What could be better than a movie featuring Frankenstein or the Wolf Man, well, the obvious answer is a film starring not one but both of these classic Universal Monsters and with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man that is exactly what audiences were treated to back in 1942 in what would later be known as the “Monster Rallies” where various Universal Monsters would crossover from their own respective franchises to team up for dynamic action, gothic drama and some truly horrific conflicts.
The character of Lawrence Talbot is most noteworthy for being the one truly tragic figure in the Universal Monsters pantheon as not only was he cursed with lycanthropy he also wasn’t allowed to rest in peace, while Frankenstein’s monster started out as a somewhat sympathetic figure as the franchise continued, which included the creature getting a brain transplant from the murderous Igor, the Monster became more a being of revenge than that of pathos and understanding, on the other hand, poor Larry just wanted the sweet embrace of death that always seemed to elude him. Taking place four years after the events of The Wolf Man this entry opens with graverobbers breaking into the Talbot family crypt to steal the money rumoured to have been buried with Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.), unfortunately for them, they chose a night of the full moon for their activities and instead of riches they are met with horror when a furred hand reaches out of the coffin to grasp one of the robbers.
Later that night, an unconscious Larry Talbot is found by the police and is taken to the local hospital in Cardiff where he is treated by Dr. Frank Mannering (Patric Knowles) for the skull fractures he sustained at the hands of his father in the previous movie, needless to say, neither Mannering nor Inspector Owen (Dennis Hoey) believe Talbot’s claims that he is a werewolf, or that he is Lawrence Talbot because a quick phone call to Talbot’s hometown brings them the information that Lawrence Talbot died four years ago. The continued ravings of Talbot, which includes him claiming to have turned into a werewolf and killed a police constable the night before, results in Mannering ordering the poor deluded man to be put in a straitjacket, of course, this isn’t going to slow down our hero and while Mannering and the Inspector travel to the village of Llanwelly to investigate his story Lawrence escapes, having turned into the Wolf Man and chewed through his restraints. Talbot then seeks out the gypsy woman Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) who he hopes can relieve him of his curse. What is a little strange here is that Maleva informs him that while she has no way of ending the curse a man named Frankenstein could have the answers he seeks, and I have to ask the question “Does an old gypsy woman advising the scientific method to cure a supernatural curse make sense to anyone else?”
The two travel together to Vasaria, home of the Frankensteins, where Talbot hopes to find Dr. Frankenstein’s notes in the remains of his half-destroyed castle, unfortunately, not only does finding the notes turn out to be fruitless effort he must contend with angry villagers who don’t like strangers poking their noses into what they consider a sensitive subject, not to mention the fact that Talbot transforms into the Wolf Man and kills a young woman, which causes a mob of villagers to chase him down and into the ruins of Frankenstein’s castle. In what could be considered a “lucky” turn of events, Talbot discovers Frankenstein’s Monster (Bela Lugosi) trapped within an icy chamber beneath the castle and before you can say “He’s Alive!” Talbot breaks the ice and helps pull the now-revived creature free. This may not seem like a bright idea, even if it may lead to the ending of his curse, but logic is not Talbot’s strong suit and when the Monster fails to help find the notes he turns to catfishing Baroness Elsa Frankenstein (Ilona Massey) in the hope that she knows where her father hid his notes. While she at first denies any knowledge of her father’s notes, saying she would have burned them if she could, things take a turn when Dr. Mannering arrives having followed Talbot across Europe, tracking in his wake of victims each full moon, but when the Monster wanders into town Elsa and Mannering agree to help the villagers rid themselves of Frankenstein’s curse once and for all.
• Grave robbing was quite the cottage industry back in the day, whether it be for finding body parts for your latest experiment or supplementing the family income with lifted valuables from a corpse, this was clearly a tried-and-true business model.
• As a werewolf Lawrence Talbot is unable to die, even surviving four years laying in a tomb, but in The Wolf Man he killed the gypsy Bela with his silver-topped cane, yet when Talbot’s father used that very same cane on Talbot this “death” was somehow less permanent.
• There is more supernatural goings-on here than just lycanthropy, Talbot not only transforms into the Wolf Man but his hospital pyjamas somehow turn into his traditional shirt and pants from the previous film, and then back to the pyjamas in the morning.
• In the film The Ghost of Frankenstein Lon Chaney Jr. played the Monster and Bela Lugosi the mad assistant Ygor, who had his brain transplanted into the body of the Monster, now in this film, Lugosi plays the Monster and it’s as if a brain transplant would somehow alter the body’s appearance. I guess I’m not up on my mad science.
• Lawrence Talbot may be a tragic figure but he’s also quite guilty of manslaughter as he takes no precautions when there is a full moon, and sure, while straight jackets can’t hold him but what about chains or a cage?
The character of Dr. Frank Mannering is one of the more interesting elements of this story as he is a man of science who rationally believes that Lawrence Talbot is nothing more than a madman who suffers from delusions stemming from lycanthropy and he leaves his medical practice to track this man all over Europe, without even the help of Scotland Yard, but when he eventually catches up with Talbot he goes from “Talbot, you’re a murderer, you’re insane at times and you know it” to working with him to restore Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory so that they can drain all life from both Talbot and the Monster, but then his scientific curiosity to see the monster at full strength takes over and instead of draining the Monster of its life he wants to see it at full power.
Helmed by The Wolf Man director Curt Siodmak, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is another Universal Monster entry that doesn’t worry too much about continuity as events in this film don’t quite line up with that of the previous entries, such as the fact that The Ghost of Frankenstein ended with Ygor getting his brain transplanted into the body of the Monster, who in that film was able to speak and planned to take revenge on the world, but when audiences found the voice of Bela Lugosi coming out of the Monster in this outing to be quite laughable the decision was made to cut all of his dialogue, also missing is the fact that the Monster became blind after the brain transplant and so the creature stumbling around with his arms outstretched in this film is never explained, strangely enough, this became the standard image of the Monster when people try to imitate him.
What may disappoint fans hoping to see a lot of Frankenstein’s Monster action is that creature does not turn up until halfway through the picture and then for only a few minutes of screentime, with most of those actually being a stunt double as sixty-year-old Bela Lugosi was not up to the challenge, worse is the fact that the final confrontation between the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster is nothing more than a brief tussle that is interrupted by one of the angry villagers blowing the dam located above the castle resulting in both creatures being swept away.
When it comes to the “Monster Rallies” Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is easily the best of the lot but as further entries slowly developed into the self-parody this aspect would eventually result in Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which pretty much drove a stake right through the heart of the franchise, but on its own, this is a solid offering and this is mostly due to the effort by Lon Chaney Jr. whose performance here is an anchor in what is otherwise a far-fetched script, even by Universal Monster movie standards. While Bela Lugosi stumbling around as the Monster comes across as a bit silly there is a lot of fun to be had here which makes this a must-watch for fans of these classic movies if for Lon Chaney Jr.’s performance alone.
You can check out my other reviews here: Universal Classic Monsters: A Cinematic World of Horror.
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
Universal’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was a fun concept with a fairly decent execution that included a great performance by Lon Chaney Jr. and while the Frankenstein’s Monster aspect is a little lacking that didn’t stop this film from being a whole lot of fun, in fact, it probably added a little bit more.