Halloween Havoc!: FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (Universal 1943)


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FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN was Universal’s first Monster Mash-Up, and in my opinion the best of the lot. From here, things got a little crowded, but by spotlighting just two supernatural terrors, we get a spooky, atmospheric ‘B’ film that really works. Lon Chaney Jr. returns to his signature role of Lawrence Talbot, suffering from the curse of lycanthropy, and he’s even better than in the original (which I reviewed in 2015 ). And The Monster is played by 60-year-old Bela Lugosi , in the part he rejected twelve years earlier. Bela’s interpretation is… interesting (but more on that later).

The eerie opening scene features two graverobbers under a full moon, breaking into the Talbot family crypt. Opening the lid of the late Larry Talbot’s coffin, they find the body is covered in wolfbane, and one of them recites that familiar “Even a man who’s pure in heart…” poem…

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Horror Film Review: Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (dir by Roy William Neill)


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Long before Batman v. Superman, there was Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man!

Released in 1943, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man was the first of the Universal horror movies to feature the monsters meeting.  (Dracula would join both Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man in later films.)  In our current age of the MCU and Zack Snyder super hero movies, that might not seem like a big deal but I’m sure it was huge in 1943.  Were the Universal Monster Movies the first example of a shared cinematic universe?  To be honest, I have no idea but it sounds good so let’s go with it.

Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man starts, as so many Frankenstein films have, with a little bit of grave robbing.  Except, this time, the grave robbers aren’t looking for body parts.  Instead, they break into the Talbot family crypt because they’ve heard that Larry Talbot was buried with a lot of jewelry and money.  As the grave robbers wander around the crypt, they recap for us everything that happened in The Wolf Man.  Finally, they open up Larry’s coffin and are confronted with the dead body of Larry Talbot himself!  (Larry is, once again, played by Lon Chaney, Jr.)

Unfortunately for our grave robbing friends, there’s a full moon out.  As soon as the moonlight shines on Larry, he comes back to life and promptly transforms into … THE WOLF MAN!

After killing one of the robbers, the Wolf Man runs out of the tomb.  The next morning, once again human and alive, Larry Talbot wakes up in some bushes.  He’s arrested by the police.  He’s sent to a mental hospital.  He transforms a few more times and kills a few more stock characters.  And during all of this, Larry tells anyone who will listen that he just wants to be cured of his condition so that he can die and stay dead.

It was at this point that it occurred to me that Larry Talbot is perhaps the whiniest werewolf in film history.

Eventually, Larry decides that maybe the famous Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein could help him!  So, he breaks out of the hospital and travels to Germany (though, since the film was made during World War II, we’re never specifically told that he’s in Germany).  Accompanying him is Malena (Maria Ouspenkaya), the gypsy woman from the first Wolf Man.

In Germany a generic Eastern European country, Larry finds out that Dr. Frankenstein is dead and his research is missing.  Larry does, however, discover the frozen body of Frankenstein’s Monster (now played by Bela Lugosi).  After reviving the monster, Larry is upset to discover that the Monster not only doesn’t know where to find Frankenstein’s research but that, after dealing with their crap for four movies, the Monster doesn’t really seem to care about doing anything other than harassing the local villagers.

Fortunately, Larry does get to meet Ludwig’s widow (Illona Massey) and get a chance to tell her about how much he wishes he was dead.  Probably just to get him to shut up about how terrible his existence is, the widow agrees to help Larry.  She gives him Ludwig’s research and Larry believes that he’s finally found a way to end both his life and the Monster’s!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way.  For one thing, Larry is working with a scientist (played by Patric Knowles) who doesn’t think that the Monster needs to be destroyed.  Secondly, Larry keeps forgetting to keep track of the lunar cycles.  That full moon is continually taking him by surprise.

It all leads to a final battle between Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man.  It only lasts for a little less than 10 minutes so it’s hard not to be a bit disappointed but at least no one talks about having a mother named Martha.

(Can you imagine that conversation?

“Growl growl growl growl”

“Why you say Martha?”

“Growl growl.”

“But Monster’s mother named Martha!”

“Growl!”

“Friends!”

“growl…”)

(It’s been seven months since that damn movie came out and, here at the Shattered Lens, we’re still getting mileage out of “But my mother was named Martha!” jokes.)

Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man isn’t necessarily a good movie but it is a lot of fun to watch.  It helps, of course, if you’ve seen the other Universal horror films.  Part of the fun is spotting members of the Universal stock company, like Lionel Atwill and Dwight Frye, and seeing who they’ll be playing this time around.  One thing that I did legitimately appreciate is that the film made at least some sort of an effort to maintain a continuity with both The Wolf Man and Ghost of Frankenstein.  It appears that some actual thought was put into explaining how both the Wolf Man and the Monster were still around after the events of the last two films.  That shows more respect for the audience that you’ll find in most modern films.

Horror Film Review: The Wolf Man (dir by George Waggner)


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“Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night;

May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”

— Gypsy Poem, The Wolf Man (1941)

Poor Larry Talbot.

We all know his story, of course.  The plot of the original Wolf Man is so iconic and has been imitated in so many other films that, even if you somehow have never seen the original 1941 film, you still know what happened.

Larry (played by Lon Chaney, Jr.) is a loser.  When we first meet him, he is nervously returning to his childhood home in Wales.  (Chaney doesn’t sounds at all Welsh nor does he sounds like he’s from any other part of the UK for that matter, but that’s not really important.)  Larry’s older brother has recently died and Larry hopes that maybe he can reconcile with his father, Sir John (Claude Rains).  Larry’s brother was the favored son, the one who lived up to the Talbot name and made his father proud.  Larry, on the other hand, hasn’t really succeeded at anything he’s ever done.  To use the slang of the time, Larry comes across as basically being a lug.  A big dumb lug.

After discovering that his father really doesn’t seem to want to have much to do with him, Larry goes for a stroll through the nearby village.  He buys a silver-headed walking stick, mostly so he can flirt with the salesgirl, Gwen (Evelyn Ankers).  It turns out that there’s a gypsy camp nearby.  What better place to go on a date!?

Well, perhaps Larry should have just invited her to the movies.  Not only does a fortune teller (Maria Ouspenskaya) see something terrible in his future but Larry ends up getting bitten by what appears to be a wolf.  The good news is that Larry was bitten while saving the life of one of Gwen’s friends, which is certainly going to make him look like good boyfriend material.  The bad news is that the wolf was actually the fortune teller’s son, Bela (played by none other than Bela Lugosi).  It turns out that Bela was a werewolf and now, Larry’s going to be a werewolf too!

Larry, needless to say, is not happy about this.  But then again, Larry wasn’t happy before he became the werewolf either.  Lon Chaney, Jr. played Larry Talbot in five different movies and I don’t think he smiled once.  I guess that’s understandable, seeing as how he was a werewolf.  In every film in which he appeared, Larry would beg someone to kill him and put him out of his misery.  And, in every sequel, Larry would somehow be brought back to life and have to go through it all over again.  I guess he earned the right to be a little glum.

But still, even before he’s bitten in The Wolf Man, Larry is kind of a boring character.  The only time that he’s interesting is when he’s a wolf man.  And really, he’s a far more successful werewolf than human.  When we first meet Larry, he apologizing to his father for never living up to his expectations.  But once Larry turns into the Wolf Man, he finally manages to get things done.  When he’s the wolf man, Larry has the inner drive that he lacks as a human.

To me, the heart of The Wolf Man is not to be found in Chaney’s glum performance.  Instead, it’s in Claude Rains’s performance as John.  When we first meet Sir John, he seems like a rather imposing figure but, over the course of this 70 minute film, John slowly lowers his guard.  We discover that he’s actually a loving father and there’s something rather sweet about watching as he slowly welcomes Larry back into his life.  Of course, it all ends in tragedy.  These things often do.

Everything, from the set design to shadowy cinematography to the hard-working fog machine (which keeps the moors looking properly creepy) to the performances of Claude Rains and Maria Ouspenskaya, comes together to make The Wolf Man into a genuine classic of horror cinema.  And, of course, I have to mention the brilliant makeup job that was done to transform Chaney into The Wolf Man.  

Still, I have to wonder — why did Lugosi turn into an actual wolf while Chaney turned into this?

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Oh well, it probably doesn’t matter.  Just relax and enjoy the damn film, as a wise person somewhere once said.  Be sure to watch The Wolf Man this holiday season!

Why I Love THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (Warner Brothers 1938)


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Readers of this blog know CASABLANCA is my all-time favorite movie, but THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD is definitely in the Top Ten, maybe even Top Five (I’d have to think about it… sounds like a future post!). The story’s been told on-screen dozens of times, from the silent 1922 Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler to Disney’s 1973 animated version to the recent Russell Crowe/Ridley Scott offering. But it’s this 1938  classic that remains definitive, thanks to a marvelous cast, breathtaking Technicolor, and the greatest cinematic swordfight in history.

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You all know the legend of Robin Hood by now, so no need for a recap. Instead, I’ll go right into what makes this film so great, starting with Errol Flynn as the brave Sir Robin of Locksley. Flynn was at the peak of his career here, after starring in such action-packed hits as CAPTAIN BLOOD   , THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT…

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Cleaning Out The DVR #23: The Adventures of Robin Hood (dir by Michael Curtiz)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by this Friday.  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

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Flamboyant.  Athletic.  Joyous.  Determined.  Handsome.  Outspoken.  Bigger than life.  Revolutionary.  Anarchist.  Sexy.  Libertarian.  Is there any doubt why Errol Flynn remains the definitive Robin Hood?

And. for that matter, is there any doubt why the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood remains not only the definitive Robin Hood film but also one of the most influential action films in history?

The Adventures of Robin Hood tells the story that we’re all familiar with.  The King of England, Richard The Lionhearted (Ian Hunter), is captured while returning from the Crusades.  His brother, King John (Claude Rains, in full autocratic villain mode), usurps the throne while Richard is gone and immediately raises taxes.  He claims that he’s only doing this to raise the money to set Richard free.  Of course, the real reason is that John is a greedy tyrant.

The only nobleman with the courage to openly oppose John is Sir Robin of Locksely (Errol Flynn).  Sir Robin protects his fellow citizens from John’s main henchman, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone, also in full autocratic villain mode).  In fact, Robin is so brave that, on multiple occasions, he even enters Sir Guy’s castle so that he can specifically tell King John and Sir Guy that he has no use for their laws.  This, of course, always leads to Robin having to make a dramatic escape while arrows flies and swords are unsheathed all around.

And through it all, Robin Hood keeps smiling and laughing.  He’s a wonderfully cheerful revolutionary.  He may be fighting a war against a ruthless and unstoppable enemy and he may be the most wanted man in England but Robin is determined to have fun.  One need only compare Robin to his humorless foes to see the difference between freedom and bureaucracy.

(We could use Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood today, though I suspect our government would just blow him up with a drone and then issue a statement about how, by stealing money from the rich and giving it to the poor, Robin was keeping the government from being able to rebuild bridges and repair roads.)

When Robin isn’t exposing the foolishness of organized government, he’s hanging out in Sherwood Forest.  He’s recruiting valuable allies like Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette) and Little John (Alan Hale, Sr.)  He’s playing constant pranks and promoting revolution and, to his credit, he’s a lot more fun to listen to than that guy from V For Vendetta.  He’s also romancing Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland) and good for him.  Two beautiful people deserve to be together.

Even better, he’s doing it in glorious Technicolor!  There’s a lot of great things about The Adventures of Robin Hood.  The action scenes are exciting.  The music is thrilling.  The film is perfectly cast.  Errol Flynn may not have been a great actor but he was a great Robin Hood.  But what I really love about the film is just the look of it.  We tend to take color for granted so it’s interesting to watch a film like The Adventures of Robin Hood, one that was made at a time when color film was something of a novelty.  For those of us who spend a lot of time talking about how much we love old school black-and-white, The Adventures of Robin Hood is a film that says, “Hey, color can be great too!”

But what I mostly love about The Adventures of Robin Hood is just the pure joy of the film.  Just compare this Robin Hood to the grimly tedious version played by Russell Crowe.

(True, nobody in The Adventures of Robin Hood shouts, “I declare him to be …. AN OUTLAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWW!”  Actually, now that I think about it, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood would have worked much better if Oscar Isaac and Russell Crowe had switched roles.)

The Adventures of Robin Hood was nominated for best picture and it probably should have won.  However, the Oscar went to Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You.

Cleaning Out The DVR #18: How Green Was My Valley (dir by John Ford)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by this Friday.  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

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Before I really get into this review, I should admit that I watched How Green Was My Valley with a bias.

Before the movie started, I was expecting to be disappointed with it.  I think that a lot of film lovers would have felt the same way.  How Green Was My Valley won the 1941 Oscar for best picture.  In doing so, it defeated three beloved films that have only grown in popularity and renown since they were first released: Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, and The Little Foxes.  (As well, just consider some of the 1941 films that weren’t even nominated for best picture: Ball of Fire, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, High Sierra, The Lady Eve, Never Give A Sucker An Even Break, The Sea Wolf, The Wolf Man, and Sullivan’s Travels.)  Because it defeated so many great films and since we’re all used to the narrative that the Academy always screws up, there’s a tendency to assume How Green Was My Valley was really bad.

Well, after years of assumptions, I finally actually watched How Green Was My Valley?  Was it bad?  No, not really.  Was it great?  No, not all.  If anything, it felt rather typical of the type of films that often win best picture.  It was well-made, it was manipulative enough to be a crowd-pleaser while serious enough to appeal to highbrow critics, and, perhaps most importantly, it never really challenged the viewer.  Unlike Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon, How Green Was My Valley is a film that doesn’t require that you give it too much thought and, as such, it really shouldn’t be surprising that it was named the best picture of the year.

How Green Was My Valley was directed by John Ford and, as you might expect from Ford, it deals with a changing way of life and features good performances and a few impressive shots of the countryside.  Taking place in the late 1800s, How Green Was My Valley tells the episodic story of the Morgans, a large family of Welsh miners.  The film is narrated by Huw (Roddy McDowall), a youngest member of the family.  Though Huw’s eyes, we watch as his once idyllic and green village is transformed by the growing mining industry and blackened with soot, poverty, and death.

The film starts out as a fairly even mix of sentiment and drama.  Huw has a crush on his brother’s fiancee.  His sister, Angharad (Maureen O’Hara), has a flirtation with the new preacher, Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon).  Much emphasis is put on communal gatherings.  There is a wildly joyful wedding celebration.  We often see the villagers in church and hear them singing both hymns and folk songs.  In their isolate village, they are are united against a changing world.

Or, at least, they think they are.  As the mining industry grows, that united front and sense of community starts to vanish.  A strike sets family members against each other, as each miner is forced to decide whether to side with management or with his fellow workers.  Each year, the wages become lower.  When management realizes that its cheaper to just continually hire new miners, several of the veteran workers are fired and end up leaving the village to seek a living elsewhere.  As new people come to the village, even Mr. Gruffydd finds himself the subject of gossip.

As for Huw, he grows up.  He goes to school, deals with a sadistic teacher, and learns how to defend himself against bullies.  And eventually, like everyone in his family, he is sent down into the mines and soon, his once innocent face is covered in soot.

And, of course, there’s a big tragedy but you probably already guessed that.  How Green Was My Valley is not a film that takes the viewer by surprise.

For the most part, it’s all pretty well done.  The big cast all inhabit their roles perfectly and Roddy McDowall is extremely likable as Huw.  Maureen O’Hara shows why she eventually became a star and even Walter Pidgeon gives a surprisingly fiery performance.  How Green Way My Valley is a good film but it’s too conventional and predictable to be a great film, which is why its victory over Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon will always be remembered as a huge Oscar injustice.

But, taken on its own terms and divorced from the Oscar controversy, How Green Was My Valley may be a conventional but it’s not a bad film.  It’s just no Citizen Kane.

Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: Auntie Mame (dir by Morton DaCosta)


Oh Lord, Auntie Mame.

There were two reasons why I watched the 1958 film Auntie Mame.

First off, as I’ve mentioned before, TCM has been doing their 31 Days of Oscar this month.  They’ve been showing a lot of films — both good and bad — that were nominated for best picture.  Since it’s long been my goal to see and review every single film that has ever nominated for best picture, I have made it a point to DVR and watch every best picture nominee that has shown up on TCM this month.  Auntie Mame was nominated for best picture of 1958 and was broadcast on TCM this month so I really had no choice but to watch it.

My other reason for wanting to see Auntie Mame was because, when I was 19, I was cast in a community theater production of Mame.  (Mame, of course, is the musical version of Auntie Mame.)  Though everyone who saw the auditions agreed that I should have played the role of Gloria Upson, I was cast in the ensemble.  (Gloria was played by the daughter of a friend of the director.  Typical community theater politics.)  As a member of the ensemble, I didn’t get any lines but I still had fun.  In the opening party scene, I dressed up like a flapper and I got to show off my legs.  And then in another scene, I was an artist’s model and I got show off my cleavage.  (If you don’t use being in the ensemble as an excuse to show off what you’ve got, you’re doing community theater wrong.)  Towards the end of the play, I appeared as one of Gloria’s friends and whenever she delivered her lines, I would make sure to have the most over-the-top reactions possible.  She may have stolen the part but I stole the scene.  It was a lot of fun.

But, even while I was having fun, I have to admit that I didn’t care much for Mame.  It was an extremely long and kind of annoying show and there’s only so many times you can listen to someone sing We Need A Little Christmas before you’re tempted to rip out the hair of the actress who stole the role of Gloria Upson from you.

So, when I recently sat down and watched Auntie Mame, I was genuinely curious to see if the story itself worked better without everyone breaking out into song.  After all, Auntie Mame was the number one box office hit of 1958, it was nominated for best picture, and it was apparently so beloved that it inspired a musical!  There had to be something good about it, right!?

Right.

Auntie Mame tells the story of Mame Dennis (Rosalind Russell, attempting to be manic and just coming across as hyper) who is rich and quirky and irrepressibly irresponsible.  When her brother dies, Mame suddenly finds herself entrusted with raising his son, Patrick (played, as a child, by the charmless Jan Hadzlik and, as an adult, by the stiff Roger Smith).  Mame is a wild nonconformist (which I suppose is easy to be when you’ve got as much money as she does) and she tries to teach Patrick to always think for himself.  However, once Patrick grows up and decides that he wants to marry snobby Gloria Upson, Mame decides maybe Patrick shouldn’t think for himself and goes out of her way to prevent the wedding.

Auntie Mame is an episodic film that follows Mame as she goes through a series of oppressively zany adventures.  When the Great Depression hits, she’s forced to work as an actress, a saleswoman, and a telephone operator and she’s not very good at any of them.  She does eventually meet and marry the wealthy Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside (Forrest Tucker).  As you can probably guess from the man’s name, he’s supposed to be from the south.  (And yet Tucker plays the role with a western accent…)  He loves Mame but then he ends up falling off a mountain.  So much for Beau.

(In the production of Mame that I appeared in, Beau was played by this 50 year-old guy who simply would not stop hitting on me and every other girl in the cast and who was always “accidentally” entering the dressing room while we were all changing.  Whenever Mame mentioned Beau’s death, all of us ensemble girls would cheer backstage.)

Anyway, as a film, Auntie Mame doesn’t hold up extremely well.  I can understand, to an extent, why it was so popular when it was first released.  It was an elaborate adaptation of a Broadway play and, in 1958, I’m sure that its theme of nonconformity probably seemed somewhat daring.  When you watch it today, though, the whole film seems almost oppressively heavy-handed and simplistic.  It’s easy to embrace Mame’s philosophy when everyone else in the film is essentially a sitcom creation.

As I mentioned previously, Auntie Mame was nominated for best picture.  However, it lost to the musical Gigi.