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Friday, January 31, 2014

Let Scares Be Multiplied

This Opener Scene Got Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man Off To A Roaring Start

Monster Mashing When Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943)

The perhaps scariest scene in all of Universal horror comes at the beginning of this, but just as creepy stuff was done routinely in Sherlock Holmes mysteries also at U and directed by Roy William Neill, who hung up his deerstalker for a one-time dance with Uni monsters (single previous horror film, The Black Room, also excellent). Again I say, if the man had not died early (1946), he'd be cultish and a major noir name for ones in that category he'd have surely done if not for fate's intervention. Universal missed a bet by not putting Neill in directorial charge of all their thrillers; he could have, for instance, elevated the Inner Sanctums with Chaney sure as he had the Holmes with Rathbone. What with Neill and Robert Siodmak on the lot and active, U could have spilt chillers between the pair and made Blackjack every time.

F Meets W was one the Shock (Theatre) watchers dreamed to see. Imagine these two locked in (im)mortal combat! And the fight in this case lived up to promise, stuntmen turned loose in reprise of melee staged a year before on The Spoilers, Frank/Wolf being but applianced vary on John Wayne, Randolph Scott, and same doubles knocking brains out in the Yukon. I knew at age 11 that F Meets W would be a pip and, if not a best in the series, certainly the liveliest. F's monster is on ice instead of sulfur this time; like deer meat, you had to keep him fresh between rounds. Universal was around to doing each monster on per year basis, so then-youth got Mummies, lycanthropes, eventual Ape girls, often as Santa Claus. The films were in unapologetic rut after the first Wolf Man, but weren't sloughed as were series elsewhere that ran down meters quicker.

Chaney dominates in a role he felt proprietary toward. There had been weight gain since The Wolf Man two years before, but he still wore suits well, initial contact with Illona Massey (as Frankenstein's daughter) giving us glimpse of romancer Lon in twilight. "Poor" Bela Lugosi finally plays the Monster he turned down twelve seasons back, by 1943 aware that was defining career misjudge. F Meets W came between Monogram assignments for Lugosi. Critics ignored these and actors thought Mono a slumming address, if not outright disease, but showmen appreciated the little company for always delivering on product promise (most poverty rowers failed at that). Urban "shooting galleries" plus small towns relied on Monogram for fill of bills aimed at Saturday and exploitation markets, these needed more now that we were in a wartime boom. Lugosi in 40's decline? On the contrary, this period between declaration and surrender was a peak of his movie exposure, if not success.

Original Caption Indicates This Was Chaney's Own Pet, "Moose," ID'ed
By Universal as "Famed Dog Actor."

Shuffling the monster deck was inevitable, characters largely played out for individual sequels. Besides, the war had acted as sugar high for kids who wanted movies louder and more boisterous. How else do you explain Abbott and Costello, also out of Universal? The monsters didn't necessarily lose respect, as most understood thrones they once sat on, plus there'd been revival of originals Dracula and Frankenstein to remind everyone that these were cherished franchise. Universal in observance lent real polish to Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (negative cost: $238,071). Their mini mock-up of the castle and looming waterfall is a landscape on which model railroaders might thrive. Family feeling is maintained by vets of the series now a stock company as sequels piled up: Lionel Atwill, Dwight Frye, numerous others known better by faces than names.

A joy for youth at the time and since is action getting immediately underway with no time spent on exposition or origin stuff re the monsters. We knew their predilections by 1943 and were eager to get on with it. Monster rallies were ideally keyed to wartime patience levels. The Wolf Man comes a-killing to a first reel and does so twice before brief subdue by ineffective authority. By way of loud, there is a mid-way "Festival Of The New Wine" that bids for outsize production number status with oodles of extras, a highlight to reassure us that U wouldn't take admission money for nothing. Lab stuff as practiced before repeats in observance of tradition, except now we're confused (at least I was) by whose energy was supposed to be channeled into what. A climactic blow-up and flood leaves plenty of real estate in which the monsters can hibernate and be found when next needed. Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man streams current on VuDu and looks great in HD. It along with other 40's sequels needs to come out on Blu-Ray, so write your congressman.


Blogger grandoldmovies said...

This is a good one in the series. Chaney's discovery of the Monster imprisoned in ice is one of the more memorable scenes for me; it's both absurd and eerie. Supposedly all of Bela's dialogue was cut, which left his Monster mute. A loss, I think, since the brain of Bela's Igor had been transplanted into the Monster in an earlier sequel, and thus Bela's own voice would have made sense emanating from his Monster.

2:43 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two of Craig Reardon on "Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man":

It's also clear in tight close-ups that Lugosi was similarly retrofitted with an existing Frankenstein's Monster headpiece, most likely the same one worn by his immediate predecessor, Lon Chaney Jr. It doesn't really fit him---it's made to fit him! Some of the wrinkles and buckling in the piece that result from this appliance being shoehorned onto him are an unfortunate side effect of what I'm guessing was an economically-dictated approach, i.e., not to make a new headpiece custom fit to his dome. Not that we'll ever know; not that the average viewer cared then, or cares now! In fact, as a kid who'd developed a nascent enthusiasm for monster makeup, I think I thought it was pretty impressive when I first saw it. The nitpicking, in this as in most other areas, usually doesn't set in until you assume the role of "I Was a Teenage Know-It-All".

The other thing that really hit me was your reproduction of the cover to the Castle Films' 8mm (or perhaps yours was the upscale 16mm!) edited version of "Frank Meets Wolf". I too owned that as a kid!---but most definitely the 8mm, i.e., less-expensive version, to suit our downscale 8mm home movie projector. I have to say that although the Castle Films were draconian in what they did NOT include from the features they were boiled down from, this particular one retained most of the socko scenes from the movie, including the great opener, and (if I remember rightly) the first transformation of Talbot into the Wolf Man (the best one ever in the entire filmography of the Chaney Wolf Man), as well as the final bout between "in this corner", the challenger, the Wolf Man; and "in that corner", the champion, the Frankenstein Monster! I've been recently engaged in going through my late mother's belongings and lo and behold I came upon this very object again after not having laid eyes on it for the past 45 or so years: the Castle Films reduction of "F Meets WM".

Thanks for another reference and excellent piece on a movie that really registers with "kids" my age, John.


5:26 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Always welcome Craig Reardon remembers "Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man':


Just read and loved your column about a childhood fave, "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man". Though I love Curt Siodmak's remark to some interviewer, which was apparently, "Herring is good and whipped cream is good, so Universal figures they're better together!", per the idea of combining both story lines, it makes the mistake of superimposing adult sophistication on a basic irresistible idea that George Waggner is supposed to have had, no doubt based simply in the idea of pitting an angry werewolf against an unstoppable opponent. And he was right! As a kid, I thought it was a fantastic idea! I didn't "think"---I just felt it. And that's what many great romances are made of, isn't it? Siodmak also told another one, whether true or not, that he'd quipped or ad libbed the line, "Frankenstein Wolfs the Meat Man", and that Waggner, who'd been soliciting ideas for future projects from Siodmak, responded by summoning him to his office and, dangling the prospect of enough money for Siodmak to be able to afford to buy a new car, told him the way to get it would be to deliver a script for the title "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man"! A great story, however much truth may or may not be in it. The idea being, his joke came back to bite him where he sat down to his typewriter!

All I knew at around age 10 is that I HAD to see this movie. I suppose I'd probably seen some good stills from the picture in Famous Monsters of Filmland, my elective Bible in my childhood. But in those days one had to be vigilant every week and note which old films were scheduled to be shown in one or two (or more) of the typical 'monster movie' slots on local TV stations that week. When "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" finally appeared, I'm sure I was avid to finally see it; and, it did not disappoint! As you point out, it was given a more-than-adequate production, and though utilizing Universal's familiar 'European village' permanent outdoor sets, there are those really terrific set pieces of the opening graveyard you rightly praise for its uber-creepy atmosphere, as well as the superb, icy vaults of the ruined Castle Frankenstein, where the Wolf Man scrambles around in animal bewilderment, to wake as a soaked and exhausted Larry Talbot, who shortly (one could say "too shortly", but that would be adult party-pooper rationalizing) blunders into the Frankenstein Monster locked in the ice. Even as a kid I could tell that whoever was in there, under that familiar makeup, was certainly not Bela Lugosi! But, also, I DIDN'T CARE! It was too cool---pun intended---to care. It was not, in fact, 'till some years later that I read a convincing explanation why Lugosi's pantomime for the Monster seemed so over-the-top and ludicrous in some ways, and it's a real disservice to the great trouper that the storyline was abandoned in the final edit that he is functioning with the disabilities added in "The Ghost of Frankenstein", including the fact he has Ygor's brain! Yet, I can't blame producer Waggner for coming to the conclusion that any future sequels would not be helped but hindered by this element---even though they'd begun shooting the film by accommodating it! Thus, as we're informed, Bela's Monster---which talked!---now moves its lips with nothing audible issuing forth on the soundtrack; and, the Monster awkwardly gropes the air with extended arms in what appear to be grossly exaggerated movements, but this was became the Monster was also written as being BLIND! That too was glossed over in the re-edit, and so Lugosi unfairly "wears" the results.

5:29 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson wonders how Sherlock Holmes might be merged into "Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man":

What with the Universal sets, Neill's direction, and Dennis Hoey playing Inspector Lestrade (different name, but fooling no one), it would take very little to convert this into a Holmes film.

Perhaps some clever editor could intercut FMW with scenes culled from various films (Holmes and Watson kept a pretty consistent wardrobe through the series). "The Scarlet Claw" has them tracking a savage killer with hints of a monster legend; "Voice of Terror" ends with some stomping around ruins. Various have Lestrade rejecting their help on some nasty case. You might even dub in some lines from "Son of Frankenstein" where Rathbone references the monster. You'd basically have a subplot of Holmes and Watson catching up with Talbot.

For an ending, insert some shots of Rathbone seeming to react to the final battle; then follow the explosion of the castle with the scenes from "Spider Woman" where Watson and others react to Holmes' presumed death -- and to his return.

3:39 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

One day I got the idea to run FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN as part of my series at Rochdale College in Toronto. Rochdale was unique in that the Federal Government of Canada decided to allow within its walls the use of hashish, LSD, marijuana, mescaline and peyote. Rochdale began as an 18 floor student highrise. Along the way it morphed into the boldest experiment ever undertaken in alternate education. I was privileged to be part of it. This is by way of alerting the reader to the state most of the audience would be in while watching the film. I spliced some black leader into the climactic battle between the monster and the wolfman so that I could force the film to get stuck in the gate resulting in an explosion of flame on the screen. I substituted my real screen for a huge paper one. Behind the screen waiting for that moment was a very tall friend dressed as Frankenstein's monster. At that moment he burst through the screen. At the same instant I entered through a side door dressed as the wolfman. The pair of us duked it out. People did not know whether what they were seeing was real or the product of the substances they had taken prior to the screening. It was lots of fun.On another occasion at the end of Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS I let loose a pigeon I had bought at a local market. That beat running up the aisle with a chainsaw by miles. Some folks actually wet themselves. The Universal Monsters from THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME through to The Creature From The Black Lagoon can not be surpassed for design and execution. I love those films.

I love how I can't tell from one day to the next what you will write about.

5:16 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman is another example of forgotten DP George Robinson's enormous talent. Robinson shot the Spanish Dracula, which many believe looks better than Karl Freund's English version; he also did extraordinarily atmospheric work on Dracula's Daughter, Son of Frankenstein, Son of Dracula, and The Scarlet Claw. Like a lot of these house cinematographers, Robinson was prolific, with 13 credited films released in 1942 alone, and he worked on every one of Universal's important series. He's also responsible for Siodmack's cult wonder Cobra Woman, in color, and James Whale used him for his ill-fated dream project, The Road Back. As far as I'm concerned Robinson is right up there with John Alton and Nicholas Musuraca, and deserves to be better known.

As for Lugosi's performance as the Monster, I think he's terrific, and would have been better appreciated had the references to his blindness not been cut. Lugosi's expression when the Monster's sight and strength are restored is priceless; you can really see Igor shining through.

11:27 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

I agree with Craig Reardon completely!!


9:32 PM  

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