The Return of Larry Talbot
After the success of The Wolf Man (1941), Universal eventually capitalized on the invincibility of lycanthrope Larry Talbot in four additional films. These are, in order, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), The House of Frankenstein (1944), The House of Dracula (1945), and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). FMTWM is actually a sequel to both The Wolf Man and the underrated The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). The story continuity between Ghost and FMTWM helps explain Lugosi’s often-criticized, stumbling, performance as the monster. He’s blind! The climax of Ghost has psychopathic Ygor’s (Lugosi) brain transferred into the monster’s cranium, only to be rejected, and rendering the monster blind due to incompatible blood types. So, it made some sense to have Lugosi play the monster in the sequel. Lugosi of course played the monster in character. I’m ok with that. I do agree with makeup artist Rick Baker that Lugosi’s facial structure was wrong for the monster. With hook nose and squat face, Lugosi’s monster looks made-up. The best monster face by far is Jack Pierce’s/Karloff’s in the original film.
Still, FMTWM is a lively horror romp with a lot to keep fans entertained. After all, it was Universal’s first monster mash! Jack Pierce’s makeup seems improved -more refined in this film and the transformation sequences are smoother. I also prefer the Wolf Man action sequences in the sequel. The story focuses and expands primarily on Larry Talbot and it’s Chaney’s film all the way. I always pulled for the Wolf Man in the climatic final battle. I like how he strategically (instinctively?) took the higher ground -shelves, lab apparatus whatever was available, and leaped on the monster. Both monsters are washed away as a meddling villager blows up the dam and the impoundment floods Frankenstein’s historical digs.
The House of Frankenstein (1944) stars Boris Karloff as evil scientist Dr. Niemann, hell-bent on revenge, with the help of his sympathetic dwarf assistant Daniel, played to the hilt by J. Carrol Naish. Along the way they find Dracula’s skeleton (Poor Dr. Lampini! George Zucco had his shortest role ever), and unleash a dapper John Carradine as the count, and find the Wolf Man and the “undying monster” (Glenn Strange) frozen in a glacier. I have to wonder why there is always a subterranean icy crevasse present to keep our friends in cryogenic suspension. As usual, Larry Talbot searches for a way to end his misery. HOF certainly benefits from a colorful cast. Karloff is good as the villain -I’m sure he turned down the role of the monster. I also like Carradine although his part is a little more than a cameo. And look quick for Stooges regular Philip Van Zandt!
The weakest of the Talbot series is The House of Dracula (1945). As with Son of Dracula (1943) and various Inner Sanctum mysteries of the period, Chaney sported a pencil-thin mustache. It seems out of character for Talbot. Chaney appears to be tired of the role and we finally see the Wolf Man cured, abruptly, through the use of plant-derived spores(!). Of course he returns in top form again in the seminal classic horror-comedy A&C Meet Franky, which is one of my favorite Chaney films. He was good in comedy. Check him out with Peter Lorre in the Bob Hope romp My Favorite Brunette (1947).