Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
"A Death Fight . . . Between Two Beasts!"
A couple of grave robbers inadvertently awaken the corpse of Lawrence Talbot, the wolf man who many had thought died four years ago. Hospitalised after being found unconscious in the street, Talbot warns Dr Mannering about what happens during a full moon but no one will listen to him. After attacking and killing a policeman, Talbot flees to Europe where he hopes to track down the infamous Dr Frankenstein in the belief that he could free him from the curse. As Frankenstein is dead, Talbot uncovers the frozen monster and enlists its help to track down Frankenstein's diary which contain the secrets to life and death.
Designed to inject new life into its flagging Frankenstein series, Universal came up with the idea for a monster mash-up - the first of its kind - between two of its iconic monsters. The fourth (and previous) entry into the Frankenstein series, The Ghost of Frankenstein, had played out the standard formula once too often and a new direction was needed for the series. However, The Wolf Man had not yet received a direct sequel and that material seemed fresh in the minds of Universal who wanted to produce a follow-up. An unholy union of monsters was dreamt up to kill two birds with one stone and the resultant film has become something of a landmark in the horror genre. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man saw the first time that two heavyweight horror characters came face-to-face with each other, a feat that would be repeated numerous times by Universal in the coming years, throwing Dracula into the mix as well in future films.
Whilst it's miles away from the serious qualities of both Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is the first Universal horror film which is just a plain fun B-movie. It is more of a follow-up to The Wolf Man than it is to The Ghost of Frankenstein as the bulk of the screen time is devoted to the story of the tragic Lawrence Talbot and his unstoppable ability to turn into a wolf whenever there is a full moon, with the Frankenstein monster thrown in for good measure (shouldn't it be therefore called Frankenstein's Monster Meets the Wolf Man?). The story is of less importance than it pretends to be - the lure of seeing these two pair off would have been fine no matter how much or little story there was. As it turns out, the story is reasonably well-thought out which tries to adhere to both series' continuity as best as it can but ultimately ends up giving neither monster a particular good reason to fight the other.
The best part of the film is the first half which solely focuses on Lawrence Talbot. Fresh from an excellent opening sequence involving grave robbers and crypt, the film then develops Talbot's character and faithfully sticks to consequences that had arisen from The Wolf Man. Lon Chaney Jr. returns as Talbot, bringing some apathy to the role of the doomed character. Chaney Jr's performance is rather blunt and simple but works well and it's arguably his best turn in the make-up. You really feel for him as all he wants to do is die to rid himself of the curse but no one will believe his story. There are a few transformation scenes which still look the part and the werewolf make-up has been much improved since the first film. It is this part of the film which showed why The Wolf Man deserved a stand-alone sequel of its own before it was thrown to Frankenstein and Dracula to save it.
Things take a turn for the worse when the Frankenstein monster is introduced to the mix and the story, which had been moving at a decent pace, eventually becomes too rushed for its own good. The second half of the film virtually repeats the same mistakes as the previous Frankenstein films, with the monster being resurrected, another scientist attempting to solve its mysteries and then the eventual showdown with the local people (in slightly different form though they have the final say on the matter). Talbot becomes less of a focus though he's still the major player.
Bela Lugosi is the monster here and he's pretty appalling in the role it has to be said. Apparently Lugosi was told to that the monster was blind and that it would have some dialogue (following on from the previous Frankenstein film). So his performance, all stiff-legged and arms outstretched with some mumbling lines, was meant to portray that idea but for whatever reason (presumably his thick accent) these lines were scrapped during post production and we're never informed that the monster is blind. During the film you can see his mouth moving but nothing is coming out. The resultant bizarre performance has become the much-parodied definition of the Frankenstein monster which you'll see people doing at fancy dress parties the world over on Halloween.
Inevitably the film boils down to the showdown between the monster and the Wolf Man. Don't get your hopes up because the fight isn't great on the screen but it's pretty significant from a historical point of view. It's no holds barred as the two tussle with each other across the laboratory. Just seeing the two together on screen for the first time is exciting enough but the film waits too long to unleash its prized assets on each other. Still, for 1943 I can imagine the anticipation at such a cinematic bout.
Forget the chills and spills of the previous Universal horror films, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is more of an action and adventure piece which is unashamedly exploitative with both series. But it's a lot of fun on its own merits, working better as a spiritual successor to The Wolf Man than an amalgamation of two iconic horror characters.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
Director(s): Roy William Neill
Writer(s): Curt Siodmak (original screenplay)
Actor(s): Lon Chaney Jr., Ilona Massey, Patric Knowles, Lionel Atwill, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya
Duration: 74 mins