Janet Ann Gallow
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The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
24th Jul 08
Following on from Son of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein sees the rather bonkers Ygor find the Monster preserved in sulphur, whilst he is fleeing the destruction of their castle by villagers. As the odd couple flee, rather surprisingly, no one notices a limping hunchback or a hulking presence doing their best to tip-toe out of the castle and into the surrounding countryside.
Upon being struck by lightening, the Monster perks up a bit, rather than suffering any ill-effects. Ygor gets to thinking that perhaps they should visit Frankenstein’s original son Ludwig (Sir Cedric Hardwicke from The Ghoul and The Invisible Man) with a view to working on keeping the Monster alive.
Things were never going to be smooth going for the Monster, where even a friendly gesture towards a young girl ends up freaking out the local villagers and sees the Monster in court. Ludwig is reluctant to get involved, fearing that doing so would ruin his life as it did for both his father and brother. Blackmailed by the naughty Ygor, Ludwig concedes to the hunchback’s plans, all the while seeking to destroy the Monster…That is until he is visited by the ghost of his father Henry.
After the gothic delights of Universal’s previous Frankenstein movie, it comes as a bit of a shock to be presented with something so uninspired. Director Erle C. Kenton ensures that the movie looks good, with creepy shadows looming on walls; however he has his work cut out trying to beat any life into Scott Darling’s nonsensical and by-the-numbers screenplay. Darling’s script is awful, veering all over the shop, almost as if too many people were having a say in what went on the page. It plays like a patchwork of former glories, opting for what’s been done before rather than thrill with anything new. The usual clichés are brought out – angry villagers attacking wherever they believe the Monster to be, the Monster befriending a young girl, an abundance of lightening. What it lacks is, rather like the movie’s Monster, is any real life.
The story also betrays continuity with the previous movie. There was no mention in the previous flick that the son depicted had a brother. Also the Monster had been killed off by being dropped into a pit of boiling sulphur. When people moan about the state of sequels now, they ought to see this baby, it borders on being as much a parody as Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. On the plus side it is short at just sixty eight minutes.
Effectively a B-movie after the A-movie status of the previous three, The Ghost of Frankenstein lacks a decent budget and reuses actors from previous films. Some of the footage here ended up being reused in later Frankenstein movies, which were by now being made as cheap matinee fare.
Lon Chaney Jnr. was still working on The Wolf Man when he stepped into Boris Karloff’s sizable shoes for the role of the Monster. Karloff had vacated the role to appear in Arsenic and Old Lace on Broadway stating he had no interest in returning to his signature role.
Lon Chaney Jr. makes for a good Monster, lumbering around like he is having a major huff. He manages to convey the tenderness required for scenes with the young girl, never once tipping the cart and always remaining the Monster through and through. He doesn’t grunt or growl as Karloff did and seems like an early template for Michael Myers in Halloween.
It is rumoured that to save costs during the courtroom scene Chaney wore a mask as the Monster rather than have make-up applied. This could have also have been down to the fact that Chaney Jnr. Had issues with the rubber hairpiece, finding it uncomfortable to wear and was so keen to remove it from his head during the shoot that he ended up tearing a bloody gash along his forehead - this action consequently shutting down work on the film for a couple of days.
Bela Lugosi returns as hunchbacked assistant Ygor, which is rather odd, given that he was killed at the end of Son of Frankenstein. We now find out he was only maimed by the bullets rather than killed. Bela Lugosi acts like he is off his trolley, which he probably was, and in early scenes, whilst chucking loose stones from the top of the castle down onto the villagers, he lurches around with his bad hair like Oddbod’s brother from Carry on Screaming.
Cedric Hardwicke would win any number of staring competitions with that fixed expression of his. Indeed his acting range threatens to challenge the thespian skills of a certain Roger Moore. His Frankenstein just looks on blankly at the events unfolding around him with all the drama of a wet mop. His character is inconsistent and his motivations muddled. I don’t get how one minute he isn’t digging the vibe of messing with the monster, but one quick diary read later and he’s talking about plonking a new brain into the beast.
The Ghost of Frankenstein was the fourth entry in Universal’s Frankenstein series, preceded by 1939’s Son of Frankenstein and followed by Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man in 1941. This movie marks the last time that the Monster appeared in a solo capacity, reduced to appearing with other monsters from the Universal cannon. The image of the blinded Monster come the climax resulted in the image most people still know of him lumbering around with arms outstretched. Other than that, there is little of interest here as the film fails to entertain or make any sense.
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