Friend, good. This movie, bad.
In the timeline of classic Universal horror entries dedicated to the big boy on the lot, The Monster, Erle C. Kenton’s The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) follows Rowland Lee’s Son of Frankenstein (1939). I’ll be posting a commentary on Son of Frankenstein, which is a favorite of mine in a couple of weeks, but for now I’m picking up the “story” where that movie ends. BEWARE – this commentary is horribly infected by spoilers.
The Ghost of Frankenstein is a direct sequel to Son of Frankenstein meaning the story is a continuation of sorts, except it isn’t nearly as good as it’s predecessor. Clips of that previous film are included in flashbacks here, which helps, but the “camp” makes this one implausible. Um…you know, because everything in Son of Frankenstein is real. Anyway, I won’t get into all of the details of how we get to this film’s climax except to say it involves Ygor (Bela Lugosi) who’s still friend and caretaker to The Monster (Lon Chaney, Jr) volunteering his own brain as a replacement when it becomes clear something upstairs just ain’t right with the big guy.
By the way – many refer to The Monster as “the creature,” but I prefer to ascribe him the more respectful name of the two.
So, anyway – Ygor wants The Monster to be the best version of himself. After saving The Monster from the perpetual hell he was relegated to at the end of Son of Frankenstein Ygor realizes that his friend is revitalized whenever he is hit with a bolt of lightning. Recognizing that lightning can in some way offer a cure for what ails the creation Ygor brings his friend to Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein (Cedric Hardwicke) for care. The care would come in the form of harnessed lightning so that The Monster can stay ever strong. That might be the original concept behind energy drinks, now that I think about it. In any case, to put things in genealogical perspective – Ludwig Frankenstein is the brother of Wolf (played by Basil Rathbone in Son of Frankenstein) and son of Henry, the original Doctor (Colin Clive who also appears in flashbacks). By this point in the story both Ludwig’s father and brother have well-established reputations for madness after their experiments proved detrimental to society. Interested in restoring the family name, Ludwig puts aside the lightning concept and opts for replacing the monster’s criminal brain – the major mistake in the previous experiments – with a “normal” one.
The problem, of course, is that the volunteer brain Ludwig has at his disposal – Ygor’s – is anything but “normal” although no one can argue his resiliency. At this stage in the game Ygor’s body is a lot worse for wear. To put it mildly. He has died as a result of four bullet holes and I think a couple of hangings in this film’s predecessor so he has little to lose by having his brain placed in a strong body and upgrading his friend The Monster in the process. Well, the end result of the struggles in this movie make for good laughs instead of fright, but if you’re a fan of these classic films and characters then I don’t hesitate for a moment to recommend this even if its story is a serious deterioration from previous Universal offerings.
Why do I recommend The Ghost of Frankenstein? Well, there are several reasons the first of which is Bela Lugosi’s entertaining portrayal of the scheming Ygor. This movie’s cinematography by Elwood Bredell and Milton R. Krasner (director of photography) is also quite effective in the realm of classic horror despite the oft silly plot. In fact at times the look of Ghost is downright scary (to this chicken in any case). Then there’s also a terrific lot of supporting players in this like the couple involved in the nightmare that surrounds The Monster played by Universal favorite Evelyn Ankers and perpetual movie bachelor Ralph Bellamy. Both are always great to watch. Alongside the latest Dr. Frankenstein, Hardwicke is Lionel Atwill as Dr. Bohmer who’s not a nice man, but assists in any way he can in all matters of brains – and such things. Horror veteran Dwight Frye has an uncredited cameo playing a villager here as do a few other Universal stock company players. Take a look at the complete cast and crew list here. So this is one you don’t want to miss even if it’s cringe-worthy.
The Ghost of Frankenstein Monster tidbits:
Lon Chaney, Jr. plays The Monster for the first time in The Ghost of Frankenstein, but he’d do so again in subsequent films and on television. Despite the make-up, which is very effective, and a decent, monster portrayal I never quite get used to Chaney’s Monster “look.” That may be the general reaction if you watch this right after Son of Frankenstein in which Karloff is fantastic. Other Lon Chaney Monster sightings include House of Dracula (1945) by way of stock footage; he doubled for Glenn Strange during shots used in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein; and he played The Monster in a short, but infamous, version of Frankenstein on TV’s Tales of Tomorrow.