Tuesday, December 28, 2010


FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN was re-released by Realart in 1949 and frequently ran in movie theaters right up until its appearance on TV as part of the SHOCK! program beginning in 1957. It was most often paired with DRACULA'S DAUGHTER, but it turned up as well alongside THE MAD GHOUL, THE MUMMY'S CURSE, and THE MUMMY'S GHOST. FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN was also a familiar offering in those years at cinemas that ran late-night spook shows and kiddie matinees.

Daily Times-News, Burlington, NC, April 28, 1951

Hamilton [OH] Daily News Journal, March 16, 1957
That's not a bad way to spend a quarter on a Saturday afternoon...

Like GODZILLA VS. KING KONG (1962), the title alone would be enough to drum up excited anticipation for FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN; the prospect of seeing Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf Man whale the tar out of each other almost certainly sold a lot of tickets. Maybe seeing it in a movie theater with a lot of rambunctious kids hopped-up on refreshment-stand goodies on a Saturday afternoon or with nervously giggling popcorn-munching teenagers on a date-night makes all the difference with this movie, but watching it by yourself on television only emphasizes its faults.

Lima [OH] News, February 14, 1959

(...still, I'd rather watch FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN on WTOL-Toledo on Saturday night's Shock Theater than WTVN-Columbus' option of ENEMY AGENT. Channel 10's mystery movie WHO IS HOPE SCHUYLER? [1942] is not so bad, though... )

I'm not sure who to blame for this messy, de-centered movie-- Curt Siodmak's script is sloppy, but maybe producer George Waggner forced some last-minute changes that account for the biggest disappointments here. Tom Weaver and the Brunas brothers explain in Universal Horrors that one of the major changes was the excising of all the scenes of dialogue between Béla Lugosi's Monster and Lon Chaney, Jr.'s Larry Talbot; in so doing, a lot of plot exposition goes missing (I don't know how many times I had seen the movie before I realized that the Monster was supposed to be blind from the previous Frankenstein film). It also explains many of the odd aspects of Lugosi's performance as the Monster-- let's give the guy the benefit of the doubt and say that the edited-out dialogue would've made him appear less bizarre in his acting than he seems in the pantomime version that was released. Editing out those scenes make this already Wolf Man-centered film even more so, raising the question as to why this wasn't called THE WOLF MAN MEETS FRANKENSTEIN. (That this film is included in Universal's 2004 "Legacy Series" DVD set for the Wolf Man rather than Frankenstein underscores this.)

The germ of the idea that Talbot is searching the ruins of Frankenstein castle for the means of death after being buried alive for four years is good and grim, and this should give the movie a pop-existentialist tang. But that gets crowded out by all the other threads of the story, none of which are given much development, such as the changes that the Baroness Frankenstein (Ilona Massey) goes through in the course of the film and, even more mysterious, the motivations behind Dr. Frank Mannering's (Patric Knowles) actions. (What's more highly compressed in this movie? Mannering's decision to give up his post in a Cardiff hospital to chase Talbot? His switch to completely believing Talbot's "Oh, but I'm a werewolf!" story after all rather than continuing to insist that it is a lycanthropic delusion? His love affair with the Baroness? His decision to become a monster-maker?)

In addition to the holes and confusion within the story itself, there are also problems with FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN being able follow the larger story-line arcs laid out in FRANKENSTEIN, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN. But that's really not worth squabbling about-- a couple weeks back in comments to my post on THE MUMMY'S HAND, the argument came up that the non-chronological showing of films in the SHOCK! package meant that viewers experienced these films as discrete, stand-alone stories that couldn't be tied to any sort of narrative continuity that carried from one film in the series to the next. And that's probably the only way to view FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN in the end.

What works best about this movie for me, though, are some of the sets in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN which create such an iconic monster-movie mood when I see them. For example, the Hollywood gothic Llanwelly cemetery might be the best graveyard scene in the Universal horror movie canon. (By the way, does anyone know how Talbot got from the cemetery to Cardiff and how he got that nasty head wound in the first place?) I also groove on the Frankenstein ice caves and the burned-out ruined cellar laboratory. And even though it is such a hokey-looking miniature, I still always love the castle at the foot of the dam-- just seeing it conjures up the sheer thrill of watching this movie on TV despite all of the disappointments.

NEXT: "Alucard or Dracula? It doesn't matter which way you look at it when Shock brings to your screen SON OF DRACULA. You won't want to miss Lon Chaney and Louise Allbritton in this chill-drama about that famous vampire. It's a feature film presentation."


Mirek said...

I think that this film and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN are two favorites of monster kids when they were kids. FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN moves at a swift pace, discards most of the elements unnecessary to a child and young teenager, and just wallows in monster goodies and Universal horror atmosphere. It's also the first monster mash film, something that would influence future Universal productions in this series and decades later filmmakers like Paul Naschy.

My regret is that we don't have the footage of Lugosi talking as the Monster. While Hollywood legend has it that a showing for a select few at Universal resulted in laughter at Lugosi's talky performance, I'm not so sure I would have been laughing. A talking, blind Monster may have produced a creepy, weird sensation among many (particularly kids) rather than laughter.

Doktor Goulfinger contacted me about this post and informed:

"Larry Talbot got that scar from getting cracked in the head with the wolf's head cane in the original Wolf Man. I like how the matching cranial scars underscore the relation between Talbot and the Monster. There are a couple of shots - primarily in the lab - that frame their jagged forehead wounds in a way that make them mirror images of each other (the scars are on opposite sides of the head).

"I've read the FMTWM script, which includes the Lugosi dialogue, and it definitely fleshes out the story. There's a bit of an Of Mice and Men relationship, with Lon taking the George role. Talbot and the Monster sitting around a fire griping about their lot has a real hobo flavor to it. There's humor and philosophy - as well as plot - in these exchanges."

The Creeping Bride said...

Yes, I agree... for monster-crazy kids, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN is horror movie gold, second only to KING KONG VERSUS GODZILLA. My adult gripes posted here miss the point of its appeal entirely.

However, I have to say that, even as a kid, I found ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN cringe-worthy and I was embarrassed to see my beloved monsters turned into dumb props for a couple of unfunny chuckleheads. But mine was definitely a minority opinion among my peers.

kochillt said...

As Paul Naschy rhapsodised for the rest of his life, this film delivered on its thrills for younger viewers. While the first Larry Talbot film only mentions an "autumn moon," this one specifies a "full moon," a slight change few have noticed. Curt Siodmak's less than serious approach, conceiving the script as a joke, was overcome by the director and cast succeeding in making things as scary as a 40's horror can get. Chaney is perhaps even better than in the first, and it would be hard for any movie to top the graveyard opening or the vicious attack on the police constable (from the famous opening credits, with each word forming from puffs of smoke). There's more Wolf Man footage here than in any other, leaving very little to work with for Lugosi's Monster. For those who have seen the Monster's scripted dialogue, constantly complaining about his current situation, sounding like both Ygor and The Monster, it was probably for the best that those scenes were excised (it would have been fascinating viewing as an adult of course). It provides a last look at Dwight Frye, in his final horror film, and provided some work for a beleaguered Lionel Atwill. FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN was usually scheduled before THE WOLF MAN, and often before the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN (I myself first saw Lugosi's Monster before Karloff's). This film aired 9 times on CHILLER THEATER, debuting after 29 other Universals had already been shown (May 21 1966). Incidentally, the first two broadcast in Sept 1965 were FRANKENSTEIN, then THE WOLF MAN, Chilly Billy's favorites.