"The Ghost of Frankenstein" (Universal, 1942), directed by Erle C. Kenton, resurrects both the Frankenstein series and its monster(s) for another horror-go-round. This, this fourth edition, begins at the town hall where villagers, in fear of an evil curse, want to persuade the judge to grant permission for them to go and blow up Frankenstein's castle. For the benefit to those who haven't seen the third installment, "The Son of Frankenstein" (1939), it's briefly explained by one of the villagers that Wolf, the son of Frankenstein (played by Basil Rathbone) has brought back to life his late father's creation (Boris Karloff), only to have it terrorize the town once more, with the help of a crazed shepherd named Ygor (Bela Lugosi), who used the monster to carry out his evil deeds and kill off those jurors who found him guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Afterwards, Frankenstein does away with both evil doers by shooting down Ygor with bullets and pushing the Monster to his doom into a boiling sulpher pit. The judge then grants permission to have the castle destroyed. As the villagers carry out their mission, they find Ygor very much alive and well, living in the castle. The castle is then dynamited, but before it is gone entirely, the pressure of the blast releases the Monster (now played by Lon Chaney Jr.) from his prison of the hardened sulpher pit to freedom. Ygor thus takes his friend, the Monster, away and to another village, where lives Ludwig (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), the second son of Frankenstein, now a surgeon who practices on the diseases of the brain, with Doctor Theodor Boumer (Lionel Atwill), as one of his assistants. Also living with Frankenstein is his daughter, Elsa (Evelyn Ankers), who's in love with her father's associate, Doctor Eric Giffrey (Ralph Bellamy). While at the village, the Monster encounters a little girl, Cloestine (Janet Ann Gallow) who, unlike the other villagers, fears him not. After the Monster is taken to jail, comes to Frankenstein for assistance, but refuses. After the Monster escapes, he and Ygor come to Frankenstein home, where the monster rests of the laboratory table. Frankenstein makes the decision to at first destroy his father's creation, but after his father's ghost appears to him, decides otherwise by performing an operation replacing the evil brain of the Monster with a sensible one. But who's? After Doctor Kettering (Barton Yarbrough) is found murdered, it is decided to transplant the deceased man's brain into the Monster's head. Ygor on the other hand wants his brain planted into the Monster's head, while the Monster, who has just taken Cloestine from her home, wants the child's brain instead. Which brain will be used? A no-brainer situation.
"The Ghost of Frankenstein," which lacks logic, is the first in the series of Universal quickies (usually about 70 minutes, more or less), gearing more to the enjoyment of the Saturday matinée crowd than to just adults. The first three films were class "A" productions, carefully prepared scripts, with FRANKENSTEIN (1931) being intense for children to see, and all featuring Boris Karloff as The Monster. Ygor, who was pronounced dead in the last installment, returns, with no explanation as to how he survived the bullets. However, it is said that the Monster cannot die, which explains his resurrection once more. On the plus side to this production are the special effects, crisp black and white photography, brief clips taken from the initial "Frankenstein" featuring Colin Clive and Dwight Frye stealing a dead body from the cemetery and the creation of the Monster, and a stock musical score by Hans J. Salter. As with "Son of Frankenstein," Bela Lugosi's Ygor steals the show, although he is somewhat less menacing this time round. Lon Chaney Jr., a recent recruit to the Universal rouster of movie monsters, makes a satisfactory substitute to Karloff's Monster, but not as memorable as he is, or was, as Lawrence Talbot in "The Wolf Man" (1941), and its sequels. In many ways, Chaney's Monster is many times better than the latter Glenn Strange's performance. From this point on, the Frankenstein monster would become a second rate character, which was reportedly a letdown by its originator, Karloff, this being his main reason for quitting the series. One thing here that would have made Karloff proud is the way how Chaney's Monster interplays with that of a little girl. It's been said Karloff was totally against his monster character in "Frankenstein" having to drown an innocent little girl in that one intense scene by the lake. Here, the Monster still goes on a rampage to kill, but shows the human side of his nature when it comes to the innocence of a child, showing no fear of this hideous creature.
Also seen in the supporting cast are Leyland Hodgeson as the Chief Constable; Holmes Herbert as Inspector Holtz; and Doris Lloyd as Martha. Fans of the initial two Frankenstein entries will take notice that Dwight Frye (appearing unbilled), the one who played the hunchback Fritz in "Frankenstein" (1931) and Karl in "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935), as one of the angry villagers in the opening segment. And yes, that is the same Lionel Atwill, here appearing as Doctor Boumer, who played the one armed police inspector in "Son of Frankenstein." He would assume different character roles in future installments in the Frankenstein series.
As with all the Frankenstein films of the 1930s and '40s, "The Ghost of Frankenstein" has become available on both video cassette and DVD. It did have frequent revivals on cable television's The Sci-Fi Channel, American Movie Classics (2000-2002) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: October 9, 2016). In spite of this being the first in the series with "B" material scripting, "The Ghost of Frankenstein" actually is a fast-paced production at 68 minutes, and seldom dull. (**1/2 brains)
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