on 23 October 2013
This is the 4th entry in the Univeral series on the creature, and easily the worst of the bunch.
The biggest problem is Lon Chaney, a great horror actor who hated inheriting the role that Karloff made famous - and it shows. Throughout the movie he scowls and shuffles, showing none of the sympathetic traits of the monster from the first three films.
Bela Lugosi returns as the broken-necked Ygor, but Ygor just seems like a silly Wino in this movie. For lovers of the genre only.
Back in the 1980s I replaced most of my collection of 8mm movies with VHS and I have been going through a same process of upgrading to DVD for the last few years. This has given me the excuse to revisit many films that I have not seen for some time.
The film is on of the later (1942) Frankenstein movies from Universal and sadly does not have the same magic as the original trilogy. I first watched it in the early 1950's when staying with a chum during a mid-term break. His father had a tiny private movie theatre in one of the attics and we spent hours watching old 8mm and 16mm movies during a wet spring including old horror films which were still classified as X Rated in the cinemas and well out of the reach of 12 year old boys, that week started my love of old movies and firmly established me as a dedicated collector.
Sir Cedric Hardwicke stars as the younger son of Baron Frankenstein a doctor who owns a asylum for the mentally disturbed, where he is visited by Ygor, assistant to both his father and brother and the newly revived monster. Bela Lugosi is a malevolent Ygor and Lionel Atwill as the evil Dr.Bohmer. Boris Karloff had refused to perform the part of the monster for a fourth time and was replaced by Lon Chaney Jr who had to be threatened with being 'laid off' if he did not take on the role and his lack of enthusiasm is evident in his performance. Very much a lesser jewel in Universal horror crown but never-the-less well worth watching and an essential part of the collection if you are an enthusiast.
Of course the problem with the Frankenstein sequels, of the Universal Studios kind, was that they had to follow the genre firework that was Frankenstein (1931) and the monolithic titan that followed that one in 1935, The Bride of Frankenstein. These are tough acts to follow; still are actually!
Son of Frankenstein (1939) managed very well, it had Basil Rathbone in it and Bela Lugosi giving great horror oomph as Ygor. Boris Karloff bowed out as the monster after that one, leaving an iconic legacy and an insistence that the monster didn't speak. The result of Karloff's (ahem) request has proved divisive amongst Frankenstein fans, does it need a voice for personality, or is it better off as a lumbering rage machine only? Point being that in this one, he gets a voice, courtesy of Lon Chaney Junior's stint in the role, and it's not exactly a success.
Ghost of Frankenstein represents the start of the decline of the franchise, a noticeable drop in quality across the board. It's like Universal caught the cash cow disease and decided that quantity and not quality was what mattered. They would eventually team up the bolted necked one with Abbott and Costello, with fun results, but the horror aspects began to wane here in 1942. Lugosi is on hand for some more Ygor mischief, Cedric Hardwicke and Lionel Atwill as scientists with opposite ideals are reassuring presences, while Evelyn Ankers is sexy and costumed with a great eye for detail.
At just 67 minutes in length the film thankfully doesn't have time to be boring, though action is in short supply, so hooray for castle destruction and fire unbound! While Woody Bredell and Milton R. Krasner, via their photographic lenses ensure Gothic atmosphere is consistently ripe. Right, it's time for Universal Monster Tag Teams next... 5/10
on 27 November 2001
Bless him. Lon Chaney Jnr tries hard but it was never going to be easy filling Karloff's (oversized) boots. However, there are some great moments in this film, such as the Monster wanting to look after a little girl who befriends him, and the final scene when the hunchback, Ygor (Lugosi in good form), swaps brains with the Monster.
What is puzzeling, though, is why Universal chose not to issue the film before this one, The Son of Frankenstein..
on 10 March 2012
After discovering the weakened Monster (Lon Chaney) encased in the sulphur into which he plunged at the end of 1939's Son of Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi's Ygor (shot dead in the previous film but now unaccountably alive and well again) sets off to find a second son of the original Frankenstein (Cedric Hardwicke), this one a pioneering brain surgeon in a nearby town...
A film I dislike more for what it's not than what it is, The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) marks the point at which Universal's Frankenstein series, and the studio's horror cycle overall, started to dip irreversibly in quality. Unlike the three previous, Boris Karloff-starring epics in the Frankenstein saga, this fourth effort, a B-movie through-and-through, has a production line feel from start to finish; Karloff had long before decided that all potential in the character of the Monster had been played out, and you can't really disagree with him when you sit through this programmer, which is seemingly assembled from various plot aspects of the earlier films and lacks a single truly original or striking feature.
The performances here range from adequate to rubbish. Promoted as Universal's new horror star following the success of The Wolf Man the previous year, the limited Chaney replaces Karloff in the part of the Monster and gives a performance that lacks any of his forerunner's skill, and whilst Lugosi encores as the broken-necked Ygor, it is to much less effect (he actually looks like he's had a wash and blow-dry). Lionel Atwill, so good in the previous film as the disabled, disturbed Inspector Krogh, is annoyingly re-cast as a stereotypical `mad' scientist, whilst as the latest member of the Frankenstein clan, Hardwicke clearly can't be bothered with it all, looking like he's just thinking about his pay packet and counting the days until he can once again tread the boards on the London stage. And whoever thought that Ralph Bellamy was a good choice to appear in Universal horror movies was clearly a can short of a six-pack.
It also follows on uneasily from the earlier films in that continuity and themes largely go out of the window, and it throws up nothing but annoying questions that detract from any merits the film might have. Why is Lugosi's Ygor still alive? Why did Basil Rathbone's character in the 1939 movie have to travel all the way from the United States to Central Europe to take over his late father's estate, if he had already had a brother living relatively locally? Why did the filmmakers choose to include stock footage of Colin Clive from the original 1931 Frankenstein, and then get the completely different-looking Hardwicke to pull double duty and also play his character in the film's half-baked dream sequences? And why does the film end with an utterly stupid 'walking off into the sunset' shot of the film's gruesomely uncharismatic `straight' leads (Bellamy and Evelyn Ankers), that looks like it was spliced in from some third-rate romantic melodrama?
If you've only got a passing interest in the Universal Frankenstein movies, The Ghost of Frankenstein is probably a film you can afford to skip. Stick with the original Karloff classics, three expensive-looking films made with craftsmanship and a little intelligence. This fourth movie is cheap, silly, and like the majority of the Universal horrors that came after it, isn't really worth the viewers' time.
on 22 May 2015
The Ghost of Frankenstein was the first Universal Horror film I saw projected on a big screen rather than on TV. Admittedly if you are not a Universal Horror aficionado as I am the film would probably come across to you as rather heavy handed and not a patch on the three earlier films in the sequence Frankenstein, Bride and Son. However if you love this type of film as much as I do you would not be disappointed. Sir Cedric Hardwicke stars as "the other" son of Frankenstein who runs an institution for the mentally unwell. Here, he is visited by Ygor, assistant to Wolf Von Frankenstein in "Son" and the newly revived monster. The director Erle C Kenton who directed Island of Lost Souls in 1932 does a brisk job, brining in the film at 68 minutes so there is no time to get bored. Bela Lugosi in a brilliant characterisation is a malevolent Ygor steals the film from his more worthy fellow actors, which includes the malign Lionel Atwill as Doctor Bohmer. The Monster this time round has entirely lost his character: the gorgeous performances of Boris Karloff are replaced by a hulking thing - a robot - automaton - which has little panache but is big on being violent and scary. Lon Chaney brings none of the pathos and depth to the role Karloff did."The rot set in with this pot boiler" says the legendary Leslie Halliwell, film critic, but I say give the film a chance as the character actors and crazy plot really keep that "pot boiling!"
on 7 February 2009
Following on from the "Son of Frankenstein" this black and white epic has all the humour and cheesy horror you would expect from the classic film era. With Lon Chaney Jr. as the monster and Bela Lugosi as the good doctor's twisted assistant, Ygor, you have two of the heavyweights from the genre giving typical over the top performances. Okay the old script isn't fantastic by todays special effect laiden standards but that doesn't matter, I loved it when the creature goes on the rampage at a straight-legged 1mph - so runaway... you know you'll be safe!
on 3 December 2014
Despite the absence of Karloff as the monster, there is fun to be had from the continuing presence of Bela Lugosi as Igor and the ludicrous premise (the brother of the son of Frankenstein attempts to correct the monster's psychotic tendencies). Lon Chaney stumbles around as the monster without character or pathos.
Boris Karloff was wrong when he objected to having the monster speak in "Bride of Frankenstein." The progression of the character from the inarticulate brute of first "Frankenstein" movie was a smart move and the second film in the Universal series is the best of the bunch. How wrong Karloff was about his most famous creation is amply proven in "The Ghost of Frankenstein," the fourth film in the series and the first with someone other than Karloff playing the monster (Karloff's daughter agrees with me). Lon Chaney, Jr. gets the honors and he follows Karloff's lead from the previous film, "The Son of Frankenstein," where no longer speaks and is shuffling with a much stiffer gait. In other words, Chaney is reinforcing the stereotype of the Frankenstein Monster that exists today.
It is easy to defend the earlier films in the Universal "Frankenstein" series. After all, the first two were directed by James Whales and stuck the closest, all things considered, to Mary Shelley's original novel, and Karloff played the monster in the first three. By when we get to "The Son of Frankenstein" and "The Ghost of Frankenstein" the driving force of the stories is no longer the monster or his creator, but Bela Lugosi's Ygor. Ironically, Lugosi had turned down the role of the monster in the first "Frankenstein," which then catapulted Karloff to stardom and codified his performance as the finest monster in screen history. Consequently, I can look at Lugosi's two Frankenstein movies as his revenge (and not in a good way).
"The Ghost of Frankenstein" was written by Scott Darling ("Charlie Chan at the Opera") from a story by Eric Taylor ("The Black Cat"), and was directed by Erle C. Kenton ("Island of Lost Souls"). Actually, this 1942 film is more "The Son of Frankenstein II" because the Dr. Frankenstein of this one is Ludwig von Frankenstein (Cedric Hardwicke of the 1939 version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"), another son of the original Dr. Frankenstein. Ludwig helps people suffering from diseases of the mind and when he finds out that his father's monster is still running around his solution to the creature's apparent immortality is dissection. If his father could sew a body together, then unsewing it to take it apart makes sense. But Dr. Bohmer (Lionel Atwill) thinks this is a bad thing and Ludwig does not feel compelled to argue the point, especially after the ghost of his father shows up and tells him to play along in the family business.
When their colleague Dr. Kettering (Barton Yarborough) is killed by the monster, Ludwig comes up with the bright idea of replacing the criminal brain in the monster's skull with that of Kettering. However, Ygor, who has survived having his neck broken after being hung, and now has also survived the three bullets that Basil Rathbone put in his chest in "Son," has a better idea. So the question is whose brain is going to end up in Chaney's skull, especially since the monster has his own weird suggestion. There is a minor plot line involving Ludwig's daughter Elsa (Evelyn Ankers) and the local proescutor (Ralph Bellamy) adds little to this 67-minute film.
Basically, the problem with this movie is that Lugois's Ygor is a more interesting character than Hardwicke's Ludwig and breaking the fundamental dynamic of a Frankenstein movie to make the insane assistant more important than the mad doctor is not a smart move. I was almost going to round up on this one because of the twist provided by one of the basic medical concepts regarding transplants that comes into play at the end, but not quite. The idea of transplanting a second, "better" brain into the monster's head is pursued more successfully in later films, most notably Hammer's "Revenge of Frankenstein" and "Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell." Certainly the makers of these later films were inspired by the failure of "The Ghost of Frankenstein" to even come close to maximizing the story line's potential.
Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed Ghost of Frankenstein much more than Son of Frankenstein. I think the turn toward the big, dumb Frankenstein monster stereotype took place in Son of Frankenstein, so by this point (1942), all hope was lost for ever bringing to life the creature envisioned by Mary Shelley (I say creature because Dr. Frankenstein, not the creature, was the true monster). There's no denying that Lon Chaney, Jr., who took up the role of the creature here in Ghost of Frankenstein, pales in comparison with Boris Karloff, but I actually found the monster more sympathetic this time around than last. You won't see the type of pathos and innocence that Karloff brought to the role in the first two films, yet Chaney subtly shows a human side to the creature on a couple of occasions (and, to be frank, the script didn't allow him much room to maneuver in terms of developing his character).
This film could easily have been called The Other Son of Frankenstein because, lo and behold, the son who restored life to the creature in Son of Frankenstein has a brother. The timing aspects of the whole thing aren't very clear. The film opens with the villagers we know so well storming the castle to destroy the curse of Frankenstein. Ygor (Bela Lugosi) despite being shot numerous times by Dr. Wolf Frankenstein in the last film, still lives (hey, he had already survived a broken neck at the gallows years earlier); in the course of fleeing the besieged castle, he finds his good, monstrous friend (whom we last saw sinking into a pit of boiling sulphur). After escaping the castle, Ygor decides to take the monster to the other Frankenstein brother. Ludwig (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), a respected mental health doctor, is none too happy to see Ygor or to deal with the creature he believed had finally been killed, yet rather than destroy the monster, he decides to give him a new brain. In this way, he believes, he can resurrect his father's shattered reputation and renew the good name of Frankenstein.
Ludwig must be around fifty years old, which creates a problem. The events of Son of Frankenstein took place some twenty-five years after the creation of the Bride of Frankenstein. The original Dr. Frankenstein reportedly died very soon after bringing the female creature to life. Obviously, very little time has passed since the events chronicled in Son of Frankenstein, so Ludwig should be, at most, in his mid-twenties. I suppose that's neither here nor there in the final scope of things, however. I must say I loved Hardwicke's performance here. Ludwig is a serious fellow who never slips into the madness that claimed his father and brother. He does agree to harbor the monster and to replace his "criminal" brain with a good brain, but his desire to substantiate his infamous father's work and to restore the family name are the driving forces behind his decision-making. Everything might have turned out all right, too, if it weren't for Ludwig's assistant Dr. Bohmer (played by Leonard Atwill, who stole the show in Son of Frankenstein as the indomitable Inspector Krogh). Bohmer taught Ludwig almost everything he knows, but one little "miscalculation" destroyed his career and forced him to assume the role of assistant to his former protégé. It is in the pool of Bohmer's bitterness that the ever-resourceful Ygor finds the leverage he needs to pull one over on Dr. Frankenstein. Ygor, you see, wants his own brain transplanted into the creature's body.
As much as I respect and idolize Bela Lugosi, I really wasn't that impressed by his performance in Son of Frankenstein - I should say that I didn't think his character, Ygor, was worthy of Lugosi. In Ghost of Frankenstein, however, I found Ygor to be a much more engaging fellow. I still don't believe it is one of Lugosi's better characters, but clearly Lugosi contributed a great deal to the overall success of this movie. Is Ghost of Frankenstein as impressive a film as the first two Frankenstein films? Hardly. It is, though - at least in my opinion - a much better film than Son of Frankenstein. Chaney, despite his proto-Herman Munster appearance, turns in a very solid performance as the creature; he is not in the same league as Boris Karloff, yet he deserves much credit for his contributions to the evolving Frankenstein storyline.