THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN lives down to its title by being a weightless, see-thru trick that vanishes like it was never really there. That line is about as good as any in the daffy script, the last to feature the lumbering creature in a solo capacity, the first to have someone other than Boris Karloff under the makeup. That assignment goes to Lon Chaney Jr., who was rushed right into this 1942 silliness after completing his career-changing turn as The Wolf Man.
Bela Lugosi’s ‘Ygor’ returns from his perforation in Son Of Frankenstein (some village dentist fixed his teeth!) and digs his ‘friend’ out of the sulfur pit, its 800-degree immersion having served to not boil but preserve the big guy (science). Another handy Frankenstein brother, ‘Ludwig’ (Cedric Hardwicke), turns up, in a neighboring village (heretofore oblivious Visaria) and his assistant is played by Lionel Atwill (both arms intact). Like movie-German doctors everywhere, they see immortality within their grasp and have plenty of unexplained electrical apparatus stowed just in case. Evelyn Ankers,23, is on hand to look good and scream, outfitted with some snazzy designer getups to wear around the laboratory. Ralph Bellamy tries in vain to make scientists, villagers and the hot damsel listen to reason. ‘Listening to reason’ and ‘in vain’ are standard issue in this part of Europe. *
At 6’2″/220 Chaney was a big lug, but they tacked on another seven inches and a few dozen extra pounds, and the looming giant aspect stuck with further portrayals and figured in countless amateur impressions enacted in backyards and playgrounds. Chaney’s facial makeup is not as well done as Karloff’s, and he’s given little to convey beyond menace, though his monster does come up with the rather odd notion of having the brain of a little girl transplanted into his skull . She was nice to the monster, see, and he was touched (this is right after he’s shambled into her village and clumsily but terminally bludgeoned a few people, so technically catharsis figures one way or the other). Never fear, the good doctors manage to extract from Ygor’s willing cranium.
A budgetary and artistic comedown for the series into decided B-picture territory, competently directed by Erle C. Kenton, mercifully lasting only 67 minutes. Along with Chaney, Lugosi, Ankers and Bellamy had also worked on The Wolf Man. Ankers was nailing down her title as ‘Scream Queen’,Lugosi was glad to get the job and Bellamy was busy playing detective ‘Ellery Queen’ in five pictures. In a bit part, his first of 272 credits over seven decades, is 9-year old William Smith.
It did well enough with kids to keep the series plunging ahead, and next time Bela would get to suit up as the monster (that he’d snubbed back in 1931, partially because it had no dialog) and Lon reverted to type as they battled for supremacy in the fondly recalled childhood favorite Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.
* A castful of quotes—- Chaney: “I am most proud of the name Lon Chaney. I am not proud of Lon Chaney Jr., because they had to starve me to make me take this name.” Ankers, on Chaney: “When he wasn’t drinking, he could be one of the sweetest men in the world” and “a brute with bad breath”. Atwill: “One side of my face is gentle and kind, incapable of anything but love of my fellow man. The other side, the other profile, is cruel and predatory and evil, incapable of anything but the lusts and dark passions. It all depends on which side of my face is turned toward you–or the camera. It all depends on which side faces the moon at the ebb of the tide.” Bellamy: “One day in Hollywood, I read a script in which the character was described as “charming but dull — a typical Ralph Bellamy type”. I promptly headed for New York….” Hardwicke: “I believe that God felt sorry for actors, so he created Hollywood to give them a place in the sun and a swimming pool. The price they had to pay was to surrender their talent.”