Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. Universal Pictures, 1943. Ilona Massey, Patric Knowles, Lionel Atwill, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya, Dennis Hoey, Lon Chaney Jr. Screenplay: Curt Siodmak. Director: Roy William Neill.

   Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man is a horror film starring Lon Chaney Jr. In this quixotic production, Chaney reprises his role as Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man, the eponymous character of Curt Siodmak’s 1941 horror classic about a man who, against his own volition, turns into a werewolf during the full moon.

   Along for the ride through this fairy tale land are Iloney Massey as Baroness Elsa Frankenstein, Patric Knowles as Dr. Frank Mannering, Talbot’s physician, and Bela Lugosi as a rather underwhelming Frankenstein Monster. Saving the film from its preposterous premise, encapsulated so clearly in the film’s title, is the skillful direction of Roy William Neill. (I reviewed Neill’s Gothic masterpiece, The Black Room starring Boris Karloff, here).

   The plot is basic enough. Grave robbers come across the Talbot tomb in a very eerie looking cemetery somewhat reminiscent of the one seen in the beginning of Lew Landers’s The Return of the Vampire (reviewed here). Their attempt to rob the family tomb is thwarted by Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man who turns out not to be so dead after all.

   Ever since he was initially bitten by a werewolf and transformed into one himself, Larry simply cannot die. He kills at night during the full moon and he hates himself for it. He simply wants to die. Indeed, that’s what takes up the majority of the film’s time — seeing a somewhat pathetic and moping Chaney/Talbot wonder around from place to place trying to find someone who will help him end his cursed existence. One person he seeks out is the elderly, mysterious Gypsy woman, Maleva, portrayed by the Russian actress, Maria Ouspenskaya, who had the same role in Siodmak’s The Wolf Man.

   Talbot and Maleva make their way through central Europe where Talbot encounters Baroness Frankenstein (Massey) and urges her to turn over her father’s records. He wants to learn how her father’s experiments might help him die. Talbot also inadvertently discovers an iced over Frankenstein Monster (Lugosi) and releases him from his frozen tomb. One really has to suspend disbelief to make it through this part of the film.

   Soon, Dr. Mannering (Knowles), who was Talbot’s physician earlier in the movie, shows up and decides that he’s going to become a mad doctor. He ends up both strengthening the Frankenstein Monster and, with the assistance of a full moon, turning Talbot into a werewolf on the same night.

   Finally, the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man go at it, fighting as monsters do. It’s actually a fun little sequence with memorable camera angles and a visually stunning Gothic laboratory setting. But the monster versus monster fight doesn’t last long. One of the townspeople, against the advice of the mayor (Lionel Atwill), decides he’s going to sabotage the Frankenstein Castle and kill the monsters.

   When the movie ends — too abruptly, it should be noted — it would seem as if both the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man have been laid to rest. (The 1944 sequel, House of Frankenstein, reviewed here by Dan Stumpf and by Walter Albert here, will demonstrate that this was not the case).

   While Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man isn’t a particularly good horror film, it’s actually a fairly decent monster movie. True: Chaney’s character really doesn’t do much but whine and beg people to help him die. And Lugosi is not Karloff. But Roy William Neill’s direction makes the film an enjoyable, if admittedly mindless, viewing experience. Quirky camera angles, great settings, and skillful uses of shadow and lighting make this transparent effort by the studio to capitalize on the successes of both Frankenstein (1931) and The Wolf Man significantly better than it could have been in a far less capable director’s hands.