The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Directed by Erle C. Kenton
Starring Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Bellamy, Lionel Atwill, Evelyn Ankers, Janet Ann Gallow, Barton Yarborough, Dwight Frye
There are certain movies from our childhood that still hold a type of charm over us. Ones that when watching it as an adult, even though the film might have flaws, or just isn’t the best, it still is able to recreate the same feeling it did upon that first viewing, all those years ago. The Ghost of Frankenstein is one of those for me. I still consider the original 1931 Frankenstein film one of my favorites and a much better film, but for some reason, I’d probably be more likely to sit down and watch Ghost on some afternoon than the original. Maybe because watching the original, I view it more like an adult, but with Ghost, it makes me feel like a 14 year old kid again watching it on my 13-inch black and white TV. That was when I first got to see this and I can still remember sitting there in my room, eyes glued to the little television set.
The film starts a short time after the events of Son of Frankenstein (1939), though things have changed a bit. Such as the fact that Igor, played wonderfully again by Bela Lugosi, is still alive and waiting for the return of his lumbering friend, who was knocked into the sulfur pit at the end of Son. But now, thanks to the angry villagers blowing up the castle, the creature is released and he follows Igor to find the next descendent in the Frankenstein family, who happens to be played by Cedric Hardwicke. Igor convinces him to help restore the creatures strength, as well as mend his damaged brain. Frankenstein’s plan is to replace the brain of the monster with that of his fellow doctor, Kettering, who was killed by the creature. Igor has other plans and enlists the help of Frankenstein’s other assistant, Dr. Bohmer, played by one of my favorite actors of that era, Lionel Atwill.
This was the fourth entry in the Universal series, but the first time in their monster series for the creature to be played by somebody other than Boris Karloff, which would be Lon Chaney Jr. That was quite a challenge for Chaney to take, but I think he gave us monster kids a great performance. Sure, it is nothing like Karloff’s performance when he came up with his characterization of this poor creature eleven years before, but Chaney wasn’t given a lot to do either besides lumbering around and grimacing. But I still feel that he gives us more facial emotions here than any of the actors, like Lugosi or Glenn Strange would do in the later titles. He shows compassion for the little girl, gives a sly smile to Dr. Frankenstein when he recognizes him but then it turns to anger when the doctor says he’s never seen the creature before. And major kudos to him for having to be buried the “sulfur pit”. That prepping could not have been easy or pleasant.
While some might consider Dracula Lugosi’s greatest role, I would have to say it was the broken-necked Igor from Son and Ghost. He really steps outside of his normal character and gives us truly a stellar performance. With his raspy voice, staggered walk, and his eternal quest for power and revenge, he really does become another person. Even though he’s a supporting character, anytime he is on the screen, all eyes are on him. This does show some of the true talent that Lugosi did have inside him.
But another supporting character here that I think steals the show is that of Lionel Atwill’s Dr. Bohmer, although admittedly, it might just because of my fondness of this talented actor. According the story we’re given, Bohmer was actually the original Dr. Frankenstein’s mentor, but due to a simple mistake, or as he puts it “a slight miscalculation”, he reputation was destroyed, now playing second fiddle to Hardwicke’s Frankenstein. But his deviant side is still there, not letting go of the bitterness of not only his mistake, but how he was poorly treated by his colleagues. While Atwill did have a few starring roles, usually played in supporting ones in the later Universal films, either a doctor or inspector, but he always gave us a fine performance, even in the smallest of roles, that drew our attention to him. The look on his face as Hardwicke realizes that Igor’s brain is now in the creature is priceless. Just look at that gloating smile below!
Erle C. Kenton had been directing films since silent error, but made only handful of horror titles. His first was Island of Lost Souls (1932), which packs a solid punch to this day and still amazes me what they were able to get past the censors. After Ghost, he would direct the next two installments in Universal’s monster series, House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945), as well as The Cat Creeps the following year. In Ghost, he does an adequate job, giving us some nice close ups of the different characters, letting them show a little of their work. There is also a great shot of the little girl’s view of the creature as he towers over her, as well as the shadow of the creature’s hand moving over Igor as he awakens. This shows that he was actually trying to make a decent picture as opposed to just getting it done and moving on to the next one.
I know that the original film, as well as its first sequel usually gets most of the limelight, with these later titles usually just being brushed away as cheap B-movie fodder, I do think they are more than worthy of our attention today. Especially Ghost. They are a very important part of our monster history and should be regarded as much. Yes, they were B-movies, with their budgets getting smaller and smaller, with less and less care from the studios. But they still made a profit and the fans still flocked to see them. So if you haven’t had watched any of the later sequels of this series in a while, might I suggest a little marathon one weekend. Since the running times aren’t that long, you can knock out a couple in the less time than an Avengers movie! And probably have more fun too!