Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Ghost of Frankenstein

Year 8, Day 293 - 10/19/16 - Movie #2,471

 BEFORE: Sure, it might have made sense to follow up "The Body Snatcher" with the original "Dracula" film from 1931, with Bela Lugosi carrying over.  I've never seen that one.  But TCM will be showing it this year, only next week, too late for me to work it in here.  So I'll have to watch that one next October, along with "Nosferatu".  In addition to running most of the old Universal Frankenstein films, TCM's going to hit the vampires hard next week, with most of the old Hammer Films made in the late 1950's and early 1960's.  

I don't think I can possibly record them all next week, especially since that will make my list balloon up again, so I may have to limit myself to the original Bela Lugosi "Dracula", the 1970 "Count Dracula" with Christopher Lee and Herbert Lom, and the 1979 "Dracula" with Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier.  At least that's a nice cross-section of genres and time periods. 

In the meantime, I want to finish off the Universal "Frankenstein" films, and Bela Lugosi does carry over from "The Body Snatcher", only he plays the deformed lab assistant, Ygor.  

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Son of Frankenstein" (Movie #288)

THE PLOT:  When Ygor brings the Monster to Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein for care, Ludwig gets the idea of replacing the Monster's current criminal brain with a normal one.

AFTER: The other night, I got all political and compared Donald Trump to Mr. Hyde - tonight it would be so easy to do that again, since I'm back on the Frankenstein beat.  But Trump and Frankenstein's Monster are very different - one is an enormous, mindless beast who's oddly colored and makes guttural, growling sounds as he roams the countryside, grabbing and molesting young girls.  The other one, of course, is Frankenstein's Monster...

The Frankenstein movies are a great example of Hollywood's early obsession with sequels, which of course continues to this day - it seems like nearly everything this year that really landed was a sequel, a remake or a reboot.  It will be a challenge at the end of my 2016 chain just to list them all.  But let's focus on the Frankenstein films.  It's a little surprising that Boris Karloff ceded the role of the Monster, but according to the introduction on TCM, he was busy appearing on Broadway in the long-running play "Arsenic and Old Lace".  So Lon Chaney Jr. stepped in to fill his monster-sized shoes.  

And of course, the Monster was believed dead at the end of "Son of Frankenstein", where he fell into a sulfur pit.  A couple of years later, all a screenwriter had to say was "Well, the sulfur formed a shell around him and kept him alive, duh!"  Even though that's not how sulfur works, it doesn't explain how the monster could go for months without eating or breathing.  I mean, is he alive or not alive?  He still needs to eat, right?  Geez, this is more unbelievable than even a comic-book death.

At that point, all a screenwriter needs to do is to make up another Frankenstein brother (Ludwig, in this case) and say that the original Doctor's journals were sent to him after the passing of his older brother.  So what if the new brother is a psychiatrist, not a brain surgeon - he can learn, can't he?  So Ygor and the Monster walk for (presumably) hundreds of miles from Bavaria to wherever Ludwig's asylum/brain surgery facility is.  

The title is confusing at first - how can a soulless monster have a ghost?  Also, wouldn't he have to be dead to have a ghost, and I thought you just said he was still alive.  Ah, but remember, "Frankenstein" is the doctor, not the monster.  The ghost of Dr. Henry F. (the 1931 film changed his name from "Victor" to "Henry", for some reason) does make an appearance here, very briefly, to egg on the scientists in their lab.  

Ludwig has two assistants, Dr. Bohmer and Dr. Kettering - but when the Monster kills Kettering, it makes sense to Ludwig to put Kettering's brain inside the monster, thereby making up for the murder by bringing Kettering's brain back to life, while simultaneously giving the monster a better brain, that of a scientist, to put a stop to his murderous rampages.  That's the theory, anyway, only Ygor figures that if he can get his own brain inside the monster's head, he could become more powerful, and maybe even live forever. 

It's silly now to watch a film from the 1940's, when the writers knew nothing about organ transplants or brain surgery, and they just assumed that one day soon, doctors would be moving brains from one body to another, in a way that would somehow not kill both parties involved.   I don't think the monster ever really opens his eyes after coming out of the pit, so that makes me question how he was able to walk around.  It's a good thing that when he scared a woman, she then (stupidly) would run right TOWARD him, which then gave him a chance to grab her.

Also starring Lon Chaney, Jr. (last seen in "The Defiant Ones"), Cedric Hardwicke (last seen in "Rope"), Ralph Bellamy (last seen in "The Awful Truth"), Evelyn Ankers (last seen in "Hold That Ghost!"), Lionel Atwill, Barton Yarborough.

RATING: 3 out of 10 rioting villagers

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