Saturday, October 27, 2018

Monsterpiece Theater: Universal Monster Mash- The Wolf Man

by Rustbelt

Well, according to the calendar, there was a full moon this week. I couldn’t verify this as it’s been rather cloudy around here. But I’m told the moon was full, which might explain all the howling from here to London.. Also, said moonrise preceded a lot of cold, wet weather around my neck of the woods. So, maybe it was a bad moon rising, after all!

Okay, enough bad moon jokes solely for the sake of song links. We’re here to talk about Universal’s take on werewolves. And given that Larry Talbot isn’t alone in any of his sequels, (unlike his Monster contemporaries), we’re sure to have ourselves a graveyard smash just in time for Halloween! (All right, all right. I’ll stop there.)

Wolves have been humanity’s face of evil since Antiquity. The Greek writer Aesop always used the wolf as the symbol of cruelty. In ‘The Inferno,’ Dante finds his way initially blocked by a fearsome she-wolf. And, of course, it’s a wolf that wants to eat Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. Wolves symbolize the inner animal nature that still dwells within us and occasionally surfaces. In the modern world, we see this nature take the form of street violence, serial killers, cannibalism, and other terrible crimes. The transformation into a werewolf represents a reversion to primitive times; the loss of civilization and progress that we humans have long defined ourselves by.

In classic folklore, people often become werewolves- the word seems to be Germanic in origin, referring to a “Wolf-Man,” or “Man-Wolf”- voluntarily. This often meant putting on an enchanted wolf hide, drinking water from a wolf’s footprint, or rubbing magical lotion on one’s skin. Little wonder why those who became wolves were often hunted and quickly executed.

With that in mind, probably no monster has been influenced by Hollywood other than the werewolf. I mean, almost everything we associate with this horrific creature of the night comes to us from movies. Think about it: the full moon, bites, pentagrams, the use of silver, trying to kill a most-loved one…all these are Hollywood inventions, often for storytelling purposes. Some stuck, some didn’t. The central role of wolves representing humanity at its worst hasn’t changed, though. And that’s where the terror comes from.

Werewolf of London (Universal, 1935) Trailer

Plot: In faraway Tibet, Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) leads a search for the mariphasa, a rare flower that only blooms in moonlight. Shortly after finding one, he is attacked by a feral-like creature. He survives, but is bitten in the process. Back in London, during a society meeting, Glendon is warned by a colleague, Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland) of the University of Carpathia(?!), that he was bitten by a werewolf and will become one himself unless he uses the blossoms of the mariphasa to counteract the effects. Glendon, naturally, ignores the warnings until his moonlight lamp causes hair to grow on his hand and, later, the full moon causes him to completely transform. Also, the blossoms of the mariphasa mysteriously vanish. Glendon also learns that wolf cannot be satiated each night until it kills and that it will inevitably try to kill its most loved one. He tries locking himself inside a room at an inn and, later, inside a cellar. Both attempts fail.
Finally, with all of London’s finest searching for a murderer, Glendon returns to his lab just as the full moon rises, only to find Dr. Yogami stealing the final mariphasa flower. Glendon realizes that Yogami was the werewolf that attacked him in Tibet; he was searching for the mariphasa specifically to control his lycanthropy. Werewolf-Glendon attacks and kills Yogami before looking his wife, Lisa (Valerie Hobson), ostensibly to kill her, too. But Glendon is shot by the police and dies, though not before uttering some final words of thanks to the cops and comfort to his wife.
Thoughts and Background: This, not the more famous film starring Lon Chaney, Jr., is Universal’s first foray into the world of werewolves. It portrays lycanthropy as exotic, with the “disease” implied to come from the East (in this case, Tibet). Hm, this isn’t unlike ‘Dracula,’ where another contagion- vampirism- is also brought from the East- Transylvania- to invade England.

The werewolf in this film isn’t as beast-like as other incarnations. The full moon, infection by biting, and human-like creatures (folklore always has werewolves being fully-shaped wolves), all make their pop culture debut here. Interestingly, when Dr. Glendon dies, although still in wolf form, he’s able to speak and talk with his human for a few moments. And earlier, after transforming and his ‘wolf mind’ taking over, he still manages to grab a coat, scarf, and top hat before prowling! That leads to a connection for this film.
Dr. Glendon and his wolf alter-ego are clearly portrayed as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Jekyll’s the easy one: Glendon is a solitary scientist who neglects society to pursue his vocation. But with the above-noted wardrobe, he actually looks like classic portrayals of Mr. Hyde while preying in the back alleys of London. Cape and everything! I guess this means if Hyde represents our vile ‘shadow self,’ then Hyde, for some people, is clearly a furry.
Henry Hull as Dr. Wilfred Glendon (the Werewolf): Hull really does a good job here. He naturally plays a self-assured scientist who gradually falls apart. However, he also excels at showing the madness his character feels as the animal side takes over, showing the line between man and beast to be extremely thin here. It’s a nice idea that I think should be examined more often.

But let me tell you a tale of the make-up before moving on. According to popular legend, the minimalist look for this werewolf was the result of Hull not wanting to spend much time in the makeup chair. Last year, however, I watched a Svengoolie segment when the titular host revealed what Hull’s great-nephew told him. It seems Jack Pierce had created a more wolf-like appearance for this film. However, Hull objected on the grounds that the script required the other characters to slightly recognize Glendon, even in wolf-form. Hull apparently took his case to studio boss Carl Laemmle Jr., who agreed with him. A furious Pierce had no choice but comply. (He would later use his discarded design 6 years later.) Nevertheless, this film’s werewolf, with its malevolent widow’s peak and massive fangs, has been extremely influential and still inspires horror fans today.

The Wolf Man (Universal, 1941) Trailer

Plot: After learning of the death of his brother, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) returns to his family home in (what I’ve read) is Wales. He’s been away in the States for eighteen years after an unexplained falling out with the family, but quickly reconciles with his father, Sir John (Claude Rains). He then traverses the town, trying to make a date with a German-accented(?) woman, Gwen (Evelyn Ankers)- only after he spied on her through a telescope first! After purchasing a walking stick with a silver head of a wolf on it, Larry finally goes go out with Gwen and her friend, Jenny (Fay Helm) on a trip to a camp of Gypsy fortune tellers with Transylvanian accents (hang in there).
Disaster strikes when a Gypsy named Bela (Bela Lugosi) sees a pentagram on Jenny’s hand and she is soon attacked and killed by a wolf. Larry kills the wolf, but not before being bitten. He wakes up to learn that a man’s body- the gypsy Bela- was found at the site. After a series of strange events, Larry visits Bela’s mother, Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), who says Bela was a werewolf and warns Larry of his fate. With the gypsy camp suddenly in chaos from fear of another werewolf attack, Larry rushes home, transforms, and wakes up outside the next day.

The next day, Larry learns a gravedigger was killed. Unable to attend church as the villagers now view him with suspicion, (he’s being investigated for Bela’s death), he finds Gwen and sees the pentagram- symbol of the wolf’s next victim- on her hand. He tries to lock himself up, but the moon rises and it’s no use. He briefly becomes human again long enough for Sir John to lock Larry in his room, but the transformation happens again and the wolf finds Gwen in a Fog-Enshrouded Forest. Finally, Sir John uses Larry’s silver cane to repeatedly strike the wolf. The film ends as Larry changes back and Maleva chants over him, declaring him free.
Thoughts and Background: Honestly, this is one of those times where I think to myself, “What more is there to say?” Few films in horror are this iconic- from Lon Chaney’s werewolf makeup to the famous rhyme, “Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” And of course, there’s Malvera’s funerial admonishment, “The way you walked was thorny though no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end. Now you will have peace for eternity.” This is also the film that introduced the idea of silver being the only thing that can kill a werewolf. What more is there to say? Well, a few things.

For one, this film lays on the wolf imagery heavy-handed from the start and everyone’s up front about it. Gwen wears half-moon earrings; she discusses the legend with Larry in the shop; Larry buys a cane with a silver wolf’s head; Sir John discusses werewolves with Larry; Jenny and Gwen discuss the werewolf legend with Larry; and all three characters have said the rhyme by the film’s 20-minute mark; and, also, Larry, while shooting at a rifle range at a fair later on, refuses to shoot a wooden wolf on the target range. Well, it was post-1939 (i.e. after ‘Son of Frankenstein’), and Universal wasn’t so keen on subtlety anymore. Personally, I feel the first part is almost thick enough to be comedic. However, this film, like ‘Dracula,’ has a secret weapon- a cast that overcomes he script.
Claude Rains, naturally, does a fine job as Sir John. He calls Larry “my boy,” and is very paternal, going from supportive to slightly cross when he feels Larry is becoming paranoid. Evelyn Ankers uses an accent that I’m not sure if it’s Welsh or not, but plays hard-to-get with Chaney and drives her scenes. (Though, honestly, Chaney makes me uncomfortable when he flirts.) Maria Ouspenskaya gives one of the most memorable and imitated performances in the history of horror as the gypsy who guides Larry. She really does draw all the viewers’ attention with her voice and stare when she’s onscreen. And, of course, we can’t forget Bela Lugosi as…Bela? Ok. Whatever. His appearance is brief, but his shock at seeing the pentagram on Jenny’s hand is powerful and sets the film off on its frenzied pace.

And perhaps the most primal element that makes this film work is fear. The scenes move fast before the full moon rises, especially when Larry races home from the terrified gypsy camp and past Gwen. There are also the scenes of gossiping villagers who go from kind townsfolk to untrusting accusers after the first werewolf attack. It helps to keep the lead character uncomfortable, leading, ultimately, to the film’s climax. (Writer Curt Siodmak, another Jewish-German ex-patriot, based the scenes on Nazi Germany, where he saw his kindly neighbors become raving national socialists.)
Lon Chaney, Jr. as Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man): Finally, Chaney in his iconic role. Did you know it took Jack Pierce up to four hours a day to apply the rubber nose and curled yak hair needed to complete the werewolf look? (And yes, this is what he originally crated for Henry Hull to wear in WoL.) You know, I’ve been really hard on Chaney so far. But to be fair, the Count and the Monster really didn’t leave much room to work with. Here, Chaney’s in his element: that of the tragic character brooding over his fate.

What makes this performance work- from the actor’s side- is the human element. Chaney starts off as a happy-go-lucky prodigal son just excited to be home. Then he switches to foreboding in the shop and camp before plunging into outright fear for the remainder of the movie. His despair at the first approaching transformation dominates the scene, even with the special effects. (Given that he’s wearing a tank top, he looks like someone who’s had too much to drink and is breaking down.) It’s this side that makes us feel for Larry, know that he’s not in control of his own actions, and ultimately feel sorry for him, despite his death being necessary to stop his evil alter ego.

Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (Universal, 1943) Trailer

Plot: We open to a title screen of Bubbling Chemicals! (Good or bad sign? You make the call.) Cut to the Talbot family grave, four years after Larry Talbot’s (Lon Chaney Jr.) death. A pair of graverobbers break in to steal jewels buried with Larry in his casket. They also remove all the wolfbane buried with him. As you might expect by now, it’s a full moon. The light hits Larry’s corpse, and, well, the other guy runs off in the realization that he needs to interview for a new partner.

The next morning, Larry wakes up in a hospital, his head bandaged (from being struck by his dad with the cane; nice touch). He unsuccessfully tries to convince the doctors he’s a werewolf by showing them his bite scar. Wait…didn’t that thing heal instantly? After the Incompetent Cop, (Dennis Hoey) who wanted to put Larry in jail on suspicion of murder (committed by Wolf-Larry, though there’s no legal proof), checks Larry’s background, Larry breaks out to seek the gypsy Maleva (f Maria Ouspenskaya) for help in finding a way to die for good. Together, they go to Vasaria for help.
Once there, Maleva asks to see Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein. Wait? Ludwig? He was a psychiatrist. Except when he was also a surgeon. He also had nearly nothing to do with the Monster. Ah, well. The two receive a traditional Vasarian greeting of “GET THE **** OUT!” after learning Ludwig is dead and being directed to the ruins of Castle Frankenstein on top of a hill next a dam and hydroelectric plant. And, wait…hold on. Is this Henry’s observation-tower-in-the middle-of-nowhere-but-later-becomes-a-castle-in-the-town-of-Frankenstein that was torn down at the start of GoF? Or is it Ludwig’s mansion/asylum/surgical ward that burned down at the end of ‘Ghost?” -the one located behind a gate in the middle of a forest? I don’t know.

After Maleva is taken to be tortured by the villagers, (who’s the real monster again?), Larry finds the Monster (Bela Lugosi) frozen in ice(!) under the ruins. To make a long story short, he runs into Ilsa Frankenstein (Ilona Massey, taking over for Evelyn Ankers) and Dr. Mannering (Peter Knowles), the asylum doctor he met at the start of the film. They find Ludwig’s notebooks (which sound a LOT more like they were written by Henry; they’re also cleverly labeled “The Secret of Life and Death”), they find the machines may be able to permanently drain bodies of energy.
Mannering prepares the experiment and, at the last minute, decides to reverse things since, as a Man of Science, he can’t just kill the Monster, but wants it alive to be researched. (You know, every year billions and billions of mistakes are made by Mad Scientists in this universe. If you know one, please, tell them to sit back, relax, drink a COSMOpolitan, and not screw up reality by being an idiot.) At the same time- yeah, you guessed it- a Pitchfork-and-Torch Mob have arrived to destroy the damn and the castle along with it. The experiment backfires (of course), the Monster and Wolf Man fight (actually one of the best scenes in the movie), the damn blows up, and the castle is destroyed.
Thought and Background: Very little to add. I think my synopsis made my thoughts pretty clear. It’s an odd example of a double-sequel (in this case, to ‘the Wolf Man’ and ‘Ghost of Frankenstein’). There’s some semblance of continuity, especially in the part of the Wolf Man. Vasaria (the word ‘Germany’ was removed as it was 1943), on the other hand, is a mishmash of every ‘Frankenstein’ movie Universal had produced by then. Yeah, this was made for cash.
Bela Lugosi as the Frankenstein Monster: Poor Bela. Depending on who you believe, he either turned down the role of the Monster in the original film or was replaced outright when James Whale was named director. Now playing the role 12 years later, he’s hardly in the movie. Why? Well, the original plan was for the Monster to be blind (as he was at the end of GoF) and to speak with Ygor’s voice! (“I, Ygor”? Maybe.) And the Monster would regain sight in the final experiment. The scenes were even shot, but then cut. I’ve found some reasons: one was that audiences found Ygor-Monster’s talk of taking over the world too similar to Hitler. (It was World War II.) But the more accepted reason is that audiences thought the Monster speaking with Lugosi’s Hungarian accent was ridiculous and all dialogue shots were removed. That leaves only one legacy for this version of the Monster: walking stiffly in the now-well-known ‘monster walk’- which was originally to be explained as the result of his blindness. Sigh.
Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man): Chaney steps right back into the role without missing a beat. Again, Larry is a sad-sack, tragic figure. Now, revived by the full moon, he only wants to die once and for all. The character is fine, but it’s missing the impact found in ‘The Wolf Man.’ I think this is due to him not having sympathetic characters to play off of and the question of insanity not addressed as much. It’s a good performance, but the script lets Chaney down.

House of Frankenstein (Universal, 1944) Trailer

Plot: The vile Mad Scientist Dr. Gustav Niemann (Boris Karloff), locked away in a medieval dungeon, spends his time scrawling complex, made-up equations on the walls, sketching diagrams of the human brain for Mrs. Webber’s Fourth Grade class, and worshipping Dr. Frankenstein, as his brother worked for Dr. F. Wait, brother? Who was that? Waldman? Uh, not likely. Fritz? No, he was a dumb hunchback. Pretorius? I doubt it. Guess we gotta just accept.

Just then a bolt of lightning strikes destroys the prison, allowing Niemann and his assistant, ‘friend’ Daniel- another hunchback- to escape without the use of a sewage pipe or paper mâché mannequin. Once out, they come upon a traveling freak show run by Dr. Lampini, whose main attraction is the skeleton of Count Dracula, which he found in its resting place in the Carpathian Mountains. (Pay no attention to the fact that the last time we saw Drac he was being ashen-ated by the sun in a swamp outside New Orleans.) And, of course, Niemann has Daniel kill Lampini so the duo can take over.
On their way to Viseria (again?! and what’s with the new spelling?), they stop to revive Drac and exact revenge on the Burgomeister who helped put Niemann in prison. Well, actually Dracula does everything on his own. And he only does it get the old man out of the way, attempt to vampirize the guy’s daughter, and head off in a carriage. Niemann and Daniel follow as Drac is pursued. They ditch Drac’s coffin on the side of the road, and leave him to the sun. End Act 1.
Once in Viseria (or is it the town of Frankenstein? This is hard to follow.), the two are joined by a gypsy woman Daniel rescues. Under the ruins of Castle Frankenstein (oh, good Lord), they find the Monster and the Wolf Man, who is restored to good old Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.). Niemann promises to cure Larry with a brain transplant if he helps out. Hold the phone…when did this come about? And when was a brain transplant the cure for a curse? And how does Niemann know all about Larry’s history if he’s been locked up for fifteen years? I need to stop thinking.
They finally reach Viseria and Niemann’s castle complete with The Lab. (We know this because at the front gate reads “Forbidden Grounds.”) Niemann then kidnaps two other locals who helped put him in prison, promising to put their brains in other bodies and make them suffer.

At this point, I should mention that a love triangle has developed: gypsy girl Ilonka (Elena Verdugo) has a crush on Larry. (Really? Did women really like Lon Chaney Jr. that much?) At the same time, Daniel has unrequited love for Ilonka. (He also realizes that Niemann won’t keep his promise to give Daniel a better body.) All this happens after another werewolf kill results in the villagers of Viseria enacting brownshirt justice and reaching for their farm implements. (And yes, I am aware of the irony of saying that about a movie whose story was written by Curt Siodmak). You know, in this film, the villagers’ barbarian sense of justice and mob-ish bloodlust has reached a new level. I honestly would have loved to see Dr. Niemann make the Monster all-powerful and set it loose on them.
The climax arrives as Wolf-Larry attacks Ilonka in a Fog-Enshrouded Forest, but is shot by her with a silver bullet. They both die of their wounds. Daniel drags Ilonka’s body back to the lab (Monster experiment ongoing), and tries to kill the backstabbing Niemann. The Monster (Glenn Strange) awakens and kills Daniel just as the Torches-and-Pitchforks Mob enters the castle, having decided for the fourth film now that SJW violence is the highest state of society. The Monster carries Niemann out of the castle, only to wade into some quicksand, where the two appear to drown.
Thoughts and Background: Overall, I’d have to call this film entertaining, but disappointing. Most of the Monsters’ appearances- particularly Dracula and the Monster- are just cameos. It almost feels there are too many characters for any of them to have a decent scene or story arc yet most of the focus is on a character made up solely for the film in question. This film is an OK watch, mostly because of Karloff. I’d recommend a casual viewing with friends at night.

Boris Karloff as Dr. Gustav Niemann: It’s Boris’ swan song; his final chronological appearance in a Universal horror film. Niemann isn’t a deep character, but Karloff accentuates all of his traits. Niemann is deceitful, manipulative, somewhat charming at times, and driven, though focused and mostly aware of his surroundings. This movie sinks or swims with Niemann, and Karloff provides just the anchor needed for the vignettes to circle around.
J. Carrol Nash as Daniel (the Hunchback): The latest cripple lackey in the tradition of Fritz in ‘Frankenstein’ and Karl in ‘Bride of Frankenstein’. (Ygor was never a lackey.) Daniel has a slight story arc as he pines for the gypsy woman Ilonka, who doesn’t bear such feelings for him. He blames his looks; she calls out his jealousy over Larry. Gullible and small-minded, I really don’t feel anything for him.
John Carradine as Count Dracula: Finally, the most cadaverous actor of all time gets to play an animated cadaver. Too bad it’s the wimpiest version of Dracula there is. Drac pledges his services to Niemann in return for Niemann guarding his coffin and not staking. Master of All Evil, ladies and gentlemen! BTW, when they’re at the inn where Drac tries to seduce the Burgomesier’s daughter, he offers a toast. A toast?! I thought he “never drank…wine.” Ah, Drac. You and Bond. Women will be your undoing.

Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man): Weepy, whiney Larry is back. And, yes, he desperately wants either to die or at least be operated on. You know, I really liked the character the first time I saw him. But there’s only so much moping I can take. Still, he is one of only two well-rounded characters in this movie. Oh, and the reason for the Forced Romance? Well, they worked in the reverse idea from WoL: that only a person who loves a werewolf, knowing their suffering, can actually kill them. Too bad they couldn’t develop this story line a little more.

Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster: Motionless for most of the movie, he only moves for a few minutes at the very end of the film after being revived in The Lab. Though Chaney and Lugosi started the trend of the Monster’s stiff movements,(on account of it being blind), it’s Strange’s portrayal of the Monster that created the slow, bumbling, mute, and unintelligent modern caricature of the Monster. Gone are the days of Karloff’s fast, nimble, thoughtful and curious portrayal. And both the character and the audience are poorer for that loss.

House of Dracula (Universal, 1945) Trailer

Plot: Once again, we return to Visaria, where a tall, pale, consumptive figure calling himself “Count Latos” meets with Dr. Franz Edlemann (Onslow Stevens) at the latter’s modernized castle home. The figure quickly reveals that he’s really Count Dracula (John Carradine) and, almost on the verge of tears, asks Edlemann to help cure his vampirism. Not only is Edlemann astonishingly accepting of all this, but I never thought Drac could ever be played as such a wimp. Oh, boy.
The revolving door for supernatural creatures suffering from MDD opens as Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) arrives, begging for the Doc to cure him as well. (The basis for all of this is Edlemann’s research into anatomy and the effects of clavaria, a plant the Doc is cultivating that alters human bone growth.) When the Doc can’t act as fast as Larry wants, the latter gets himself thrown in jail for safety purposes and transforms into his alter ego in front of everyone.

Larry attempts suicide the next day by throwing himself off a cliff. The Doc finds him in a cave where they discover the Frankenstein Monster with Dr. Niemann’s skeleton. (That’s as close to continuity as we’re getting to continuity between these films, I guess.) Because of the humidity, the Doc realizes he can more of the much-needed clavaria in the cave. He also, naturally, brings the Monster back to The Lab to revive it and then…stops. He says it would be too dangerous. Wait. A logical decision? No disregarding safety? What’s going on here?
Meanwhile, Dracula sets his eyes on Milizia (Martha O’Driscoll), one of the Doc’s assistants. (Forgot to mention: Edlemann is treating Dracula with blood transfusions- using his own blood- that may end the vampirism. Also, Drac is keeping his coffin with Transylvanian earth in the basement to stay close to the castle.) He tries to seduce her just before the Doc and his other assistant, the hunchbacked Nina (Jane Adams), intervene. The Doc decides to get rid of Dracula. Another rational decision?!
Edlemann sets Drac up for another transfusion, which he secretly rigs to kill the Count. But Drac figures out the plan and reverses the process- putting his blood into the Doc. A chase ensues, with the Doc taking a different course of action- dragging the Count’s coffin into the sun and skeletonizing him. But not long after, the Doc sees his reflection disappear and he gains a malevolent appearance. (This evil side comes and goes randomly.)
Finally, Edlemann gives Larry a cranial operation that should relieve pressure on the brain (which the Doc thinks is the true cause of Larry’s lycanthropy). And guess what? It works! However, Dracula’s blood eventually overcomes Edlemann. He kills a gardener, getting the attention of the (actually competent) police and, of course, the villagers. At the end, Evil Edlemann kills Nina and revives the Monster. Larry shoots Edlemann and sets fire to the Lab. He and the others waive off the Pitchforks-and-Torches Mob in time to trap the Monster in the fire just before the Abrupt Ending.

Thoughts and Background: What can I say? I really like this film! The last few movies saw the characters simply going through the motions. Here, each character (or archetype) is given something different to do or work with (which I’ll explain). Also, the characters act smart for a change. Doctor Edlemann ignores scientific curiosity and refuses to bring the Monster back to life. The police initially suspect Larry as the gardener’s killer, since he’s a werewolf. But it’s pointed out the moon wasn’t full and Larry was in no shape to tun after his operation. The policeman (Lionel Atwill) even rebukes the idiot villager for jumping to conclusions! Yay! New ideas are injected into this film’s story and they are greatly appreciated.
John Carradine as Count Dracula: I was ready to write this off as the wimpiest Dracula ever. (Hammer Stu-dee-O’s, where are you?) His seduction of Milizia was par the course and could be dismissed as typical Hollywood Dracula. However, the Count sets things in motion when he reverses the transfusion and gives Edlemann an evil side. Then I remembered that Dracula said he met Milizia in another city. That made me think. Did Drac poison the Doc because his plan was revealed, or was he only doing this to get close to Milizia and make her his latest bride? That’s the level of characterization I want.
Onslow Stevens as Dr. Franz Edlemann: Not a mad scientist. An honest one. The script reveals the truth about the Count and Larry quickly, sparing us the whole “unbelieving scientist” cliche. Edlemann is also smart and not foolish, as noted above. However, the unforeseen actions of Dracula leaves him in a Jekyll-and-Hyde condition. Nice. It’s his unrestrained evil that ultimately causes the final showdown, not the stupidity as seen in other scientists in this series. In this case, change is good.

Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man): Larry starts off as his standard mopey, suicidal self. (And with a mustache this time.) But once the Doc comes up with a diagnosis and cures Larry, everything changes. Larry gets to show loyalty and even heroism as he stands by the Doc’s side. (He can feel Edlemann’s pain of having a vile alter ego.) He promises, at Edlemann’s request, to kill the Doc if all other attempts at a cure fail. He then warns the villagers and appears to sacrifice himself at the end to stop the Monster. It’s a side of Larry I would’ve liked to have seen earlier.
Jane Adams as Nina (the Hunchback): A different take on the hunchback (or just deformed) character as well. The previous such characters- Fritz, Karl, Ygor, and Daniel- were all either stupid or selfish characters. In this story, Edlemann is about to operate on Nina and make her normal. She puts off her operation so Edlemann can operate on Larry instead. It’s a complete reverse of the other figures. And it makes Edlemann’s evil side all the more detestable when he kills her.

Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster: The only figure here who gets nothing new to do. Well, four out of five ain’t bad. Here, the Monster only shows up at the end and creates havoc and chaos. Not much here. However, you could say that the Monster acts as a plot point- showcasing the different reactions of Edelmann’s good and evil sides. The Monster’s presence is also what allows Larry to show off his newfound courage. So, in a way, despite not getting any new characteristics or stories himself, the Monster allows the other characters to grow. And the result is a movie superior to its predecessors.

This is also the last article we’re going to squeak in before the kids hit the streets in their new outfits, demanding treats from their neighbors or else. So, on that note…

1 comment:

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks for the article, Rustbelt. Of all the monster movies, the wolfman has always struck me as the most childish. Even when they tried to make serious modern interpretations, like Wolf, it just never worked for me.

In fact, the only werewolf movie that I can think truly enjoying was An American Werewolf in London.

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