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.
Born: Mar. 1st, 1885 Died: Apr. 22nd, 1946
If you are a fan of the old Universal classics, then you’ve seen Lionel Atwill. But it seems that younger fans today might now know him other than “that guy from the Universal films”. It’s really unfortunate too since Atwill was wonderfully talented at playing intelligent and authoritative figures. Granted, some of them were mad as a hatter, but that’s beside the point. Then again, that is where he seemed to excel!
Atwill could carry the lead in films, such as the original Mystery of the Wax Museum and The Vampire Bat (both 1933), but could also make the same impact when he was playing supporting roles in films like Man Made Monster (1941) or Son of Frankenstein (1939). He was always memorable with his distinct voice and glare, always leaving an impression. My first issue of Famous Monsters magazine featured an article on Man Made Monster, which to this day, remains one of my favorites. Same goes for The Ghost of Frankenstein, that I can still remember watching for the first time on a small 13″ black and white TV and enjoying the hell out of it. And Atwill is one of the reasons on both those examples.
In the early 40’s, he was sentenced to 5 years probation after being found guilty of perjury in a case about a young girl who had been raped at a “wild sex-party”, which was claimed to be at Atwill’s home. He testified that it was not true, which was found to be a lie after others testified. While he did work a little after this scandal, his career was pretty much done. I’m sure there is a lot more to that story as to what really happened, but I’m not sure we’ll ever really know. But he should at least be remembered for the fine work that he did give us.
For a great biography of Atwill, check out Hollywood’s Maddest Doctors, by Gregory William Mank.
Hollywood’s Maddest Doctors: A Biography of Lionel Atwill, Colin Clive, and Geoge Zucco
By Gregory William Mank
Midnight Marquee Press, 1998. 320 pages.