Needing to inject a little Late Late Show nostalgia into my Saturday night, I watched Erle C. Kenton's THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) for the first time in perhaps 10 years. It might have been even longer than that, as I hadn't remembered that the names Kettering and Hussman - familiar to me from their uses in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) and Kenton's HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) - figured first in this storyline.
A direct sequel to 1939's SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, an A-picture in every way, THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN is very much a B-picture, running only 67 minutes. While it has some dark content, such as the Monster (Lon Chaney, Jr) abducting an adorable little girl named Cloestine (Janet Ann Gallow) in the hope that she might become the donor in his impending brain transplant, there is an unusual brightness about the film. It takes the series out of the shadows of German Expressionism for the most part, making its Germany (Visaria) look as American... well, as American Oktoberfest as possible. Though it's about a walking corpse that kills and surreptitious transplants, there is a wholesome quality at work that extends to Hans J. Salter's music score, which sparkles even as it broods. I also noticed what appeared to be a lengthened reaction shot of Lionel Atwill's Dr Bohmer, seeming to replace onscreen what would have been a more graphic shot of Dr Ludwig Frankenstein (Cedric Hardwicke) subduing the Monster with a hypodermic. Also conspicuous in its absence is any sort of love story between the movie's anticipated romantic leads, Ralph Bellamy and Evelyn Ankers, leading one to suspect that some material foreshadowing its eventual development may have died in an earlier draft.
It must be remembered that the film was made during wartime, and the closing shot of Bellamy and Ankers walking toward a bright new day bursting through a wall of dark clouds seems to speak to this - as does the film's general attitude that mob violence is a constructive thing, and Ygor's (Bela Lugosi) pronouncedly political scheming to donate his own brain to the Monster, replete with plans for taking over local government - and soon after, the whole country - in his newly immortal, gigantic form. More evident to me now than in my formative viewings are some vaguely homosexual shadings in Lugosi's portrayal, most clearly delineated when he tells the Monster, like an impassioned lover, "Tonight, Ygor dies for you."
The DVD image was sharp enough for me to notice some slight differences in Chaney's makeup as he appeared in different scenes (not to mention his disappearing/reappearing neck fat whenever stand-in Eddie Parker stepped into his costume), and also that the ghost of Dr Henry Frankenstein that appears to his son Ludwig was not only voiced but plainly portrayed onscreen by Hardwicke as well. (When this film used to run on television when I was a child, the state of broadcast standards was such that this ghost was not much more than a luminous smear; we couldn't tell WHO that performer was.)
Not great, but still a tight little movie with some strong characterizations and surely iconic moments between Chaney and Lugosi and Ms Gallow. Though the script by W. Scott Darling (he of WEIRD WOMAN, Boris Karloff's Mr Wong series and various Charlie Chan titles starring Roland Winters) isn't terribly distinctive, it has the unusual distinction of predicting the titles of no fewer than three later titles in cinema's Frankenstein saga: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) and FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER (1958).