The Wolf Man
USA 1943 Directed by Roy William Neill
Universal Blu Ray Zone B
Well this is a great little movie. Affer the bravery of Universal's previous classic monster picture, The Mummy’s Tomb (reviewed here), where they killed off both male leads from the previous movie within the first 20 or so minutes, here they came up with what was, I think, another first. Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man was the first time that two sets of characters from different franchises under the same company had crossed over in a movie.
So, yeah... remember when Universal were trying to resurrect their monsters a few years ago to make a Dark Universe so they could ultimately pitch all their monsters together in each other’s films (something I still wished had happened because I thought the Dracula Untold and The Mummy reboots were fine)? And remember when everybody said they were just trying to build an interlocking franchise in the style of Marvel’s Avengers movies? Well I was angry about that accusation then and I still am. If anybody has a right to cross over their franchise characters it’s Universal with their classic monsters. They were doing it before anybody else was, back in 1943 (and for the rest of the 1940s, as you’ll see in some future reviews) and, like I said, I’m pretty sure this was the first time that this kind of cross pollination film was done.
This movie serves as a proper sequel to both The Wolf Man (reviewed here) and The Ghost Of Frankenstein (reviewed here). It starts off with something unusual for these particular films at the time... the credits are over a ‘moving background’ of a hand which fills a smoking test tube, which carries on frothing as the credits continue... instead of the usual static shots one would associate with a Universal horror picture title sequence. Then we get a shot of something which, although constantly mentioned in The Wolf Man, was never actually seen in that film. Namely, a shot of the full moon. And don’t’ worry if you miss it... there’s lots of shots of it, to make up for its absence in the prior picture, throughout Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.
So the film starts off four years after The Wolf Man with two tomb robbers in Llanwelly cemetary... “Here rest the dead of Llanwelly” we read on a stone as we look at the establishing shot. The tomb robbers break into the Talbot family vault in the hopes of finding Lawrence Talbot’s coffin and stealing the gold watch he was buried with. They find the correct one easily enough because it bears the legend... “Lawrence Stewart Talbot who died at the youthful age of thirty one R.I.P.” However, instead of a skeleton they find that Talbot has been somehow preserved, with wolfsbane placed over his body. When they remove the wolfsbane, this and the full moon shining through the tomb resurrects Talbot and transforms him back into The Wolf Man... played once again by Lon Chaney Jr (who is billed, as he is in a fair few of these movies now, as just Lon Chaney).
After ripping the throat out of one of them, Larry Talbot’s half living body is found in Cardiff the next morning by police and taken to the hospital. After much questioning by both Patric Knowles as Dr. Mannering and... “Why if it isn’t Mr. ‘Olmes”... that’s right, Dennis Hoey as Inspector Owen (best known for his continuing role as Inspector Lestrade in the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies), nobody believes his story so, after more inadvertent murdering, he gnaws his way through a straight-jacket and flees to Europe in search of Maleva, the gypsy woman whose son, played by Bela Lugosi in The Wolf Man, bit Talbot in the previous werewolf film. He finds her and they go looking for Dr. Frankenstein, who Maleva says will know how to cure him by death, since Talbot seems to be invincible now. Maleva is, once again, played by the wonderful Maria Ouspenskaya.
Cut to... the Frankenstein plot. The Monster has had the brain of Ygor (played by Bela Lugosi in the previous two Frankenstein movies) put into his head and it turns out he’s somehow escaped the fire and is preserved in a block of ice under the ruins. Talbot finds him and breaks him loose. And, yes, Bela Lugosi is the actor who, this time around, is underneath the Frankenstein monster make-up. Meanwhile, Dr. Mannering shows up in Vasaria, having tracked down Talbot to see if he can help him but, instead, becoming fascinated by the secrets of the Frankenstein monster.
Added to this cast of characters and actors we have the gorgeous Ilona Massey from Invisible Agent (reviewed here), taking over in the role played by Evelyn Ankers in The Ghost Of Frankenstein, to play Elsa Frankenstein in this one. We also have a justice of peace kind of character played by Lionel Atwill (who was in a load of these Frankenstein flicks, of course) and a charmingly outspoken pitchfork brigade villager played by Frankenstein movie stalwart and Renfield extraordinaire, the always watchable character actor Dwight Frye. This would be his final movie as he was struck down with a fatal heart attack just a couple of months after shooting, at the age of 44.
And its the usual shenanigans of the standard Universal monster picture with two monsters for the price of one and with the added bonus of Lon Chaney Jr’s continuing ‘doom laden hysteria’ take on Larry Talbot. This guy is on a downer in every film and, even in a song and dance number for a festival he’s attending, he manages to have some kind of aggressive depression fit and tells everybody off for singing at him that they should all live forever. He only wants to die... so leave him alone folks.
The film has some really lovely stuff going for it too. There’s some great use of shadows and the director gets a lot more depth in the shot than is usual for these kinds of movies, using a lot of upright foreground verticals such as stone columns or trees to help create more interesting frames. It’s not as spectacular as, say, Son Of Frankenstein (reviewed here) but this is certainly some quality work and I think this film gets somewhat overlooked in the hierarchy of Universal horrors. Also, the inevitable fight scene between the two monsters at the end of the picture is just that. This film in particular really goes for it... as we see the Frankenstein monster and the Wolf Man tossing each other around like a couple of wrestlers. The confrontation scenes in these kinds of films are often a bit lacking but... not here. Even though it’s only one scene right at the end of the picture.
If you remember the last one... the ‘Lugosi’s brain’ version of the monster is supposed to be blind but he could talk. Well, there were a number of scenes where Lugosi has conversations in the movie but, due to preview audiences laughing themselves silly every time Lugosi’s thick accent would come from the Frankenstein monster, all of those scenes were cut from the movie and we’re left, once again, with a dumb creature. If you look carefully, though, you can still find evidence of those scenes where the story would have suffered if the shot had been cut... where Lugosi’s mouth is moving if you look closely but his audio is eradicated. It would be nice to finally see these scenes restored but, alas, it’s probable that the excised footage has been destroyed because, well, it’s not like Universal hasn’t looked for this stuff.
My only real complaint is with a scene where Dr. Mannering and Inspector Owen are talking in Mannering’s office in Cardiff. We see him reading from a hardback book and then he goes to a shelf, takes out another, similarly hardbound tome but, then replaces it on the shelf with the book he’s reading. What the heck? What kind of filing system is that? How are you supposed to keep everything in a nice order if you just re-house books will nilly on a shelf. Complete madness. Maybe I should have seen that as a sign that he’s going to be up for ‘fixing’ the Frankenstein monster later in the movie because, surely, the mis-filing of books makes for totally ‘mad scientist’ material!
Okay, that’s me done with Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman. I still love this movie and always cherish the chance to watch it in sequence with the other films in this series. The next one in this particular Frankenstein franchise would, of course, feature three classic Universal monsters for the price of one but... you’ll have to wait for my review of House Of Frankenstein before I get onto that.