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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

3 Frankenstein Miscellany

Between the end of the Universal Pictures' Frankenstein saga and beginning of the Hammer Studios series, there were three unrelated Frankenstein films that carried the torch. They did not pretend to continue Universal's story line. Instead, they took the basic trope(s) and spun up new stories. Since they are drifting a bit far afield of this sci-fi focused FrankenFEST, all three are treated briefly in this one post.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Mini Synopsis -- A shopkeeper with a "House of Horrors" acquires from Europe, the coffin of Dracula and the body of Frankenstein's monster. Delivering them is the bungling duo of Abbott and Costello. Lawrence Talbot tries to prevent the delivery because he knows Dracula is trying to revive the monster. Larry fails. Pretty Dr. Sandra is retained by Dracula to find a suitably simple brain to transplant into the monster so it will obey him (and not rampage around) Sandra is beguiling Wilber (Costello) to be the brain donor. Meanwhile, a pretty agent for the insurance company is also charming Wilbur to find the missing shipments (Dracula and monster). Talbot turns into the Wolf Man a few times for comic effect. Impatient, Dracula bites Sandra and turns her into a compliant fellow vampire. Chick (Abbott) and Talbot arrive just in time to interrupt the brain transplant operation. The monster rages and throws Sandra out a window. The Wolf Man grabs Dracula (in bat form) and falls off a cliff into the sea. The monster follows Wilber and Chick to the dock, where Sandra's assistant, Professor Stevens sets the dock and monster on fire. Chick and Wilbur are safe in their boat, but jump in the water when frightened by The Invisible Man. The End.

Sci-fi Component 
As a comedy, any "science" is residual and left over from the Universal saga. Some sparky machines and buzzing units. Not much.

Significant Values? 
ACMF was Universal's last film depicting it's three famous monsters, but the plot has no connection to the saga. Some viewers saw the film as self-mocking farce, but that seems a bit harsh. The three monsters play their roles fairly straight, except for a couple comedic effects -- like the monster screaming in fright at the sight of Wilbur. A movie treat, is seeing Bela Lugosi (then in his mid 60s and failing health) playing the role he made famous: Count Dracula.


I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (1957)

Mini Synopsis -- Whit Bissell plays a modern (1950s) professor Frankenstein, a descendent of Baron Frankenstein. He plans to succeed where his ancestor failed, by only using parts of young bodies. A car crash outside his office provides the initial body. He and his assistant, Dr. Karlton, steal other body parts from cemeteries of dead prime teens. Dr. Frankenstein's fiance, Margaret, resents his obsessive devotion to his work. This leads her to sneak into the lab where she sees the monster. The monster yearns to walk outdoors, so sneaks out one night. He frightens a young woman, whom he strangles trying to quiet her. The police canvas the area, looking for the killer. Dr. F fears Margaret will expose him, so plots to have the monster kill her. He does, and her parts are fed to Dr. F's alligator. Dr. F and monster then go to Lover's Lane where the monster kills a young man to be his face donor. Dr. F grafts Bob's face onto the monster. The face donor was known in the area, so Dr. F plans to "launch" his new-built man in England. Since the monster has no identity papers, etc., Dr. F plans to dissect him, ship the parts to England, where he will reassemble him and re-invigorate him. The monster sensing something is wrong, refuses to be dissected and turns on the doctor. Dr. Karlton escapes and gets the police. The monster feeds dead Dr. F. to his alligators. When police come, the monster refuses to be taken captive, so kills himself by throwing himself onto the electrical panel. This last part was filmed in color, including a slow zoom-in of the monster mask. The End.

Sci-fi Connection
There is more of a medical/surgical element in IWATF than all of the other films.

Significant Values? -- American International Pictures quickly followed up the success of their I Was A Teenage Werewolf  with IWATF. Whit Bissell was again cast as the mad scientist. His Dr. Frankenstein continued the cold-hearted ruthlessness advanced by Boris Karloff's Dr. Niemann or the prior Dr. Pretorius. This ruthless doctor motif would characterize Hammer Studios' series. Somewhat of interest is how AIP was dusting off the classic monsters pioneered by Universal. Universal might have bowed out of the monster movie business, but their monsters still had some marketing power left.

A Touch of Shelley -- IWATF amounts to a modern casting of Mary Shelley's story. Like her monster, this one is horrible looking, but articulate, intelligent and longs to live among regular people.

Pandering Aplenty -- Much of the script is pretty obvious pandering to AIP's market: teens. The virtues of youth are extolled. At one point, Dr. F says: "Only in youth is there salvation for mankind." Yet, between the flattering words, is the subtext of dangerous youth that can easily turn on its elders. Juvenile Delinquency as a growing social angst finding a voice in film.


Frankenstein 1970 (1958)

Mini Synopsis -- Baron Victor Frankenstein (Karloff) is short of funds to continue his work, so rents out his castle to a movie crew shooting a horror film for the 230th anniversary of "Frankenstein." Victor, tortured by Nazis in WWII, fears he has little time left to live to finish his secret work. The movie director, Roe, promised Victor an atomic reactor in exchange for use of his castle. (?!)  In the catacombs, Victor has his secret lab full of more 50s-looking technology gizmos. In the special atomic chamber is his mummy-style monster-in-progress. Victor hypnotizes his too-inquisitive butler, Schuter, to make him the brain donor. He cranks up his new atomic chamber to invigorate his creation. The creatures, still very much wrapped in cloth strips, is alive. Victor sends the creature to get Roe to be an eye donor, but the monster kills the director's ex-wife instead. (she was still his secretary) Next, the monster kills the cameraman as he was looking for shooting locations in the catacombs. Being blood-type-A, his parts won't work. Roe calls in the police about his missing people, but they find nothing. Next, the Baron brings his suspecting old friend Gottfried down to the lab. He meets the monster with no eyes. The monster gets Gottfried's eyes. Roe, and his assistant, Mike, find the cameraman's viewer in the catacombs. Roe goes to the police with his suspicions. Victor hypnotizes Mike to get the starlet Caroline downstairs where the sight of the monster makes her faint. The monster carries her limp body down to the catacombs. She wakes up and pleads with Schuter (the butler's donated brain) to take her back upstairs. Schuter obeys the pretty blonde over his devious master. He then goes to the lab to get Victor, but Victor turns on the reactor with the door open. They both die. Later, the Inspector opens the dead monster's bandages to reveal that he had the face of Victor as a younger (un-tortured) man. Roe plays a tape in which Victor explains his quest for immortality via his creation. The End.

Sci-fi Component 
F70 is clearly a low-budget product of the late 1950s. Radiation is the magic power, not electricity. The Baron's lab is full of 50s dials and levers, not sparky things. The writers presumed that 12 years into the future, atomic reactors would be a commodity item on the private market.

Significant Values?
The writers created their own timeline, ignoring Uinversal's precedent. Their original doctor Frankenstein lived in the early 1700s (before electricity had been harnessed). Boris Karloff, who attained fame as the monster, plays the mad (and angry) doctor, as he had in House of Frankenstein, but this time as a Dr. Frankenstein himself. Karloff's baron seriously ramps up the cold-hearted ruthlessness. In the atomic era, scientists made credible villains. The modern Dr. Frankenstein had become the opposite of Mary Shelley's naive and remorseful student doctor. Hammer Studios' new Frankenstein series would further build upon the modern psychopathic Frankenstein.

Summary
The basic story and its elements had gone "public," yielding some wide varieties to the trope. The legend was drifting more and more into the horror genre, leaving science to the most marginal role. Hammer's series will show exemplify this.

4 comments:

Maurice Mitchell said...

Great write-up. I always wondered if A&C meet F was worth watching. Didn't know it was so serious.
***New Follower!***

Nightowl said...

Hi Maurice, Thanks for following.
Yes, I was pleasantly surprised by A&CMF. Going in, I had low expectations. Turned out to be a bit of a film-archelological nugget, though. Not high art, but the swan song of the old monsters. Watchable on its own and a nostalgia taste for the classic black-and-white Universal monsters.

KaBluie said...

You've got Abbott & Costello mixed up. Costello plays Wilbur & Abbott plays Chick.

Nightowl said...

KaBluie,
Oops. You're quite right. Fixed it. Thanks for the heads-up.