Thursday, 25 February 2021

The Ghost Of Frankenstein

Surgical Terror

The Ghost Of Frankenstein
USA 1942 Directed by Erle C. Kenton
Universal Blu Ray Zone B

It was never meant to be so but The Ghost Of Frankenstein, these days, acts more as a ‘link in continuity’ kind of movie (just like the atrocious Back To The Future II links two far superior films). It’s the last of the Frankenstein movies which had an A list budget (although it was still significantly slashed from the previous installments) and perhaps a sign that, with the B-movie status bestowed on pretty much all of the Universal monster movies that saw out the rest of the 1940s, the box office returns were perhaps less spectacular. Universal would attempt to do something about that in the very next Frankenstein movie but... I’ll get to that when I review Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman.

This one is an odd one... it’s the only one in which Lon Chaney Jr dons the Frankenstein’s monster make-up in the proper continuity of these films... officially that is. Unofficially he also doubled up a few shots in a couple of the upcoming movies but, this is the one where Chaney Jr (billed here at the end of the credits but without the Jr) started to become the man who had the honour of playing four different Universal signature monsters. This was filmed just over a month after his starring role in The Wolf Man (reviewed here) and he would later go on to play The Mummy and, arguably, Dracula (yeah, it’s a hard call on that one but I’ll get to it when I review that particular movie).

It’s starts being odd straight off, when several characters who were killed in the last one are all clearly fine again here. So two of the council men, murdered by the monster in Son Of Frankenstein (reviewed here), seem none the worse for wear. Alive too is Ygor, once again played by Bela Lugosi, even though Basil Rathbone’s character had shot him dead in the last film. The one excuse given for this spoken is, and I quote, “Ygor does not die that easily!”

Another odd thing is that the film kinda starts off in reverse, in that it plays out what seems like it should be the final scene of a typical Frankenstein movie first, with the villagers following the advice of a cameo appearance by Dwight Frye (who would appear twice in this film but only once with new footage as this uncredited character), by raising pitchforks and lighted torches and blowing up the now deserted Castle Frankenstein with TNT. Unknown to them is the fact that the TNT has helped dislodge some of the hardened sulphur encasing the Frankenstein monster (remember, he was knocked into the put of sulphur by Rathbone in a heroic moment at the end of Son Of Frankenstein) and Ygor rescues the now ‘alive again’ creature, the white of the sulphur covering his body and helping the trailers no end with the footage to sell the idea that the actual ghost of a Frankenstein monster is in this film to justify the title to the audience. It doesn’t but, they do have a proper justification later in the film, as ridiculous as that is (yeah, don’t worry, I’ll get there).

The creature loses his white covering fairly early on but of the things which always worries me about this film is the costume he’s wearing when he comes out of the sulphur. It’s just the typical suit the monster always wears but, if you remember, when the monster went into the sulphur as Boris Karloff, he was wearing a snazzy, furry waistcoat. Does sulphur discriminate and dissolve such cool fashion statements? Only the costume department at Universal knows for sure, I guess.

So, anyway, the basic plot of this is Ygor and the monster go to another village where the hitherto unknown ‘other son of Frankenstein’, “Ludwig Frankenstein MD - Diseases Of The Mind”, has his psychiatric practice. He is played by Cedric Hardwicke, is assisted by the nefarious Dr. Bohmer (Lionel Atwill returns to the franchise here as another character) and lives with his daughter Elsa Frankenstein (presumably named after Elsa Lanchester but played by Evelyn Ankers, straight off of The Wolf Man), who is in love with the local police chief played by Ralph Bellamy (fresh off the same movie). Ygor wants the Doctor to put his brain into the monster and, by a strange twist of fate and treachery, actually gets his wish... so really, in all the appearances of the Frankenstein monster in the rest of the franchise, Ygor’s brain is in it... although this is pretty much ignored after the end of the next movie.

I said Dwight Frye appears twice and he does, as Fritz alongside Colin Clive in flashback footage from the original Frankenstein (reviewed here), as Elsa reads the notes of the original creator. This must be a way of filling up screen time cheaply but it’s kind of a stupid way of doing it because, in order to really justify the title, there’s a scene which probably doesn’t last more than two minutes where Ludwig is visited by the blurry ghost of his father. And he’s blurry because he is also played by Cedric Hardwicke but, frankly, even though he’s blurry, he both looks and sounds nothing like Colin Clive... so why they took the time to remind the audience of Clive’s performance I’ll never know. Well... I guess the answer to that is... they just didnt care. After all, nobody was going to see the film ever again after 1942 right? Commercial television was not around, as yet.

And the film trundles along to its inevitable conclusion and it’s entertaining enough, although not as great as any of its predecessors. It was nice seeing Richard Alexander again as an uncredited villager... people will best remember him, perhaps, for playing the original version of Prince Barin in Flash Gordon (reviewed here) and Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars (reviewed here... he was replaced by another actor for the third serial)... but there’s not much more to recommend it. In a nice touch of symmetry (and perhaps I’m being kind here), the villagers burn down the institution with Frankenstein and the monster in it. The monster’s optic nerves have failed him because when Atwill’s character switched brains on the doctor, he hadn’t realised he was a different blood type. The creature does know how to talk now, though and, he does so in the voice of Bela Lugosi... something which would be a casualty of post-production on the next film, if memory serves.

And that’s about all I have to say about The Ghost Of Frankenstein, to be honest. A necessary and fairly entertaining watch in the series but this definitely doesn’t reach the heights of the films which came before. Great title... so so movie but, certainly enjoyable at worst. The next film in the Frankenstein series would, of course, see the humble beginnings of the Universal ‘monster rally’ film, being a sequel to both this and The Wolf Man.

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