FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN roared to 74 minutes of undying life in 1943, the first of the ensemble monster mashups, which “horror purists” (just who I want to sit next to on a long flight) always twit over having tarnished the reputation of the earlier entrees. Well, Bram my Stoker and Mary my Shelley but I was so impressed as a kid that I wrote (sounds better than plagiarized) a play of it for a school assembly, starring me, my friends and our toy guns. *
Directed by Roy William Neill, this concoction was written by Curt Siodmak—who’d done The Wolf Man—off a jest he made to producer George Waggner (director of the earlier classic). Scorecard time: revived thanks to unlucky grave robbers, tormented werewolf ‘Larry Talbot’ (Lon Chaney Jr.), is—after time in hospital lockdown and a few ripped throats—put into a situation whereby he visits Visaria and resuscitates the Frankenstein Monster (Bela Lugosi this time) from its last polishing off in The Ghost Of Frankenstein (where Chaney played the monster, and Bela was ‘Ygor’). Meanwhile Bela’s mother from The Wolf Man, the wise, philosophizing gypsy ‘Maleva’ (Maria Ouspenskaya) is back, along with Patric Knowles and Lionel Atwill. This time the lady lead is Hungarian ex-pat Ilona Massey, as ‘Baroness Elsa Frankenstein’. Now, Frau Elsa was played before by hottie Evelyn Ankers in The Ghost Of Frankenstein, and she was also in The Wolf Man. I think I need to lie down: are my ankles always this hairy?
The mix of accents, countries, vehicles, periods, behaviors and motives—well, logic is not the film’s strong suit. Mood, Movement & Look are the keys that unlock the fun that made this a success with war-beleaguered audiences of ’43 and later, a new generation of peacetime pups on TV. Manning a sleek camera is George Robinson, doing expert work with some neat lighting, cool closeups and a really great tracking dolly-shot opener. The prodigious Hans J. Salter wields orchestral baton. Salter racked 186 composer credits and 444 (!) in variations of “Music Department”, mostly uncredited on screen. Hans lived to be 98, dang near as immortal as Larry Talbot.
Lugosi, 61 and not that well, had a difficult time under the makeup, and was subbed for the stunt work. Chaney has some good moments in his reprisal. This one up’s the suggested gruesomeness factor a bit. His makeup and the transformation scenes are improved over the previous foray: pretty swell stuff. The climactic donnybrook between the two pitiable monsters, both energetic and clumsy, is not bad, (in a goofy fashion—kids loved it) and at the full-devastation wrap-up the audience is left wondering if the exploded dam and resultant flood continued on down the valley to the residents of hexed, vexed Visaria. Wondering, but not worried.
Most amusing sequence is the “Festival of the New Wine” with the perennially excited village throwing a wear-your-peasant-best drinkalong. A super-hearty fellow (played beaming by exiled Russian opera singer Adia Kuznetzoff ) lustily belts out the rollicking pretend folk song “Faro-La, Faro-Li“. But the erstwhile innocent lyrics “For life is short, but death is long” arouse the ire of a sullen, death-wishing Mr. Talbot. Then the Monster lumbers into town, arms outstretched, and the whole shebang degenerates into a panicked mob as the doubles for Chaney & Lugosi drive a wagon through the crowd, with the Monster wildly pushing wine casks off the careening escape vehicle. “Faro-La, Faro-Li !”
With Dennis Hoey, Don Barclay, Dwight Frye, Jeff Corey and Cyril Delevanti as ‘Freddy Jolly, grave-robber’.
* Yes, once upon a eon we were allowed to take toy guns to… school. I played the Wolf Man (mainly because I wrote it, cast it, and liked to growl) and my “gang” enacted assorted villagers, a hunchback and a scientist (the kid with glasses got that “intellectual” part). We had no masks or makeup, the only props our plastic weapons, and a table (the “operating platform”). My buddy Wilson was the tallest, so he played the Monster. I think it had a duration of maybe four minutes, but the audience of kids (4th and 5th graders) howled approval as he heaved me around the stage. Life imitating art, or vice-versa, my old school chum Wilson Milam went on to become a respected theater director! So, I figure he owes me—and we both need doff bowlers to the hardy cast and crew of the indispensable Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. “Faro-La, Faro-Li !”