The Universal Studios Frankenstein series, which started with the monster (pun-intended) hit Frankenstein (1931), came with a letdown with the fourth entry from director Erle C. Kenton 1942’s The Ghost of Frankenstein, marking the first time not to star, the legendary actor Boris Karloff in the primary role. Kenton, stuck to a standard, by-the-numbers shooting style for the day, through capture a few oddity shots, and proving himself a slouch, he later returned in the series of Universal’s monsters with the film House of Frankenstein in 1944 and had over 140 directing titles in his career. Scott Darling, an experienced screenwriter, though this mark his only horror script, and used Eric Taylor’s original story for the foundation, a film which appears more as a direct sequel than Son of Frankenstein (1939), even with the strange opening to movie. In addition, Universal Studios presented to Erle the smallest budget, at that time to limited the scope of the production, the future of the franchise would receive fewer dollars and given secondary crews to film the projects. Incidentally, Kenton’s film runtime barely eclipses 67-minutes, and includes a bit of retelling from the previous movie Son, a strange consequential that decades later that both Hammer Studios would used with their Dracula films as did the famous Friday the 13th franchise would employ the same technique; too. The production, in the Universal Monsters franchise, lists at number eight, with Dracula starting it all in 1931 and followed with another seven films, though controversial still reins today, if House of Dracula in 1945 ends the series, or that the two Abbott and Costello entries of ‘Meeting Frankenstein’ (1948) and ‘Meeting the Invisible Man’ (1945) signals the end. Whichever the case, the argument carries today, as for Frankenstein and his Monster, the number of films referencing the characters depends on how one includes or counts them, as number films tallies over 50 and with others close to 115.
This story starts with villagers, tired of the so-called “Frankenstein Curse”, and with their fear, hatred and anger they destroy the castle of madness. However, everyone knows the Monster lives, this time as Lon Chaney Jr. and Ygor (Bela Lugosi) returns even though shot in his upper body from Son of Frankenstein (perhaps lead is one of the basic food groups), alas evil never dies. Ygor, guides his friend to the village of Vasaria, in the search for Frankenstein’s son, Ludwig (Cedric Hardwicke), works as a psychiatrist, he blackmails Ludwig into repairing the damaged creature. All sounds very familiar; as Ludwig believes, he can cure and reclaim the honor in the family, replacing the brain with a normal one, Dr. Theodore Bohmer (Lionel Atwill) assists him and Ygor (got his own devilish plans). In addition, the Monster has another run in with a little girl (Janet Ann Gallow) though this time helps rather harms, and yet still caught by police and never once does he struggle, rather accepting of his chains. This all plays terribly on screen, for Chaney Jr. portrayed, the Monster contains feelings, nothingness existence, perhaps knowing he’s damnation and cursed, then why helped the child in the first place. This becomes another around of arguments with fans of series and franchise, the reasoning one might believe a repressed memory of the little girl from before, but even then a slight resemblance to emotion though primitive existed, now none, very curious. Sadly, none of it explored especially with the short runtime, yet it never takes away from the overall film. As true for most of the Universal Studio Monster films, the morality falls into place and some bit awkward romantic drivel needs to find the righteous moment to express itself, coming from Ludwig’s daughter Elsa (Evelyn Ankers) and Ralph Bellamy’s character Erik Ernst, a prosecutor. However, the standout in their role is from Lugosi, his display of cunning and madness drives the other characters to do his bidding and just rewards.
One interesting tidbit of trivia, Lon Chaney Jr., finished The Wolf Man (1941) and earned the chance to star, in this film, and he would star, as the Mummy in The Mummy’s Tomb also in 1942 and then as Count Anthony Alucard, in Son of Dracula (1944), hence becoming the only actor to portray each of the classic Universal Monsters.
Overall, the entire settings and production values remained at a constant high, with no let down on the design, allowing Ludwig to have a nifty laboratory similar to both his family members. Many action sequences filter into the movie, making it seem longer than actually is, and therefore raising the entertainment value, but the lack of budgets hurts the concept of flick. Hence, to some the weaker film in the series, although after 75-years the charm to creating this lasting delivers some wonderful madness to the cinema screen.
When a series works with good characters, excellent plots, and high production values it all can only work for so long, with any franchise, the value falters; a the convoluted story spreads outward, looking for new scares and jolts, often retreading the same storylines, this actually begins an early version to the b-movies. Lastly, the cast mostly had regulars of the Universal Studios family, and it all helps with the chemistry, on the set and conveying another tale of madness and medical colliding with morality, religion and boundaries of life and death, along with a naivety of those scared of change and anything different. The Ghost of Frankenstein still holds a special place in the fans of the Monster, with special features lasting this long, and always able to attract new fans to honor the past, one needs to sit back and enjoy the beginnings of horror.