Daily Archives: April 5, 2017

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

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*. Let’s start with that title. The verb “meets” is so quaint . . . genteel even. A relic of a bygone era. I mean, we couldn’t imagine Alien Meets Predator could we? Or Freddy Meets Jason? (Two films, by the way, that pay tribute to this as the great monster mash-up original.)
*. You have to love the ingenuity studios put into defibrillating a dead franchise. I think my favourite example of this is how they pulled Escape from the Planet of the Apes out of the ass of Beneath the Planet of the Apes. That was funny. In any event, they were put to the test here, since at the end of The Wolf Man Lawrence Talbot was good and dead. He even had the gypsy woman Maleva give his verse eulogy. But all his corpse really needed was a dash of moonlight, helpfully provided by a mausoleum with an open window.
*. I’ll say right off that I liked this movie better than The Wolf Man. That’s not quite like saying I like Bride of Frankenstein more than Frankenstein though, since the fact is I didn’t like The Wolf Man very much. This one is sillier, but more fun.

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*. The plot makes no sense at all. All Talbot wants to do is die, not find a cure for his lycanthropy. So why not just jump into a volcano, or in front of a bus? Frankenstein’s diary is modestly titled The Secrets of Life and Death, but surely there’s no secret to self-destruction. (In the immediate sequel, House of Frankenstein, the title of the book has changed to Experiments in Life and Death, by the way. In Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein it has changed back to Secrets. A bit of discontinuity trivia.)
*. In the event, the actual secret of life and death is almost comically vague. “Connect the minus to the minus.” That doesn’t sound very scientific, even to me.
*. In The Wolf Man Talbot is an engineer and even boasts of being mechanically inclined: “I can figure out most anything if you give me electric current, tubes and wires, something I can do with my hands.” So why in this movie does he look on helplessly at the machinery in the Baron’s lab and immediately ask Dr. Mannering if he might be able to fix it? Mannering is a psychiatrist!

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*. The Monster was a butchered part. Originally he was supposed to be able to speak, but they cut his lines and left Lugosi with nothing but growls. They also left out any explanation of his blindness, leaving him to lurch awkwardly around with his arms held out in front of him for no apparent reason.
*. What’s left of the script seems like a bunch of odd bits and pieces. They didn’t really need to bring Maleva back, and after taking Talbot to Frankenstein she no longer has any function. Elsa Frankenstein is dangled as a potential love interest, but whose? And what purpose does she serve except to show where the Baron’s secret diary is hidden? Dr. Mannering starts out as a sympathetic hero but then seems to get infected with the Baron’s madness, only to turn hero again at the very end. What a mess!

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*. Finally, how do we rate the Battle of the Universal Titans promised in the title? I’d only give it a passing grade. The Monster was hamstrung because of the aforementioned blindness and stiff movement, but also because Lugosi had to be doubled so they couldn’t do any close shots. As for the Wolf Man (who I think was also doubled), his only move seems to be climbing on top of something and then jumping on to the Monster. This he does again and again and again.
*. Fight scenes have come a long way. Hollywood in the golden age could certainly do great swordfights, but when it came to fist fights or monster brawls the results look primitive to a modern audience (and to some contemporaries: Bosley Crowther was notably underwhelmed at the climax here). There’s nothing in old movie fights like the editing and choreography we’ve come to expect. So the final battle here isn’t much, and finally ends in a draw due to the venue collapsing around the antagonists, but given what the movie had to work with I think it looks pretty good.
*. The early Universal horrors were informed by a spirit of playfulness and fun, never taking themselves entirely seriously. What we have here is an early example, really the studio’s first, of the ensemble horror or Monster Mash: fast-paced, whimsical (that ice cavern under the castle!), and fun. Even Talbot’s whiney desire to kill himself isn’t allowed to dampen the proceedings that much. Nor do we put much faith in the Götterdämmerung finale closing the books on either of these baddies. For all Talbot’s complaining, Chaney seems to have enjoyed playing the Wolf Man. He thought of the role as his “baby.” He was bound to come back.

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