. They quickly learn that each of them have a dark secret in their past... and soon after that, an unseen killer delivers the ultimate punishment for their crimes, killing them one by one.

"And Then There Were None" is perhaps the best adaptation so far of this often-adapted Agatha Christie tale. Like most of them, it's not based on the novel, but rather on the play that Christie herself wrote from the novel. The play has a breezier pace, a less downbeat ending, and simply lends itself better to being filmed (which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone).

This version of "And Then There Were None" is full of expertly shot scenes, and there isn't a scrap of padding to be found. From the moment the ten guests arrive at the house and meet the two live-in servants, it's apparent something's amiss, and as the dead bodies start piling up and the survivors recognize the killer is hiding among them, the director uses lighting, camera angles, and expert editing and pacing to drive the tension even higher as he underscores the building mutual suspicion among those who remain. (The fact that the story is driven by a children's song about ten Indians that one by one come to a terrible end until there are none of them left also keeps the story moving--the audience knows it's only a matter of time before the killer strikes again.)

The only flaw I see with this film is one that I've always had with this story. I simply don't buy the method by which the killer hid, nor do I buy that no one thought to check on the cover that was being used. (I'm being vague here, because I don't want to spoil the film for those who may be unfamiliar with it.) That said, one of my favorite moments comes when a character who SHOULD have figured out what was going on finally does... only to die after a rather suspenseful build-up. Another cool moment is when the characters follow an unraveled ball of yarn and a playful kitten to find another dead body.

"And Then There Was None" is a true classic, based on one of the great "whodunnits" (even if some aspects of the mystery don't sit well with me, I can't deny it's a great work), and I think it's a film and a story that modern writers who think they're coming up with clever twists would do well to study. Here's a film and a story that actually IS clever and features well-executed and grounded twists.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Karloff & Lugosi miscast in 'Black Friday'

Black Friday (1940)
Starring: Boris Karloff, Stanley Ridges, Bela Lugosi and Anne Gwynne
Director: Arthur Lubin
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When brilliant brain surgeon Dr. Sovac (Karloff) is the attending physician for dying mad-dog gangster Red Cannon and his best friend Professor Kingsley (Ridges), a man who is already dead from brain damage due to Cannon's actions, Sovac decides to conduct an extreme eperiment: He transplants part of Cannon's brain in the hopes of saving Kingsley... as well as proving his theory that a person's personality and memories is preserved in the brain cells. To Sovac's initial delight, his surgery is a success and his theory is proven true, but when he causes Cannon's personality to become the dominant one, the gangster-in-the-professor's body starts taking gruesome revenge on those who killed him, including rival gangster Marney (Lugosi).

Bela Lugosi and Anne Gwynne in a publicity still for Black Friday
"Black Friday" is an interesting horror flick that crosses Frankensteinian mad science with the hardboiled gangster genre. It has its interesting points, but it is a bit overburdened by too many plot complications, and it has an ending that comes too suddenly and too easily. Another run at the script to streamline the plot and expand the ending a bit would have improved this film immensely.

The acting is excellent all around, with Stanley Ridges doing a great job in the dual role of Cannon and Kingsley. (Never mind where the brill cream comes from when he turns into the gangster... it's a great bit of acting, contrasting the mild-mannered professor with the homicidal gangster.)

The oddest thing about the movie is the casting choicies. It seems like Karloff would have been perfect in the dual-role of Kingsley/Cannon, and that Lugosi would have been great as Sovac--heck, some of the exchanges between characters seem to imply that Sovac hailed from some strange and foreign land--but instead we have Karloff as Sovac, Lugosi in a minor role as a gangster, and Ridges as the ambulatory mad science project. As mentioned above, Ridges does a great job, but I can't help but wonder how much better the film wold have been if Karloff had been in that role, and Lugosi as the doctor.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lugosi gives a better performance than this film deserves

Bowery at Midnight (1942)
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Wanda McKay, John Archer, Tom Neal, Lew Kelly, Wheeler Oakman and Dave O'Brien
Director: Wallace Fox
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A deranged psychology professor (Lugosi) leads a double-life as a lecturer and a murderous criminal mastermind operating from the front of a Skid Row soup kitchen.

There are many crazy low-budget horror films and thrillers from the 1930s and 1940s that feel like someone took random pages from unfinished scripts for horror films, detective films and ill-conceived comedies, shuffled them together and then went about shooting a movie.

A few of these loose mixture of genres and tangled subplots worked, but "Bowery at Midnight" isn't one of them. The set-up won't make sense to anyone over the age of 8 (or sober)--why is the professor using a soup kitchen as a front for his criminal enterprise and why is it full of secret doors?--nor do most of the film's story elements fit together in any way at all.

Most jarring is the mad scientist and his zombies in the basement. The cemetary works, but that twist does not. It's like someone said, "How can we have Lugosi in a movie without some sort of supernatural monster?" but no one bothered to do any real script revisions to fully incorporate the left-overs from whatever unproduced script they scavenged pages from.

The only decent thing about the film is the cast. Every performance is decent, considering what they have to work with. Bela Lugosi in particular does a good job, once again rising above the garbage he's appearing in and showing that he had talent that shouldn't have been squandered on films like "Bowery at Midnight".

Time has left this Lugosi drama behind

Postal Inspector (1936)
Starring: Ricardo Cortez, Patricia Ellis, Michael Loring, and Bela Lugosi
Director: Otto Brower
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When a nightclub owner Gregory Benez (Lugosi) frames the brother of Postal Inspector Bill Davis (Cortez) for stealing a shipment of three million dollars, he discovers it doesn't pay to mess with the US Postal Service!

A somewhat overblown melodrama that is filled with entirely too many speeches about the importance and wonderful nature of the mail carriers and the federal law enforcement officers who investigate mail fraud, "Postal Inspector" is of foremost interest in the way it demonstrates how things that were thrilling to audiences in the 1930s are commonplace today. For example, the "tense" sequence with the plane landing in the fog isn't really all that dramatic in an age where flying is probably more commonplace than driving across country.

The acting is decent, the story's pace is quick--even taking into account the hokey and repative declarations about the mighty Postal Service--and the action is acceptable. The interesting "triangle" between Bill, nightclub singer Connie (Ellis), and Bill's brother Charlie (Loring) is also an interesting aspect to the film; the two men aren't competing for the woman, but she is coming between their brotherly love, as Bill is convinced that she is an active participant in Benez's scheme.

Lugosi's character is an intersting one. Unlike most of the bad guys he played in his career, the character here is more desperate than actively corrupt--even if Postal Inspector Bill seems to suspect him of something from the get-go. (That's one aspect that makes Bill an unlikable character to the modern viewer; he seems to suspect Benez of being a criminal for no reason other than he's a "dirty fer'ner." Bill never expresses this opinion, but its hard to see what other motivation he may have. it turns out he's right, but when he first voices his suspicions, he really has nothing to base them on.)

One element of the film that annoyed me more than it might others was the way the postal inspectors played with mail fraud evidence and used items to pick on one particular member of the staff. I know it was supposed to be funny, and maybe it was the manager in me, but all I could think about was how fired those guys would be if the target of their abuse went up the chain. But, I suspect few will have that sort of reaction to those scenes.

All in all, I think "Postal Inspector" is a movie that time has passed by. It's well enough put together to be an interesting historical artifact, but it isn't much more than that. Check it out when you've seen the rest of what the Bela Lugosi catalogue contains.

Lugosi plays a Fu Manchu clone in a film that's many kinds of awful

The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934)
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Wallace Ford, Arline Judge and Lotus Long
Director: William Nigh
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

"The Mysterious Mr. Wong" is a B-movie double-threat that manages to both be a bad Yellow Menace and a bad newspaper reporter comedy.

Bela Lugosi stars as Wong, a cheap, underachieving Fu Manchu imitation whose minions are murdering their way through Chinatown's underworld to acquire the ancient Twelve Coins of Confucius. A slacker, racist newspaper reporter dismisses the police's theory that it's a Tong War unfolding, but is otherwise indifferent to the situation until his editor forces him to follow up on the story. He bumbles his way through some of the lamest detective work (with his incompetence exceeded only by that of the police), narrowly avoids several harebrained assasination attempts by Wong's minions, and eventually makes his way to the film's lame climax through the miracle of Plot Dictates.

While "The Mysterious Mr. Wong" is watchable, it is only just. It is better than some later Yellow Menace films (such as the awful "The Castle of Fu Manchu" starring Christopher Lee) but not by much. And if you have even so much as a tiny bit of sensitivity to racism and bad stereotypes, prepare to be at the very least mildly outraged. The worst racism is comes from the mouth of the film's "hero," so be prepared to not like him much. (It's pretty bad, even by the standards of the day in which this film was made.)

Bela Lugosi at his lowest, together with Martin & Lewis Clones

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (aka The Boys From Brooklyn) (1952)
Starring: Duke Mitchell, Sammy Petrillo, Bela Lugosi, and Charlito
Director: William Beaudine
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Two small-time comedians (Mitchell and Petrillo, who pretty much copy their act from Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis) become stranded on a tropical island that is home to beautiful white women (including the sexy Charlito) and Dr. Zabor, a mad scientist who lives in a creepy castle (Lugosi). Wacky hi-jinx ensue.

First off, if anyone says they've seen the worst movie ever made, ask if they've seen "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla". If they haven't, tell them they have no concept of what a bad movie really is.

There are two vaguely amusing reasons to watch this movie: First, some humour can be found in the way that Dr. Zabor is the only character in the film who doesn't seem to get that he's actually creepy Bela Lugosi (although it's somewhat saddening to see how bad off Lugosi was health-wise by the time he was in this movie). Second, Petrillo is actually funnier at doing Jerry Lewis schtick than Lewis himself... which is probably why Lewis reportedly sued Petrillo to make him stop. However, neither of these two reasons add up to sufficient grounds for the torture you'll endure sitting through this flick.

As a matter of trivia, I'll mention that Lugosi played in another vehicle that was predominantly made to promote a comedy team, and it also had "Gorilla" in the the title. It was made for the Ritz Brothers, and it was titled "The Gorillia". It's a much better and funnier movie.

Three Tales of 'The Lodger'

We film fans love to complain about about all the remakes plaguing us these days. I'm no different. The simple fact is that filmmakers covering the same ground more than once is nothing new--the film industry had barely been around for two decades before the first remakes started appearing.

One oft-retold tale is the Jack the Ripper-inspired thriller "The Lodger." Based on a popular British novel published at the beginning of the 20th century, the first film version was a silent movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1927, followed by a talkie remake in 1932, an American remake in 1944, another American remake in 1953... and so on, with another remake appearing as recently as 2009.

The most famous of these is the 1944 version from 20th Century-Fox. I'm not going to cover that here, but will instead focus on the three slightly lesser known version that fall within the parameters of this blog.

The Lodger (aka "The Case of Jonathan Drew") (1927)
Starring: Ivor Novello, June Tripp, Marie Ault, Arthur Chesney and Malcolm Keen
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When fashion model Daisy (Tripp) strikes up a relationship with the quirky lodger on the top floor of her home (Novello), her jealous former suitor (Keen), a police detective becomes convinced that he is the killer who has been murdering blonde women in the area on consequetive Tuesdays. Is he accusing a strange but innocent man out of pure jealousy, or is Daisy putting herself in the arms of serial killer?

"The Lodger" was Alfred Hitchcock's first full-length film, and the great talent that he would evolve into is plainly evident here. However, despite some spectacular moments, this is not a great movie; it's better than other silent-era thrillers or dramas I've seen, but for truly great early Hitchcock, you want to check out "Blackmail".

The biggest problem with "The Lodger" is that Hitchcock either can't make up his mind what the main theme of his movie is, or he spends too much running time futzing around with irrelevant trivialities. The film starts with an extensive sequence showing how mass-media (radio and newspapers in those days) is stoking the flames of panic throughout London, but this angle is quickly dropped once the actual movie really gets going--which it does with a great introduction of Ivor Novello arriving to rent rooms at Daisy's place and matching the eyewitness descriptions of the serial killer.

While characters are shown reading newspapers throughout the movie, it's not until the film's final minutes that Hitchcock returns to the theme of media-stirred mass-hysteria when the jealous cop stalking the Lodger accidentially stirs an entire neighborhood into a lynch mob. In between these sequences, we have a story of an elderly couple that come to fear their lodger may be a serial killer because of his odd behavoir and their (implied) promiscuous daughter who sets up a rivalry between the lodger and her other suitor, a boorish, dimwitted cop with a tendency to abuse his authority. (Like other Hitchcock movies, circumstance is the main villain in the film, but the idiot cop comes in a close second.)

"The Lodger" is still worth seeing for those who are huge Hitchcock fans, those who are interested in film as an art form as opposed to mere entertainment, or those who love silent movies. Scenes bound to impress include the "glass celing" shot where Ault, Keen, and Chesney look up in response to the sound of the Lodger pacing in the sitting room overhead; the chessmatch between the Lodger and Daisy, where the audience first gets a full sense of how weird this man is (in addition to a litle bit of well-staged false suspense); the Lodger attending one of Daisy's fashion shows; the scene where the lazy cop searches the Lodger's room and finds damning evidence; and the mob scene by the iron-rod fence.

(By the way, there are several different versions of this film out there, but if watch the one distributed by St. Clair Vision, I recommend you mute the sound and put on Mike Oldfield's "Ommadawn." That music works far better than the jaunty orchestral soundtrack that runs under the film.)

The Phantom Fiend (aka "The Lodger") (1932)
Starring: Ivor Novello, Elizabeth Allan, Jack Hawkin, A.W. Baskcomb and Barbara Everest
Director: Maurice Elvey
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Young switchboard operator Daisy (Allan) strikes up a relationship with Michel (Novello), the retiring young foreigner who rents rooms on the upper floor of her parents' house. When evidence starts to mount that Michel is the murderer that's been stalking and killing young women, Daisy refuses to believe it. Will listening to her heart instead of reason lead to her heart being cut out?

"The Phantom Fiend" is the second film version of turn-of-the-century novel "The Lodger," and Ivor Novello returns to play the same role he had in the Hitchcock version. The name has changed, as have some of the details surrounding the character, but it's essentially the same part.

"The Phantom Fiend" is an excellent thriller with an attractive cast that all give performances that are better than was average for these early talkies where actors and directors were still getting use to the idea of sound in movies. Some of the performances--like that of the very attractive Elizabeth Allan--are far more naturalistic than was typical in films of this day, and there isn't a single actor who seems stiff, with the exception of high-ranking Scotland Yard officials who are supposed to come across that way.

The film runs barely over an hour, but during that brief running time, the viewer comes to like just about every character in the film, except possibly for Daisy's inattentive yet jealous reporter boyfriend (Hawkin) who fingers Michel as the possible killer as much out of jealousy than genuine suspicion that he's the murderer. Novello was so charming as Michel that I found myself hoping the film would offer up an unexpected twist to clear him as the killer.

"The Phantom Fiend" is one of those overlooked classics that has been saved from oblivion by the advent of the DVD. The only surviving copies available to be digitized were in a ragged, decayed state. It's clear from the way certain scenes jump about that there are seconds, if not entire minutes, missing from the version included in this set, and there are points where the sound is so muddled that even cranking up the volume makes it hard to hear what is being said. Still, it's good that at least some version of this nicely staged and surprisingly well-acted early talkie will survive into the future.

The 1932 version of "The Lodger" is one of several classic movies inclued in the "Dark Crimes" boxed set, and its presense lends heavily to making the set a fantastic buy.

Man in the Attic (1953)
Starring: Jack Palance, Frances Bavier, Constance Smith, Byron Palmer, and Rhys Williams
Director: Hugo Fregonese
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A soft-spoken, socially akward patheologist (Palance) rents some upper-floor rooms from the Harleys (Bavier and Williams). His comings and goings coincide with the murders committed by Jack the Ripper, and Mrs. Harley starts to suspect Slade might be the notorious killer.

"Man in the Attic" is a well-acted, well-filmed drama that suffers only from its story being a little too simplistic and straight-foward; it's basically a mystery with only one real suspect, as far as the viewer is concerned.)

Jack Palance in particular in excellent as the suspicious patheologist Mr. Slade, giving a performance wher he is both sympathetic and sinister at the same time. In fact, he is so good at presenting this character that although there really isn't any other option within the story for him to be Jack the Ripper, you'll find yourself hoping until the Big Revelation occurs that you're wrong.

(If you're like me, you'll find yourself wishing that he knocks off the Harleys before the movie's over, because they get really annoying.)

Bela Lugosi Meets Frankenstein

After being twice replaced by director James Whale with other actors (Lugosi was initially to play the monster in Frankenstein, and then Dr. Praetorius in Bride of Frankenstein, but was booted by Whale on each occassion), Lugosi appeared in three of the sequels, playing one of the most villanous figures to appear in the series.

Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Starring: Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Josephine Hutchinson, Edgar Norton and Boris Karloff
Director: Rowland Lee
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Wolf von Frankenstein (Rathbone) returns with this family to his ancenstral home in the hopes of rehabilitating his father's name. His high hopes soon turn to bitter ashes as the villagers refuse to give him a chance--except for the police captain (Atwill) who has more cause to hate the Frankenstein name than any of the others--and he is soon drawn into a sinister scheme launched by psychopathic former assistant of his father (Lugosi) to restore the Frankenstein Monster (Karloff) to life.

"Son of Frankenstein" is one of the true classics among horror films. As good as "Frankenstein' and almost as good as "Bride of Frankenstein", it features a top-notch cast, great camera-work, fantastic sets, and a story that's actually better constructed than any other of the Universal Frankenstein movies.

Particularly noteworthy among thge actors are Bela Lugosi and Basil Rathbone. Lugosi is gives one of the best performances of his career, and as I watched, I once again found myself lamenting that he didn't do more comedic roles than he did. He manages to portray the crippled Ygor as funny, pitiable, and frighteing, showing greater range in this role than just about any other he played. The funny bits show a fabulous degree of comedic timing that Lugosi only had the opportunity to show on few other occassions. Rathbone is also excellent, as the high-minded dreamer who is driven to the edge of madness by frustration, fear, and guilt. (He may be a bit too hammy at times, but he's generally very good.)

Lionel Atwill is also deserving of a praise. I think he is better here in his role as Krogh than in any other film I've seen him in. In some ways, "Son of Frankenstein" is as much Krogh's tale as that of Wolf von Frankenstein so pivotal is his character to the tale, and so impactful is Krogh's eventual confrontation with the monster that tore his arm off as a chld. Atwill also manages to portray a very intelligent and sensitive character--perhaps the most intelligent character in the entire movie.

One actor that I almost feel sorry for in this film is Boris Karloff. The monster has very little to do... except lay comatose and go on mindless rampages. ANYONE could have been in the clown-shoes and square-head makeup for this film, because none of the depth shown in the creature in the previous two movies is present here. (While the whole talk about "cosmic rays" and the true source of the creature's lifeforce is very interesting, the monster isn't a character in this film... he's just a beast.)

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Starring: Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Bellamy, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Lon Chaney Jr, and Evelyn Ankers
Director: Erle C. Kenton
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

The evil Ygor (Lugosi) resurrects the Frankenstein Monster (Chaney) and forces the second son of Baron Frankenstein (Hardwicke) to "fix him." Frankenstein resolves to give the monster the mind of a decent man, but Ygor and Frankenstein's jealous collegue (Atwill) have other ideas.

"The Ghost of Frankenstein" is a good, workman's like horror flick. The sets are decent, the acting is good, and the script moves along briskly and makes sense (within the context of manmade monsters and full brain-transplant operations). However, the film lacks the style and atmosphere of the previous three films in the series. Gone are the sets with the disturbing angles and sharp shadows. We've also got more subdued, more realistic acting on the part of the cast--and this is a great shame as far as Lugosi's Ygor character goes. Virtually all the humor and quirkiness that made this such a great character in "Son of Frankenstein" is gone, although there is still plenty of menace here.

Speaking of menace, a strong point of this film is that the Monster is actually put to good use story-wise, and the demand he places on Frankenstein is truly monstrous. It's not the character we saw in either "Frankenstein" or "Bride of Frankenstein", but it is an evolution that makes sense; it's as if the Monster wants a fresh start, but that the evil influence of Ygor has leeched away even the slight decency he showed in "Bride."

This may not be the high point of classic horror, but it's a fun flick and one you'll be glad you saw.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Steve's Rating: Six of Ten Stars
Starring: Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Patric Knowles, Ilona Massey, Maria Ouspenskaya, Lionel Atwill and Bela Lugosi
Director: Roy William Neill

When grave robbers disturb Larry Talbot's tomb, the unwilling werewolf (Chaney) awakens to the discovery that not only is he cursed to become a beast under the full moon, but he is immortal. With the help of Maleva (Ouspenskaya), a gypsy wise-woman, he seeks out Dr. Frankenstein, the premiere expert on life, death, and immortality... because if anyone can find a way to bring death to an immortal, it's Dr. Frankenstein. Will Larry find peace, or will Frankenstein's experiments bring more horror and destruction to the world?

"Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" is a direct sequel to both "The Wolf Man" and "Ghost of Frankenstein". It's the first time two legendary horror creatures meet... and without this film, we'd probably never have been treated to "Freddy vs. Jason" or "Alien vs. Predator" or "Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Dracula".

Unlike most of Universal's movies during the 1940s, I appreciate the fact that the creatives and executives at Universal are paying some attention to the continuity of prior Frankenstein films and "The Wolf Man", but there's still plenty of sloppiness and bad storytelling to remind us that this is a Universal film from the 1940s. (Like the werewolf mysteriously changing from pajamas into his dark shirt and pants when transformed, and then changing back into his pajamas as be becomes Larry Talbot again. Or the bizarre forgetfulness of the townspeople who drive Larry and his gypsy friend away, but who don't bat an eye when Larry is later invited to the town's wiine festival and the mayor's guest and date for Baroness Frankenstein (Massey), the granddaugher of the original monster-maker. Maybe the fact that Larry's wearing a suit and tie when he returns fooled them!)

The movie starts out strong, however. The grave-robbing and the wolf man's ressurection scene are spine-chilling. Chaney once again effectively conveys Talbot's mental anguish during the scenes where he is confined to a hospital and recovering from the supposedly fatal headwounds he receieved at the end of "The Wolf Man" (apparently, a werewolf's wounds don't heal while he's supposedly dead and piled high with wolf's bane). It looks like we're in for a thrilling chiller that's going to be better than the original film...

But then the action moves to Switzerland and things start to go wrong.

Although a seemingly endless musical number at the village wine festival is the low point, the inexplicable transformation of a level-headed medical man (Knowles) hoping to help cure Talbot of what he perceives to be a homocidal mania to crazed Frankenstein-wannabe, the seemingly laughable arm-waving performance of the Frankenstein Monster by Bela Lugosi--because Larry simply can't just leave him sleeping in his ice cave--and an ending so abbrupt that it feels like something's missing, all drag the film down to a level of crapitude that almost manages to make the viewer forget about the very excellent first half.

I don't know what went wrong with this film, but I suspect that it was decided at an executive level at Universal that the monster movies were going to be targeted at kids. It's the only explanation that makes sense of the deterioation from mature, well-developed films like "Frankenstein" and "The Mummy" to the mostly slap-dash stuff found in the movies featuring Dracula, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy for the rest of the 1940s.

My guess is that someone, somewhere, made a decision to shorten this movie and make it more accessible for kids by simplifying it. According to several sources, this film suffered more than average from butchery in the editing room where all of Lugosi's lines were deleted from the soundtrack and key scenes were cut out, such as the one where it's revealed that the Monster is still blind from the partially botched brain transplant in "Ghost of Frankenstein". This detail explains why Lugosi is stumbling about with with his arms outstretched and is seen pawing strangely at items while Larry Talbot is searching for Dr. Frankenstein's records. Lugosi's performance goes from laughably stupid to perfectly decent when one understands what he was doing. (The original screen writer says that the editing was done was test audiences thought the monster was funny when speaking with Lugosi's accent and that this is why the second half of the film was so heavilly edited. That sounds reasonable, but only if one ignores the overall direction the Universal horror movies were heading in. And the shockingly badly handled, abrubt ending. And the dangling plot threads... where DOES Maleva vanish to?)

But, a film can only be judged by what's there on the screen. While the editing left the flim shorter and more straight-forward, it also resulted in very important plot-points and probably even mood-establishing scenes and elements being slashed out. We also have a movie where Frankenstein's Monster once again has very little to do (as was the case in "Son of Frankenstein"), And, ultimately, we're left with a movie that is both remarkable for its being the first meeting of two great cinematic monsters, but also for being a clear point at which to say that this is where the reign of Universal as king of horror films ended.

"Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" isn't a truly terrible movie. It's just rendered dissapointingly mediocre by its second half, and it just manages to hang onto a Six rating.

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