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Monday, January 30, 2012

Ghost of Frankenstein

Universal cranked out yet another sequel in 1942. Ghost of Frankenstein (GoF) picks up the story where the third movie left off. The monster and Ygor somehow survived and search out a second son of Henry. This fourth movie starred Lon Chaney Jr. as the monster, and Bela Lugosi again as Ygor. Cedric Hardwicke plays Ludwig Frankenstein. Erle Kenton directs, as he would the sixth movie in the series. The formula for the films is repeated, some variations to freshen it up.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Awhile after the cheerful farewell to Wolf von Frankenstein, the villagers fall on hard times. The other villagers shun them. They fret about a curse. The burgomaster tells them the castle is theirs, so they decide to blow it up. Ygor, not dead after all, cowers in lower levels. One of the explosions dislodges the monster from the solidified sulphur of the cooled pit. He is alive! Ygor and the monster escape before the castle is destroyed. Ygor takes him to the nearby village of Visaria where he knows a second son of Heinrich (Henry) works as a doctor.The monster rescues a little girl (named Cloestine) from some bullies, but the townspeople mob him. He kills a couple in self defense. The monster is put in jail but quickly escapes. Ygor takes him to the estate of Ludwig von Frankenstein. Ludwig wants nothing to do with his family's dark past, but Ygor threatens to expose Ludwig if he doesn't make the monster well again. Ludwig reluctantly agrees, but really plans to dissect the monster and end the curse. The "ghost" of Henry appears to Ludwig imploring him to fix the monster, not destroy it. Give it a "good" brain. Ludwig reluctantly agrees. He dusts off the diary and notes of his father and brother and starts to figuring. Meanwhile, the townsfolk and police are looking for the missing monster and gradually suspect Ludwig is hiding him. The monster had killed an associate of Ludwigs, a Dr. Kettering, so Ludwig plans to use Kettering's brain. Ygor persuades another associate of Ludwig's, a Dr. Bohmer, to use his (Ygor's) brain instead. Meanwhile, the monster has left the castle (just when the police show up to search it, so he's not found). He goes into town and scoops up little Cloestine and brings her to the estate. The monster wants Ludwig to use Cloestine's brain. No no, that won't do. The operation proceeds. Bohmer brings in Ygor's brain. Ludwig thinks it's Kettering's. When complete, the monster recovers, but speaks with Ygor's voice. He boasts of invincibility. The villagers storm the estate. Ygor-monster and Bohmer flood it with sleeping gas. Suddenly, Ygor-monster realizes he is blind. Ludwig says Ygor did not have the right blood type. The body is reacting. Blind Ygor-monster rages around, killing Bohmer and starting a huge fire. The whole estate burns up. The monster is shown with glimpses of burn makeup. Eric (the town prosecutor) and Elsa, Ludwig's daughter, leave the burning estate and climb over a hill into the dawn. The End.

Sci-fi Connection Only near the end does medical "science" factor in. The introduction of the blood type issue was at least a nod to biology.

Compared to the Novel
This section needs to be dropped. Universal's Frankenstein series had stopped drawing upon Mary Shelley's novel for its material and was making up their own scenarios -- mostly repeating the previously successful ones.

Saga Connection
Ludwig is a brother to Wolf, apparently an older brother. Ludwig is a doctor too (he does brain transplant surgery), but is supposedly more of a psychologist. Ludwig's only child, apparently, is his daughter Elsa. This is the same name as his brother Wolf's wife. Ygor returns, apparently somewhat invincible himself. As with the previous iterations, the monster and other bad folk die in the end -- or at least appear to. This time, the doctor Frankenstein does die in the end. It is his daughter, Elsa, who lives to be featured in another film.

New Monster -- Boris Karloff did not play the monster in GoF. Instead, Universal cast Lon Chaney Jr. Jack Pierce's makeup makes him unmistakably the monster, but Chaney's dimpled chin is obvious. Chaney renders the monster as more plodding and without the pathos that Karloff put into him. Inextricably, he is mute again.

Chaney-As-Monster II -- The year before, Universal released a "lite" sci-fi thriller called Man Made Monster. In it, the mad scientist is played by Lionel Atwell. Lon Chaney is the large man made invincible by high voltage. Man Made Monster will get its own review in due time, but for now, suffice it to say the plot is a loose paraphrase of the by-now-familiar mad scientist and man-made-monster trope that Frankenstein made famous.

Town Ghosts -- Fans of the series will note that councilman Neumuller and Lang are alive again and sitting on the council. Lionel Atwell, who played inspector Krough in Son of… now plays Dr. Bohmer, the rogue associate.

Childlike Charm -- A curious bit of pathos that GoF does generate, revolves around the accepting innocence of little Cloestine. The other kids run away from the monster, but she's not frightened. This harkens to the scene with little Maria in the first movie, except that the monster seems to have learned to treat girls better. The Cloestine scenes (all three) seem to be the writers' suggestion that the monster would an okay guy if people just treated him nice and smiled now and then. 

Wooden Doc -- Cedric Hardwicke plays a more distant Dr. Frankenstein. He had hoped to hide from his father's legacy, and only reluctantly joins the cause. Hardwicke plays Ludwig rather stiffly, like a somewhat tired old man, compared to the young and zealous Colin Clive of the first two films. The "ghost", which is supposed to be Henry, is real just Hardwicke made blurry.

Mephisto By Proxy -- Ygor continues to play his role as Mephistopheles, but this time instead of beguiling a Frankenstein, he sets his sights on a more pliant victim. Dr. Bohmer, desiring fame, is an easier victim for Ygor's wiles. Ygor apparently harbors the same megalomaniacal dream of ruling the world that Dr. Pretorius did in the second film. Hubris foils Ygor's schemes and kills Bohmer.

Bottom line? GoF shows more of the weakness sequels are prone to. Yet, it manages to interject a few new features to the saga. Lugosi's Ygor actually carries the film. While some use of long shadows is made, the off-kiler look of German Expressionism is gone. There are still plenty of dark and stormy nights, and angry mobs with torches. The Frankenstein formula franchise has become a bit too familiar. Still, the film offers some predictable entertainment.

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