Saturday, March 12, 1977: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) / Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Synopsis: Two grave-robbers enter the family crypt of the wealthy Talbot family, looking for an expensive watch and ring left on the body of young Lawrence Talbot, a.k.a. the titular Wolf Man. As the full Moon peeks through the windows, the thieves are puzzled to find Talbot’s body covered with wolfsbane. They clear it off and begin searching for the ring. Suddenly, a hand reaches up from the coffin to grab one of the unfortunate thieves….

Later, a Cardiff policeman finds a man lying unconscious on the street in the dead of night, the apparent victim of an assault. At the hospital the next day, Dr. Mannering is shocked to discover that his patient — on whom he had just operated hours earlier — is now conscious and talking. The man says he is Lawrence Talbot and does not know how he came to be in Cardiff. Checking Talbot’s story, the police discover that Lawrence died four years earlier.

That night, the full Moon rises over the hospital, and Lawrence changes into a werewolf. He takes to the streets of Cardiff, attacking a policeman. The next morning, Talbot declares that he committed a murder during the night and asks for the police. Thinking the man has lost his marbles, Dr. Mannering has him put in a straitjacket. He then goes with the local chief of police to the Talbot family crypt, trying to determine if the man in his hospital room is really Talbot; sure enough, they find the coffin empty.

When he returns to Cardiff he finds that Talbot has somehow shredded the straitjacket with his teeth and escaped.

After a long search Talbot finally catches up with the Gypsy camp of Maleva. Talbot knows that death is the only way he can be free of the curse, but Maleva tells him the only chance he has to die is to visit the guy who has harnessed the powers of life and death: the notorious Dr. Frankenstein.
The two travel by horse-drawn wagon to Vasaria, the hometown of Dr. Frankenstein.Disappointed to find that Dr. Frankenstein is long dead, Talbot and Maleva decide to look around the ruins of the castle in hopes of finding Dr. Frankenstein’s diary, which purportedly holds “the secrets of life and death”.

Alas, a full Moon rises (again), Talbot turns into the Wolf Man (again), wreaks a good deal of havoc, falls through an opening near the castle and awakens (as Talbot again) in an icy underground chamber adjacent to the castle, where he finds Frankenstein’s monster, frozen like a TV dinner….

Comments:  By modern standards, the horror films of the 1940s unfolded at what we might call a leisurely pace.  Audiences had long been trained to expect movies to build slowly, with the big action set-pieces saved until the finale.  This was true even in best-known pictures of the time, including 1941’s The Wolf Man.  

To its great credit,  Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man leaps out of the gate with admirable speed.  The movie begins at the cemetery in Lanwelly, with two thieves breaking into the Talbot family crypt to steal the gold ring and money known to be on the body of the late Lawrence Talbot.  “It’s a sin to bury money,” reasons one of the thieves nervously, “when it can help people.”

He asks his partner in crime what they will find inside the coffin.  “Just bones,” the older thief assures him, “and an empty skull”.  But that isn’t what they find.  Beneath a layer of wolfsbane is young Talbot, his body perfectly preserved — and now the light of the full Moon is shining through the windows onto his face.

For some reason this doesn’t strike the thieves as odd, and they work to pull the gold ring off Larry Talbot’s finger. But the brains of the outfit is more than a little surprised when Talbot’s hand seizes his wrist, and he screams to his compatriot for help. But the other thief panics and runs for his life.

The scene shifts to Cardiff, where a cop walking the beat finds a man sprawled on the pavement. Thinking it’s a drunk, the cop tries to rouse him, but when he shines his flashlight on the man’s face he sees an ugly cut on the guy’s forehead.

This scene leads directly to St. Mary’s Hospital, where the injured man claims to be the late Lawrence Talbot.  The mystery of who he is and how he came to be in Cardiff then propels the movie forward until the next full Moon, when the usual lycanthopic hijinks ensue.  The events that propel the plot forward are much stronger than those in The Wolf Man or indeed any of the Universal horror films of the era.

Curt Siodmak’s screenplay is expertly paced and in spite of some glaring plot holes (why would Dr. Mannering follow Talbot all the way to Vasaria?) it’s really one of the best horror scripts of the 1940s.  Siodmak, who was by all accounts a crass and hackish sort of fellow, did remarkably good work during this period of his career.  Perhaps his personal best was the 1942 novel Donovan’s Brain, which was adapted as a radio play and, a decade later, as a well-regarded film.  Unfortunately, Siodmak would  essentially recycle the same story for the rest of his career.

In a lot of ways, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man anticipated the sort of crossover films that are common today: the idea of Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man inhabiting the same universe must have seemed quite novel at the time, especially since one character is rooted in science-fiction tropes, while the other has occult origins. But the result is quite pleasing, and it wasn’t long before all the characters in the Universal monster pantheon were thrown together — first for dramatic effect in the monster rallies, and later for more comedic purposes in the Abbot and Costello films, where the monsters fit in surprisingly well amidst the hijinks of Bud and Lou.

Dracula’s Daughter

Synopsis: Two bumbling policemen discover a pair of murder victims at Carfax Abbey. One is Count Dracula’s old minion Renfield. The other is Dracula himself, lying in a wooden box with a stake driven through his heart. The only other person around is Professor Von Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) who freely admits to killing the Count. The police, thinking he is mad, arrest him.

Sir Basil Humphrey (Gilbert Emery), the head of Scotland Yard, tells Von Helsing that he’ll need a brilliant defense attorney to get him out of this mess. But Von Helsing is only interested in contacting psychologist Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), whom he feels is the only person who will truly believe his story.

Meanwhile, the body of Dracula is locked in a back room at the police station. A mysterious woman appears, hypnotizing the cop on duty and spiriting the body away.

This strange woman is, as the title suggests, Dracula’s daughter (Gloria Holden). Aided by her servant Sandor (Irving Pichel), she burns her father’s body and carries out a strange ritual.

With her father dead, she has purged herself of the vampire’s curse, and can now go on living as a normal woman.

Or so she believes. Just as Sandor predicts, she still dreads the light of the sun and still craves the blood of fresh victims each night.

The first victim is a young man out on the town. His murder baffles the police, and Von Helsing as well, since he is convinced that Dracula is the only one who could have perpetrated such a crime.

Insinuating herself into London society as Countess Marya Zaleska, Dracula’s daughter meets Jeffrey Garth, who claims to be able to cure people of deep-seated obsessions. She wishes to meet him alone to discuss her own peculiar problem. The two are clearly drawn to each other, and Garth agrees to her request, much to the consternation of his secretary / love interest Janet (Marguerite Churchill).

But in the meantime her longing for blood becomes too strong, and she brings home a young woman named Lili (Nan Grey) with an offer of a modeling job. Soon Lili’s body is found on the street, drained of blood and near death.

Because Lili appears to be in some sort of trance, Jeffrey Garth is brought in to consult. Garth manages to break the hypnotic block and finds out where the woman had been attacked. He’s astonished to discover that it was a studio over a bookshop in Chelsea — which is exactly where Countess Zaleska lives….

Comments: Falling in love with your employer is usually a bad idea, though it happens frequently enough in the movies and sometimes even in real life.  Pain and disaster is by far the most likely outcome of such dalliances but, as the ancient philosopher El Debarge once pointed out, the heart is not so smart.

Jeffrey Garth’s secretary Janet has long carried a torch for her boss in Dracula’s Daughter.  The fact that Garth is ignorant of this seems improbable, especially since Janet is played by the delectable Marguerite Churchill. 

But we shouldn’t be too surprised that he doesn’t notice: she is like the air Garth breathes, absolutely vital to him but too easily taken for granted.  So when he begins to fall for Countess Marya Zaleska, Janet does everything she can to derail their romance. Her machinations are fairly innocent, played for comic relief: she stands at the door and tells the countess that Jeffrey is out when he is really in, and makes prank calls to the Countess’ flat when she knows Garth is there with her.  

Her jealousy manifests itself in benign ways, presumably because her intentions are not entirely selfish – she sincerely wants to steer him away from a woman that she knows is bad news. Of course the screenwriters stack the deck heavily against the Countess, who winds up kidnapping Janet and holding her hostage in order to compel Garth’s promise of eternal companionship. 

This conveniently provides him with a reason to hold her in contempt as well as an opportunity to consider what Janet really means to him.  In the end Garth is able to hold the supine Janet in his arms and see her for what she is, namely, the Pepper Potts to his Tony Stark.

That employer-employee romance ends happily, but the other one in the movie doesn’t: Countess Zaleska’s relationship with her servant Sandor is anything but healthy.  Sandor clearly wants her to fail in her quest to become human again, and late in the film we find out why: the countess had at one point promised him eternal life and companionship.  How and why the countess became involved with her creepy troll of a manservant is never explained, but it’s clear that whatever relationship they once shared has curdled.  He still craves the nocturnal lifestyle that she no longer wants.  

She is like a teenager who realizes she doesn’t want to run with the goth kids anymore.  She has outgrown Sandor and now expects him to go quietly back to the original role he played in her life: namely, a member of the household staff. This, of course, is doomed to fail, and in the end it’s Sandor who pierces her heart with an arrow, like a demented Cupid.  He Is gunned down seconds later, and this is probably how he would have preferred it anyway.  I suspect he always saw himself as Romeo to her Juliet.

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