Title: The Ghost of Frankenstein
Year Released: 1942
Director: Erle C. Kenton
Cast: Lon Chaney, Jr, Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Bellamy, Lionel Atwill, Béla Lugosi and Evelyn Ankers
REVIEW BY STEPHEN JACOBS
The fourth in Universal’s Frankenstein series, The Ghost of Frankenstein is, for me, a distinct step down from its predecessors: Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939). That is not to say it is not fun – it is – but it lacks something. Karloff, perhaps.
With Karloff unwilling to don the asphalt spreader’s boots and flat-topped headpiece for a fourth time, Universal gave the role to Lon Chaney Jnr. This was not a great choice, in my opinion. While Chaney had been excellent in the previous year’s The Wolf Man, his Monster just doesn’t cut it. To begin with, there is the physical look of his creature. Instead of Karloff’s angular, sunken cheeked features we have Chaney’s round faced, dimple-chinned Monster. Even my favourite character from Son of Frankenstein, the broken-necked blacksmith Ygor (played once again by Bela Lugosi) has undergone a transformation – for gone are the ragged teeth!
And then there’s the story…
The villagers determine to destroy Frankenstein’s castle but in doing so unwittingly release the monster from the dried up sulphur pit (into which he had fallen at the end of Son of Frankenstein). After the monster regains his strength after being struck by lightning, Ygor takes him to the village of Vasaria to be treated by Henry Frankenstein’s second son, Ludwig (played by Cedric Hardwicke).
For some unknown reason Ygor decides to lead the Monster into town in broad daylight… and then asks a young woman the directions to Ludwig’s home. The woman doesn’t seem particularly phased by the legendary Monster. Indeed, the villagers only become concerned by the creature’s presence in town when the Monster carries a little girl, Cloestine Hussman, (an obvious nod to Little Maria in Frankenstein) up to the rooftops to retrieve her ball, kicked there by a young bully. One of the villagers attempts to stop him but is killed and the monster is captured and put on trial. He escapes and is taken by Ygor to see Ludwig who, after death of his colleague, Dr. Kettering, at the hands of the Monster, is persuaded to transplant the dead doctor’s brain into the Monster’s skull. But Ygor has other plans and conspires with Dr. Bohmer (an underused Lionel Atwill) to have his brain transplanted in Dr. Kettering’s place.
Lugosi is, once again, excellent in the role of Ygor and I find it a pity that Universal didn’t keep him in the series, rather than transplant his brain into the Monster. Which brings me to another point – with the removal of the Monster’s brain the Monster that we know and love (the Monster from Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein) is no more. As for the rest of the cast, Hardwicke seems a little bored with it all, Evelyn Ankers (as Ludwig’s daughter, Elsa) and Ralph Bellamy as the town prosecutor have too little to do.
The crux for me, though, is Chaney. I could forgive the films illogicalities and the plot contrivances (just how does the Monster know where little Cloestine lives?) but I just cannot warm to Chaney’s lumbering Monster. He just isn’t right in the role (although, admittedly, Karloff is a hard act to follow). It’s a pity, because with little less lazy plotting and a stronger Monster this could have been a worthy successor to Son of Frankenstein, rather than the beginning of the Universal Horror into B movie status.
Award-winning Boris Karloff historian STEPHEN JACOBS is the author of Karloff: More than a Monster. You can buy his book here from Amazon and read his interview with The Spooky Isles here. He also wrote an Spooky Isles article Karloff’s London, a location guide including Boris Karloff’s childhood homes and filming locations around the English capital.