Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

One can imagine at the beginning of the 1940s the executives at Universal counting the enormous mountain of money made by 1939’s SON OF FRANKENSTEIN and saying something along the lines of “We have GOT to make another one of these! But how can we make things a bit different? I know – how about we START this one with the locals blowing up Castle Frankenstein? We’ll end with a fire as well of course but no-one will expect it at the beginning!”
            And so that’s how the fourth movie in Universal’s Frankenstein saga opens. In complete contrast to those Universal executives, the inhabitants of the village of Frankenstein aren’t the slightest bit pleased with the outcome of the last film, especially as Bela Lugosi’s Ygor, presumably shot dead, is now alive and well again. “They tried to hang him and that didn’t work,” someone says in a desperate scriptwriter’s attempt to explain why he doesn’t look any the worse for wear for the bullets dealt him by Basil Rathbone at the end of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. Mind you, two burghers who appear in this opening scene (Michael Mark and Lionel Belmore) are the ones who were killed by the monster at Lugosi’s behest in the previous film and they don't seem any the worse for respectively having had a cart driven over them and having been bashed over the head only a short while ago. Continuity was never Universal’s strong point.
            Universal’s Castle Frankenstein was a little bit like Jason Voorhees of FRIDAY THE 13TH  fame, having a completely different look from film to film and surviving more or less intact despite having been burned / blown up / flooded etc at the end of the last one. This time it gets destroyed via some pretty impressive model work early on, allowing the release of the monster from the sulphur pit it was knocked into by Basil Rathbone. “The sulphur was good for you!” says Bela as the scriptwriter again manfully tries to explain why the monster hasn’t just suffocated beneath all that eggy smelling rock. It has however caused him to become rather less expressive, have a different body shape, and look altogether more like Lon Chaney Jr than Boris Karloff, but then that’s because he is. Helped out of the cave by Ygor and subjected to rejuvenating lightning in one of the film’s most impressive scenes, the two of them are soon off to find Frankenstein’s other son Ludwig, played by baggy of eye and limited of expression Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who doesn’t look happy to be in this film at all. He runs the Frankenstein Institute for Diseases of the Mind, which seems to require him to have an old dungeon under his house equipped with prison cells and ‘soporific gas’, presumably in case his patients get a bit overactive. Sir Cedric’s assistant is Lionel Atwill who unlike his co-star looks as if he’s having his usual whale of a time as one of the true villains of the piece, the other being (of course) Mr Lugosi. Ludwig gets visited by the ghost of his father (Hardwicke again) in one of the series’ few nods to the supernatural before everything went mental later on with the monster rallies. Father Frankenstein tells junior that all the monster needs is a new brain so why doesn’t he get on and sort it out? Planning to use the brain of a colleague killed by the monster everything goes predictably wrong when Atwill arranges for Ygor’s brain to be substituted instead. The monster awakens and goes blind. Ludwig says some rubbish about the incompatibility of blood types causing trouble getting oxygen to the neurones but we all know it’s that poor writer being flogged by the execs to get the script finished in under 24 hours again so we forgive him. The house goes on fire and Evelyn Ankers and Ralph Bellamy get to walk towards the sunrise as everyone interesting is now dead and besides they have to fulfil some sort of function as the nominal hero and heroine.
           THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN isn’t bad. It’s a big comedown after Rowland V Lee’s predecessor but it’s not a disaster. Lugosi and Atwill keep things interesting from the acting point of view and director Erle C Kenton manages a few nice shots (the lightning bolts hitting the monster, some nice framing of Lugosi in the propped open lid of a grand piano) in amongst what looks like a very rushed job. Clocking in at 68 minutes this breezy fourth entry was a sign of the way things were about to go very quickly indeed as more and more monsters were delivered by the studio at a vastly increased rate over the next couple of years.

1 comment:

  1. This movie, for me, was spoilt by the lack of a Karloff monster.