Or as others may say, “The Shadow of Frankenstein”. The fourth film in the classic Universal series is a fall from grace compared to the proceeding three; budgets, runtime, and marquee actors are all downsized. Despite the newly minted B-movie status, however, there is enough spooky charm to make Ghost of Frankenstein worthwhile.
Director: Erle C. Kenton
Written by: W. Scott Darling
Runtime: 67 minutes
US Release: March 13, 1942; Universal Pictures
The film’s biggest strength lies in what makes Son of Frankenstein (1939) so memorable; Bela Lugosi returns as the wickedly conniving Ygor. Never mind how he survived the events of the previous film, it is just refreshing to see the character return. The Monster meanwhile, is now portrayed by Lon Chaney Jr., following his breakout in The Wolf Man (1941). Chaney gives a fine performance, but the script is never interested in making the Monster anything more than a strongman for Ygor. It is a wasted opportunity considering the recently proven talent of Chaney.
Together, the two misfits search for another Frankenstein son, who may finally help cure the Monster. In actuality, Ygor plots to have Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein (Cedric Hardwicke) replace the Monster’s brain with his own. It is a wonderfully pulpy premise that ends the movie on a high note – the successful transfer of Ygor’s brain, resulting in the Monster speaking for the first time since Bride. The moment is so thrilling you wish this would have been the whole movie. As it stands, it lasts but a few minutes before the explosions occur and credits roll.
Despite the cinematic heights of the early franchise, The Ghost of Frankenstein succeeds in it’s new B-movie identity. It offers camp, pulp, with plenty of angry villagers and wild science fiction. Universal Monster fans may also enjoy other borrowed elements from The Wolf Man: Evelyn Ankers and the actual score. Conversely, these choices are indicative of the lack of creative ambition. Coupled with the lack of dramatic pathos, the film ultimately underwhelms as a work of art.
by Vincent S. Hannam