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You can put my brain in his body...
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.