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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

October 23- House of Frankenstein (1944)

Here we have The House of Frankenstein, a 1944 film near the end of the Universal monster movie cycle. Trying to squeeze every last bit of juice out of the various franchises, Universal put the most famous monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, and the Wolf Man) in a single film together. Lon Chaney Jr. plays Larry Talbot/ the Wolf Man for the 3rd of 5 times here. This time, John Carradine plays Count Dracula, with Glenn Strange as the Monster. Boris Karloff is even in this film, but instead of the Monster, Karloff plays the evil scientist Dr. Gustav Niemann, who is the central figure in that ties everything together. It's ironic that Karloff once played the Monster, and now he is playing the man who attempts to bring the Monster to life. This is because Karloff refused to play the Monster anymore, saying that the franchise and his time as the Monster had run its course.

Niemann and Daniel just after escaping prison.
The movie begins with Dr. Niemann and his hunchback assistant, Daniel (played by J. Carrol Naish) escape from prison and are on the run. They run into Professor Lampini (George Zucco), who runs the "Chamber of Horrors" travelling show. In this show, Lampini claims to have the skeleton of Dracula, and explains that the Count would come back to life if the stake was removed from where his heart used to be. Niemann and Daniel murder Lampini and take over the travelling show. Niemann's goal is to murder the man that put him in prison, Burgermeister Hussman (Sig Ruman). Niemann sees Hussman at the show and eventually brings Dracula back to life and  promises that he will serve the Count if Dracula first kills the Burgermeister. Dracula agrees and kills his target, but Niemann destroys Dracula's coffin in the chase after the murder, leaving Count Dracula to perish in the morning sun.

John Carradine as Count Dracula

Next, Niemann and Daniel stumble upon the ruins of Castle Frankenstein. Daniel is smitten by a gypsy girl, Ilonka (Elena Verdugo), whom he rescues. In the ruins of the castle, the two men find the bodies of the Monster and Larry Talbot, frozen in the waters that swept them away in the flood during Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Niemann thaws both, and when Talbot awakes, Niemann promises to find him a cure.  Niemann, however, really only cares about reviving the Monster to get revenge on some old associates. Meanwhile, Ilonka falls in love with Talbot, making Daniel jealous, and Daniel tells Ilonka about Talbot's curse. His plan backfires, as Ilonka tells Talbot that she is willing to help him in his search for a cure.

Talbot demanding that Niemann fix him before reviving the Monster

Niemann ends up reviving the Monster, coincidentally at night, and shortly after the revival, Talbot turns into the Wolf Man. Ilonka, wanting to help release Talbot's soul, shoots him with a silver bullet, thereby ending his curse (for now). Ilonka, however, is killed in the process. Daniel gets upset and attacks Niemann, blaming him for her death. The Monster defends Niemann, killing Daniel and running away with Niemann's unconscious body. A mob chases the Monster and his master into a pit of quicksand, where both perish.

Glenn Strange and Karloff. From creation to creator.
I really enjoyed this movie. There is a lot of action and a lot of star power in this film, with Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. being together on the silver screen for the first time. There's always something going on in this film, and there is always something leaving you waiting for the next scene. My one complaint was the very short period of time that Dracula spends in this film, dying about 25 minutes in. Other than that, I have very little complaint about this film.

This film actually sets a number of precedents that have been followed since, mostly pertaining to the Frankenstein Monster. Glenn Strange's portrayal of the Monster as a stiff, stumbling, clumsy creature has been a staple of the character ever since.
An amazing film considering the goal was just to make as much money in the box office as possible.

I give it a 4.5 out of 5.

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