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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman

In 1943, Universal cranked out yet another so-so sequel, but created the first monster vs. monster films. Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (FMW) is a double sequel. It is the fifth chapter in the Frankenstein saga, and a first sequel for the Wolfman ('41). As the Frankenstein fifth film, the story is weak, yet it is a highly significant chapter because Bela Lugosi plays the monster. (more in Notes section) Curt Siodmak, who penned many 50s sci-fi screenplays, wrote this sequel to his popular 1941 Wolfman film. Siodmak would also write the chapter, House of Frankenstein in 1944.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Grave robbers break into the Talbot family crypt looking for jewelry. They open the casket of Laurence Talbot, letting in a beam of moonlight. This revives the immortal werewolf. Laurence is found unconscious on a Cardiff street. He is taken to the hospital. Dr. Mannering and Inspector Owen don't believe he can turn into a wolfman and kill people, but change their mind when they see the casket is empty. Larry runs away and finds Maleva, the gypsy woman whose werewolf son bit him and made him a werewolf. She says a Dr. Frankenstein can help Larry die and stay dead. They travel from Wales to the village of Visaria. The doctor is dead, but the villagers are hostile towards anyone looking for a Frankenstein. Larry, turned to a werewolf, killed a young woman and got chased by the usual mob of angry villagers. He falls into the basement catacombs of the old castle. Next morning, now as Larry, he finds the monster encased in ice. He digs him out and asks him to locate the diaries. No success. Larry poses as a Mr. Taylor, pretending to want to buy the estate so he can meet baroness (Elsa) Frankenstein. He asks her for the diaries, but she pretends not to know. A quaint village festival of the new wine waxes musical. Larry loses his cool at the song lyrics which speak of living forever. Dr. Mannering followed Larry's trail of murders across Europe to find him in Visaria. He and Elsa find Larry hiding in the castle ruins. She opens the secret compartment revealing the diaries. Dr. Mannering thinks he know how to de-activate both the monster and Larry. The townsfolk fret and worry over what Dr. Mannering and "that Frankenstein woman" are doing up in the castle. Barkeper Vasec proposes they blow up the dam and flood the castle, killing them. No one signs onto his plan. They all go out to see the castle glowing from the electric arcs. Mannering has the the two hooked up to the machines. At the last moment, he can't deactivate the monster, but wants to see it at full power. He charges the monster. Filled with new power, the monster rips off his restraints. He chases and grabs Elsa. Talbot turned into the Wolfman. He stops the monster. The two fight, trashing the lab. Mannering and Elsa escape the castle. Vasec rigged explosives at the dam and blows it up. A model flood sweeps down on a model castle. It crumbles into rubble. The End.

Sci-fi Connections
The "science" is thinner in this chapter of the saga. Dr. Mannering recites some generalisms about entropy. The monster was energized with the life-giving cosmic rays. The "key" to deactivating him, is draining off his energy by reversing the poles of Frankenstein's sparky machines. Having Curt Siodmak as the screenwriter, gives FMW a family link to Golden Era sci-fi. Siodmak wrote some early sci-fi, such as F.P. 1 Doesn't Answer ('33), but also many 50s titles, such as: Donovan's Brain ('53), Magnetic Monster ('53), Riders to the Stars ('54) Creature With the Atomic Brain ('55) and Earth vs. Flying Saucers ('57).

Saga Connection
The only carryovers from the fourth movie was the monster and baroness Elsa (daughter of Ludwig from "Ghost"). Elsa is played by a different actress. The monster is played by Bela Lugosi. While he doesn't have the build or stature for a good monster portrayal, the logic was that he would speak with Ygor's voice, as he did at the end of the fourth movie. This, since he got Ygor's brain. The blindness from the end of the fourth movie also explains the raised stiff arms Lugosi uses. There's more on this in the Notes section below.

Fateful Fiend -- FMW may be a lesser-grade sequel, but it is historically significant because Bela Lugosi plays the monster (the only time he does). Back in 1931, when Universal was planning the original Frankenstein film to follow up their success with Dracula, they wanted Lugosi to play the monster. He made such a good Dracula, his name would have marquee power. Lugosi is said to have turned down the role because it had no speaking parts. Universal then tapped Boris Karloff, who had played mostly uncredited bit parts. Karloff then went on to greater fame as the monster. Lugosi may still not have been keen on playing the monster, but since it got Ygor's brain in the previous film, and the monster was to speak (like Ygor). He agreed.

Mute Point -- Ironically, even though Lugosi's monster had some speaking lines, they all got edited out. The traditional story is that test audiences laughed at the monster speaking with Ygor's voice, so Universal cut them all out. Something doesn't line up in this traditional. The monster spoke with Lugosi's Ygor voice at the end of the previous film and it caused no laughter. Perhaps Universal was disingenuous about letting Lugosi have speaking lines. Perhaps they felt it better keep their cash-cow monster a mute beast. Maybe Lugosi's talking monster wasn't as frightening as speechless monster.  Supposedly, his lines were to have explained his partial blindness (and hence his iconic stiff armed walk), as well as some back story tying in the previous film. Apparently this was not not crucial. Fans of the saga knew those details anyway.

Name Conflation -- Universal themselves contributed to the ongoing confusion over the name of the monster. The title of the film (and posters) show the monster fighting the Wolfman. To the average Joe, that meant the name of the monster was "Frankenstein." It seems unlikely that the title refers to Elsa Frankenstein meeting the Wolfman. Although she does chat with Talbot. in the mayor's office and at the festival, this hardly seems like a film's title moment.

Non-Ending -- Fans of the saga would have known that the ending of the film was really no ending at all. The Wolfman could not die. We learned that in the first half of the film. A mere flood wouldn't kill him. The monster, too, was deemed immortal earlier. Neither fire, nor cave-in, nor being frozen, nor molten sulphur had killed him before. Why would a mere flood kill him? Fans knew it would not. Universal was leaving their sequel options open

Fixated on Women -- There must be something about those Frankenstein women. In the original story, the abandoned monster is jealous of the doctor's wife because SHE gets his attention. In the 1910 Edison version, the monster is also jealous of the doctor's young bride. This plays out too in the 1931 version. The monster seems almost lusty for Elizabeth. In Bride, the monster actually kidnaps Elizabeth. Now in FMW, the monster carries off the lovely Elsa.

Bottom line? FMW is a sequel which is showing more signs of sequelness. Yet, it is still a fairly watchable film with a few worthwhile moments. The final fight between the monster and the wolfman would seem to have been the primary reason the screenplay existed. Fans of the saga won't mind the thinness of the story. Fans of sci-fi might be underwhelmed.

1 comment:

Gregorian said...

I'm really enjoying these reviews. It didn't click to me that the Frankenstein story continued to play on as a series after Bride of Frankenstein, and now I am keen to collect them up and watch them one after the other.