On the moonlit moors of Llanwelly Village, Sir John Talbot rushes to the aid of Gwen Conliffe, who is being attacked by a ghastly man-beast. He clubs the creature to death with a silver-headed cane. Gwen is saved, but Sir John is horrified to discover that he has killed his own son, Lawrence Talbot. The Wolf Man is dead… that is, until the studio execs smelled a cash cow in that wolf’s skin.
In the wake of the box-office success of 1941’s THE WOLF MAN, the Universal Studio suits immediately set a sequel in motion. As legend has it, screenwriter Curt Siodmak made a snarky lunchtime remark about making “Frankenstein Wolfs the Meat Man,” and voilá! the “monster mash-up” was born. The Frankenstein Monster already had four titles under his belt, so the concept of throwing him the ring with their latest monster star seemed like a no-brainer. Or at least an abnormal-brainer.
FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN opens with one of the most wonderfully atmospheric establishing shots in horror history. An elaborate moving crane shot that follows two unsavory types through a windswept, raven-peppered cemetery in the dead of night. These grave robbers have come to pilfer the mausoleum of the deceased Talbot family. One is played by Tom Stevenson, who played “Richardson the Gravedigger,” the only victim of the Wolf Man in the first film!
Unfortunately, when the rays of the full moon fall upon the body of Lawrence Talbot, he once again transforms into the beast, and one of the thieves ends up being his first meal in four years.
Shortly after, Larry Talbot is discovered miles away by a constable, unconscious and suffering from a fractured skull. He is brought to a hospital in Cardiff, where he is placed under the care of the reasonable Dr. Mannering (Patrick Knowles, who also played a different character in the first film).
Talbot can’t remember how he came to be there, much to the consternation of the cranky police inspector, but his memory returns in the worst way. The full moon rises and Talbot transforms while lying in his hospital bed. This particular sequence is the best of all the Wolf Man films, a beautiful, practically seamless marriage of Jack Pierce’s makeup and John P. Fulton’s time-lapse photography.
Once transformed, the Wolf Man hits the streets of Cardiff and savagely murders the same constable who discovered him the night before. The following morning, Talbot realizes that he cannot die like any normal person, and escapes the hospital. He sets out to find Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya, reprises her role from the first film), the gypsy woman whose son was the werewolf that bit Talbot. She tells Larry she cannot help him, but has heard of a great man of science who can.
Maleva agrees to accompany Talbot on a road trip to find the famous Dr. Frankenstein. Arriving in the town of Vasaria, Talbot is devastated to learn that Dr. Frankenstein has died, his castle below the dam in ruins. That night the moon rises, and Larry becomes the wolf, killing a young barmaid. The villagers chase the werewolf to the castle ruins, where he falls through the floor and into a glacier cave. It’s a marvelous set piece, seeing the Wolf Man loping through the ice cavern.
When Talbot wakes the next morning, he finds an unusual souvenir… the Frankenstein Monster, frozen in the ice. Hoping the Monster can direct him to the Doctor’s records, Talbot thaws him out.
In the previous Frankenstein film, the Monster had the brain of Ygor (Bela Lugosi) planted in his flat skull. However, a mismatched blood type renders the Monster blind. This time Lugosi plays the Monster, which is awkward due to the editorial choice of eliminating the character’s dialogue, and all references to him being blind. Photographs exist of a filmed but deleted sequence in which Talbot and the Monster have a nice little fireside chat, but the exorcised scene itself has never been uncovered.
When their efforts to find Frankenstein’s notes are fruitless, Talbot tries a more direct approach. He arranges to meet the late doctor’s daughter, Baroness Elsa (Ilona Massey). Although she says she cannot help him, they attend the local “Festival of the New Wine” that evening. Here we are treated to a lively musical number, the lyrics of which (“May you live eternally!”) don’t sit well with Talbot, who only wants to die.
Just then Dr. Mannering shows up, claiming that he has “followed the trail” of full moon murders to find Talbot, and demanding he return to the hospital. Talbot refuses, but before things get too heated, the Monster interrupts the party. The villagers panic and Talbot and the Monster escape to the ruins.
The next day, Mannering and Elsa travel to the castle. Elsa agrees to reveal the location of her father’s records, and Mannering makes plans to operate on both the Monster and Talbot, draining the life energy from both of them. However, as often happens in these films, Mannering becomes obsessed with seeing Frankenstein’s creation “at its full power,” and changes the game plan at the last second. The Monster becomes super-charged just as the moon rises, and the battle lines are drawn, leading to the explosive climax.
Released in 1943, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN is jam-packed with wonderful moments, and director Roy William Neill keeps things moving at a nice clip throughout its seventy-four minutes. Lon Chaney Jr. is terrific as Lawrence Talbot, the role he would play three more times and be most remembered for. Universal regulars Lionel Atwill and Dwight Frye turn up, and look closely for character actor Jeff Corey as a crypt keeper.
There have been many monster team-ups over the years, from the Godzilla films to the animated MAD MONSTER PARTY to Fred Dekker’s THE MONSTER SQUAD, but FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN was the first. And who doesn’t enjoy a good monster fight?