The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

A pointless entry in Universal’s Frankenstein series, this one is highlighted by such ludicrous elements as the ghost of Henry Frankenstein appearing, brain transplants, and the inexplicable return of the Monster’s sport coat. Some of you may recall the hideous furry vest that the Monster wore in the previous sequel, Son of Frankenstein. Well, that thing is mercifully gone. Of course, no sooner do we get rid of that awful vest, then we realize that we’ve also gotten rid of Boris Karloff.

In Karloff’s place is The Wolf Man‘s Lon Chaney, Jr. Lon is one of those guys who’s got that kind of face that looks like he’s been perpetually wounded by life. That works to good effect when he’s portraying Larry Talbot in those Wolf Man movies, but it doesn’t mean spit when you’re trapped underneath Jack Pierce’s increasingly simplistic make up jobs. This go around, the make-up looked like a glorified mask, bereft of any ability to allow whomever is wearing it to communicate anything, but the sleepy-eyed, constipated look that Lon was forced to wear the entire movie.

The film opens with whining villagers moaning about how the Monster and those rotten Frankensteins have caused their lives to be ruined. Due to the various rampages, tourism is down, there’s a crappy harvest, the high school football team lost sectionals again to Transylvania North and they want something done about it. You have to understand that when an angry mob of villagers demands action, they aren’t looking for a committee to be formed or a study to be commissioned, they’re looking to storm whatever spooky castle lies on the outskirts of town and they want to storm it now!

Despite being shot several times at the end of Son of Frankenstein, Ygor (Bela Lugosi) returns none the worse for wear (he must have taken all those bullets in his hunchback) and is camped out in the castle near the sulfur pits where the Monster was last seen taking the Nestea Plunge.

And as if to prove that this third sequel will be just as horrid as most third sequels are, Ygor is using a horn in an attempt to coax the Monster out of the sulfur pits. Later Ygor is able to control the action of the Monster by playing the horn which is a pretty nifty idea. If Ygor was a snake charmer and the Monster was a gigantic serpent.

Ygor and the Monster escape and travel to the town where Ludwig Von Frankenstein (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) has a thriving brain transplant practice. After the Monster gets thrown in the county jail for a dust up with some villagers, Ygor heads over to Frankenstein’s clinic and threatens to tell his daughter and the village about Ludwig’s family history which Ludwig is keeping from everyone unless Ludwig keeps the Monster at his clinic.

Recounting the events that follow would merely reek of gleefully piling on, but suffice it to say things take a turn for the idiotic when the ghost of Henry Frankenstein appears and tells Ludwig that he should transplant the bad brain right out of the creature and to be a good boy and finish his father’s work.

Ygor strikes a bargain with Ludwig’s assistant Dr. Bohmer (Lionel Atwill) that will put Ygor’s brain into the monster in exchange for Dr. Bohmer getting all the fame and recognition he deserves once the Ygor-Monster hybrid takes over the world or something.

Against all odds and common sense, it happens and Ygor’s brain goes into the Monster which results in Bela Lugosi’s voice being dubbed whenever the Monster speaks. Ludwig is aghast, an angry mob is formed and you can guess the rest.

At sixty-eight minutes the movie strains to fit all of its ludicrous angles into the film. The only reason this film isn’t a completely forgettable Universal Horror effort like The Mummy’s Ghost or The Invisible Man’s Revenge is the cast. Lugosi is on fire as the scheming Ygor and Cedric Hardwicke brings some restrained class to Ludwig (after the comparative histrionics of Basil Rathbone’s Wolf in Son of Frankenstein).

The story though is so silly, even a dependable assortment of Universal regulars can’t salvage it. How can anyone take things seriously when Ygor is running around demanding that his brain be put in the body of this rotting monster? And how could any doctor be so dumb as to believe that somehow he will finally get the recognition he deserves by putting the brain of a maniac inside the body of beast made out of corpses? And Ludwig seeing the ghost of his father? The less said about that, the better.

More problems: the Monster isn’t scary or sympathetic. He’s just a crabby, dumb jerk. And why should I care about another Frankenstein brother who is horrified at his family’s heritage until he suddenly jumps into it with both feet once he has a hallucination in the lab?

As with Son of Frankenstein, only Bela Lugosi’s Ygor makes it worth your while, but he’s only a supporting player and stands out precisely because the rest of the film is such a hoary collection of recycled elements from previous Frankenstein films. (Brain transplants! Little girls in danger! A Frankenstein brother haunted by his family’s past! The Monster and Ygor seemingly destroyed, then revived, then destroyed again! Starring most of the same people!)

This series enters purely “programmer” status with this effort and marks the last time that the Monster would go it alone. The rest of the Frankenstein movies are those “monster team-up” affairs where Bela Lugosi finally gets to play the Monster, but not Dracula, if that tells you anything about what’s to come.

© 2015 MonsterHunter

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