Directed by Erle C Kenton.
“You weave a pretty fairytale, crooked-neck.”
Why Did I Get This?
As with Son Of Frankenstein, this was part of a box set I got a few years ago to indulge my love of old Universal movies and Frankenstein stories. I’ve mentioned before my love of Lugosi, and while I couldn’t really remember the details of this particular sequel, it was great to see him return to the role of Ygor in this one.
Other than Lugosi’s return, all I really remember about this one is that it’s Lon Chaney Jr‘s first time in the Monster makeup and there’s a spectral appearance by the ‘original’ Dr Frankenstein (though it’s not Colin Clive playing him, on account of his death in 1937).
Anyway, let’s see how it holds up…
The Late Review
As always, the Late Review will go into detail about the film from start to finish, so if you’re looking to avoid potential spoilers, scroll down to the next heading.
Despite the creature falling into a pool of boiling sulphur some years previously, the villagers around Castle Frankenstein are becoming nervous and superstitious again, due in part to old Ygor (Bela Lugosi), somehow surviving being shot several times at the climax of the last film. They blow up the castle, inadvertently freeing the creature (Lon Chaney Jr), from its sulphuric prison, and the pair travel to find the next doctor in the Frankenstein bloodline (Cedric Hardwicke), to convince him to harness lightning and bring the creature back to full health… but Ygor has another trick up his sleeve.
First thing I noticed after the comforting Universal logo was the big, brassy score for this film, by Hans J Salter – it’s a bold, splashy affair that screams importance, terror and all the good stuff you want from this kind of film.
It’s also nice that there’s some level of continuity with the previous movies, although the villagers regressing to superstition so quickly after they cheerily waved goodbye to Basil Rathbone’s Baron Frankenstein safe in the knowledge he’d killed his father’s creature feels like a creaky device just to get the ball rolling again. It allows them to blow up his castle (with what look like a couple of bloody big practical explosions no less), freeing the creature and have him team up with Ygor again, so I guess we shouldn’t complain.
There’s no real reason given for Ygor’s survival after being shot several times by the Baron at the climax of the previous picture – I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, considering he’s previously survived a broken neck at the end of the hangman’s rope, so he could probably sleep off a couple of balls of hot lead from a revolver.
Off they go then, to find the next member of the Frankenstein clan – this time it’s Dr Ludwig Frankenstein (Cedric Hardwicke), who has built a practice supporting the mentally unwell in nearby Visaria. He is assisted by his former mentor Dr Bohmer (Lionel Atwill), a bitter man who feels Frankenstein stole his thunder and outshone him – it’s a neat turn from Atwill, a world away from his heroic Inspector in the previous film, and I like the fact the studio feels free to reuse their cast in new roles.
As for Dr Frankenstein himself, he has a completely different tone to either of his kinsmen – none of the frenzied mania of Colin Clive or the wide-eyed scientific determination of Basil Rathbone. Instead, Hardwicke’s Frankenstein is reluctant to become involved in experimenting on the creature, but eventually relents not out of scientific curiosity but as a way to maintain his good standing in his village and to somehow distance himself from the baggage that follows his family name.
He’s also happy to stare down the creature on several occasions, not afraid of his father’s creation. His decision to operate on the creature is made following the death of a colleague (Barton Yarborough), and he plans to replace the diseased, criminal mind of the creature with one of a medical student. It only takes a few minutes of moral debate (and a visit from the ghost of his father), for him to change his mind from disassembling the monster to performing the ol’ brain switcheroo, but it’s a 67-minute long film, so that can’t really be helped.
Of course, Ygor pours (metaphorical), poison into Dr Bohmer’s ear and convinces him to implant his own brain into the monster so they can rule the land together – feels like a bit of a quick turnaround by Bohmer, but playing to his vanity is a logical step.
As for the creature itself, I think Chaney does a decent job. I mentioned in the Late Review of The Wolfman that I’d recently heard a podcast that really laid into his performances, and while his creature doesn’t have quite the same pitiable sadness as Karloff’s, his tenderness around children really comes across well. His size works really well for the role too, of course, and he suits the makeup well. Possibly helps that the little girl he interacts with is less annoying than the “WELL HELLO!” kid from Son Of Frankenstein, but I like his performance just fine.
The rest of the film plays out pretty much as you’d expect – Ygor’s brain doesn’t take in the creature’s body so he murders Bohmer and the building explodes, apparently spelling the end for Dr Frankenstein (somewhat unfairly, in my book), and the creature before the villagers can do their worst with pitchforks and torches.
The last Frankenstein movie not to include any of the other Universal monsters, and while it might not be the most inspired of the bunch, it’s a perfectly fine film in my opinion, especially for a fourth entry to a franchise.
Enjoyable stuff, and while you might miss Karloff, it’s fair to say the 30-odd pounds of Jack Pierce makeup does a lot of the work to help Chaney out here. He’s certainly better as the creature here than he was in the live Tales Of Tomorrow broadcast, which is a tragic but fascinating entry in the Frankenstein canon.
Worth a watch.