40×40: Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (1943)

Directed by Roy William Neill.

“Life is short, but death is long.”

Why Did I Get This?

As with Son Of Frankenstein and Ghost Of Frankenstein, this was another film in the box set I picked up a few years ago to indulge my love of old Universal movies and Frankenstein stories.

My love of Lugosi movies is no secret, and while he doesn’t appear as Ygor in this one (a shame, as he was great in the last two), this movies features him under 35lbs of Jack Pierce’s makeup as the creature while Lon Chaney Jr reprises his role as Lawrence Talbot.

It’ll be interesting to see how this wolfman holds up against the original and the 21st Century wolfmen too, so 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.

Grave robbers accidentally awaken Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr), on the night of the full moon, inadvertently sending him out into the night in his werewolf form, where he murders a police officer. Talbot is found unconscious in the street the next morning and taken to hospital, then escapes and travels across Europe looking for the Gypsy woman Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), who he believes may be able to help rid him of his lycanthropic curse. They pair end up in Vaseria where Talbot discovers Frankenstein’s creature (Bela Lugosi), Ludwig Frankenstein’s daughter (Ilona Massey), and enlists his former doctor (Patric Knowles), to help him end his life.

I know the Frankenstein sequels by their nature feature a lot of recognisable elements, but from the outset this really feels like more of a Wolfman film to me. It opens, for example, in a gloomy, blustery graveyard in ‘Wales’ – a proper Universal set – where a couple of grave robbers break into the tomb of Larry Talbot to steal whatever riches he’s been buried with.

It’s a nice touch that Talbot’s corpse has long, lupine nails in his casket, and he looks pretty good considering he’s been dead for around four years. Before too long, of course, he’s up and about and wreaking havoc as he is wont to do – complete with a fully-buttoned shirt, regardless of whatever he’s been wearing in the previous scene (a fun note, but a minor bugbear carried over from the hairy chap’s debut).

For me, the transformations from Talbot to the Wolfman are much better in this film than its predecessor, focusing more on Chaney’s face becoming hairier through time-lapse trickery than on his feet, for example. Whether this is a development in film making technique, Jack Pierce’s makeup or simply a directorial decision, I don’t know, but I reckon it works much better here than in the first film.

Personally, I like Chaney’s performance a little more in this film too. While I didn’t think he was bad in the original, there’s a deep melancholy to his Lawrence Talbot here that feels like it has real weight. He’s distraught to be living with his curse, and it’s the first Universal film I can recall where the lead character’s sole motivation is to take his own life – he believes the world would be a better place without him in it, so when he meets a member of the Frankenstein family whose father wrote of a way to drain the life force from living creatures, he grasps the opportunity with two hands.

Massey’s performance as Baroness Frankenstein is solid – sultry and intelligent, she seems to become fond of Talbot and the doctor (who apparently had time away from his hospital to chase Talbot across Europe), only to become a damsel in distress in the final moments of the film.

Knowles’ character feels less interesting, more of a plot dynamic to operate the electrical machinery that will remove Talbot’s life force and channel it into the creature – he’s initially reluctant, then utterly determined, but there’s no real reason given for his change of heart – though I suppose he didn’t have a ghostly apparition from a dead parent to guide him as Ludwig Frankenstein benefited from.

As for the creature, we’re treated to Lugosi in the makeup and ill-fitting suit, stumbling around with his arms stiff and outstretched – apparently due to his vision being lost at the end of Ghost Of Frankenstein, though he seems to be able to see well enough to lead Talbot to a secret compartment in the Frankenstein ruins containing the departed scientist’s notebooks.

This version of the creature feels a bit more malicious than its predecessors, there’s none of the friendliness or kinship with children which Karloff and Chaney gave him. Whether this was a script decision (considering the brain currently in the creature belonged to the evil Ygor from the last two movies), or simply a lack of interest in continuity in favour of creating a villain, I don’t know. Either way, this creature has a thin-lipped grin that is unmistakably Lugosi, however much makeup he’s under.

As for the fight itself? It lasts only a few minutes, and is exciting enough, if brief. I suppose there’s a good reason it’s called Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, rather than Frankenstein Versus The Wolfman – movie makers have never been shy about over-promising in their marketing, but anyone going into this film expecting a full-on monster brawl may find themselves disappointed at having to wait 60-odd minutes for the two horror icons to face off against each other.

By the time the two horror icons (or, judging by the athleticism on show, their stunt doubles), are beating the living daylights out of each other, the villagers are blowing up a nearby dam to destroy Frankenstein’s castle for the umpteenth time and hopefully rid their country of the creature for good.

Let’s just see how that pans out, eh?


Good fun, if a little more sluggish than one might expect, Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman takes its time to get to the actual face-off.

That being said, Talbot’s journey is an interesting one and Chaney’s performance is better than in his Wolf Man debut in my opinion. Lugosi is fine as the monster, the main cast are all enjoyable to watch, and it’s good to see Lionel Atwill in yet another role in the Frankenstein series.

Also of note is the presence of a musical number in the middle of the film, as the villagers sing a song about life and death during a celebration which disturbs Talbot. It would be easy to feel this was an unwelcome or forced musical interlude, but it actually works pretty well in establishing the villagers as more than just the superstitious carriers of torches and pitchforks, and holding the festival gives our central characters a little time to get together and push the story on.

Not the best of the sequels so far, but still a good watch with some decent performances, nice set pieces, and some nice ties to its predecessors.

Well worth a watch.

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