Universal Classic Monsters: “Ghost of Frankenstein” (1942)

Ghost of Frankenstein

Here’s where the Frankenstein film series and the Universal Classic Monsters saga as a whole begins to get somewhat convoluted. Though this is the fourth of the Frankenstein films, it is also a reunion of ”The Wolf Man” with Lon Chaney Jr., Evelyn Ankers, and Ralph Bellamy in the cast. George Waggner, the director of “The Wolf Man,” stays on as this film’s producer. Talbot Castle doubles as Dr. Frankenstein’s sanitarium and the opening titles have the same ominous woods as its backdrop.

Bela Lugosi returns as Ygor, who somehow survived being shot several times by Basil Rathbone in “Son of Frankenstein.” Dwight Frye, the unsung hero of the Universal Classic Monsters saga, has a bit part as one of the angry villagers, but he never crosses paths with the Monster. That was probably for the best as he met with bad ends in both “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein.” I can accept that Ygor returns since “Son of Frankenstein” established that he was able to endure is own hanging, but why are the two councilmen he had murdered seen alive in the crowd shots? These actors appeared in “Frankenstein,” however, their parts were recast in “Bride of Frankenstein.” They returned for “Son of Frankenstein” in different roles, but here I find their inexplicable presence to be distracting. Only Dwight Frye has the gravitas to be a recurring player in my humble opinion.

The foremost casting change is Lon Chaney Jr. assuming the role of the Monster from Boris Karloff. Of course, Chaney Jr. is forever associated with the role of Lawrence Talbot AKA The Wolf Man, just as Karloff is to the Frankenstein Monster, but Chaney Jr. gives a fair performance. Yes, he is stiff in his movements, but that is acceptable as the Monster has twice been in a coma. Sir Cedric Hardwicke receives top billing as Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein, a previously unmentioned second son of Dr. Henry Frankenstein. His characterization is bland compared to that of Colin Clive and Basil Rathbone in the previous films. Hardwicke doubles as the ghost of Henry Frankenstein. Lionel Atwill, who appeared as a sympathetic, one armed inspector in “Son of Frankenstein,” returns as the bitter Dr. Bohmer, who eventually betrays Dr. Frankenstein in favor of Ygor.

There is an oddly touching subplot in which the Monster befriends a little village girl. Remembering the accidental drowning from the first film makes the audience fear for her life even when the Monster is without malice. The climax features one of the most bizarre moments in monster movie history. The brain of Ygor is transplanted into the skull of the Monster, resulting in Lon Chaney Jr. guised as Boris Karloff’s signature character, with the voice of Bela Lugosi. Despite this noteworthy amalgam, “Ghost of Frankenstein” just does not hold the same iconic status as the other films produced by Universal Studios to feature the Frankenstein Monster. I don’t believe any elements of this film were even spoofed in Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.”

The final shot, Evelyn Ankers and Ralph Bellamy walking off as the sun rises seems out of place to me since heir romance is of little consequence to the main plot. The final shot should have been Dr. Frankenstein’s sanitarium burning to the ground. Maybe I’m over analyzing, but perhaps the romantic image was meant to be reminiscent of Henry and Elizabeth in the climax of “Bride of Frankenstein?”

“Ghost of Frankenstein” is entertaining, but does not stand the test of time as well as the previous three films. The plot thread involving the Monster being blinded and having Ygor’s brain was axed during post-production of “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man,” so “Ghost of Frankenstein” is a competently produced, though unnecessary chapter in the legend of Frankenstein.

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About domcappelloblog

New York based screenwriter.

Posted on June 21, 2013, in Horror, Universal Classic Monsters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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