‘New thrills as the Monster stalks again!’
The Ghost of Frankenstein is a 1942 horror film in which the doctor’s plans to replace the monster’s brain are hijacked by scheming Ygor.
Directed by Erle C. Kenton (The Cat Creeps; House of Dracula; House of Frankenstein) from a screenplay written by W. Scott Darling (Cobra Woman; Weird Woman; Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon), based on a story by Eric Taylor (The Spider Woman Strikes Back; Son of Dracula; Phantom of the Opera; The Black Cat), the Universal Pictures production stars Cedric Hardwicke, Lon Chaney Jr., Ralph Bellamy, Lionel Atwill, Bela Lugosi and Evelyn Ankers.
In 1942, three years after Son of Frankenstein, Universal Pictures continued the story of the Frankenstein family with The Ghost of Frankenstein!
However, The Ghost of Frankenstein was a far different film from the three that came before it. The budget was lower. The story was less complicated. The running time was much shorter. Whereas the previous films in the franchise clearly took place in Germany, the setting for The Ghost of Frankenstein is less easily defined. (Considering that the film was made during World War II, this isn’t surprising.) The biggest change is that, in The Ghost of Frankenstein, the monster is not played by Boris Karloff. Instead, the role is taken by Lon Chaney, Jr.; his hulking frame was perfect for the monster but his face is never as expressive as Karloff’s. Whereas Karloff turned the monster into as much of a victim as a victimiser, Chaney plays the monster like a … a monster.
Returning from Son of Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi is back as Ygor. At the start of the film, we learn that Ygor actually wasn’t killed at the end previously. Instead, he was just wounded. He’s spent the last few years hiding out in the old castle, trying to once again revive the monster. When the villagers attempt to blow up the castle, he and the monster flee.
It turns out that there’s one other Frankenstein son and his name is Ludwig (he’s played by the very dignified Cedric Hardwicke). Ludwig, who has been hiding his identity and denying the family legacy, has a successful medical practice nearby. Working with his assistants, Doctor Kettering (Barton Yarbrough) and the bitterly jealous Doctor Bohmer (Lionel Atwill, who played a far different role in Son of Frankenstein), Ludwig has developed a procedure in which a damaged brain can be removed from the skull, repaired, and then stuck back inside the skull…
Uhmmm … wow, I have no idea what to say about that. That’s quite a medical breakthrough, though…
When Ygor and the monster show up in the village, searching for Ludwig, the monster ends up getting arrested. The local prosecutor (Ralph Bellamy) asks Ludwig to examine the prisoner. Ludwig is shocked to discover that the prisoner is his father’s creation!
Ygor wants Ludwig to perform a brain transplant on the Monster. At first, Ludwig is hesitant but then he’s visited by Henry Frankenstein’s ghost. (Since Colin Clive died five years before Ghost of Frankenstein went into production, Hardwicke plays both Ludwig and Henry.) The ghost asks Ludwig to perfect the monster.
Ludwig finally relents and agrees to give the monster a new brain. Ludwig wants to use the brain of a kindly colleague but scheming Ygor has different plans…
The Ghost of Frankenstein is a mere 67 minutes long and yet, oddly, it still feels just a little bit draggy. Director Erle C. Kenton does a workmanlike job but, at no point, does Ghost feature the wit that distinguished James Whale’s films or Rowland V. Lee’s work on Son of Frankenstein. Chaney is not a particularly interesting monster but Bela Lugosi is a lot of fun as Ygor.
With Chaney showing even less emotion than he usually did and Hardwicke appearing to be occasionally embarrassed by the whole film, it falls to Lugosi to keep the audience engaged and he manages to do just that. Lugosi’s performance may be overly theatrical but that’s exactly what The Ghost of Frankenstein needed.
Unfortunately, The Ghost of Frankenstein is occasionally entertaining but ultimately forgettable.
” …its production value is still substantial (Ludwig Frankenstein’s laboratory boasts as many cool gadgets as his father’s and brother’s), and the story, which featured more action than the previous three films, managed to hold my attention. The cardinal sin committed by The Ghost of Frankenstein isn’t that it’s terrible; just mediocre. And with a trio of classic movies preceding it, that’s enough to make its shortcomings really stand out.” 2,500 Movies Challenge
“Universal’s Frankenstein series descended from the “A” to the “B” category with The Ghost of Frankenstein, though production values were still well above average and the cast is first-rate.” AllMovie
“The movie does look visually a little cheaper than the previous installments and that is too bad. With a little trimming and a better look, this could be a decent monster movie. The Monster still is a cool visual, but the movie could have been better with a bigger budget.” Basement Rejects
“In Ghost, he [Erle C. Kenton] does an adequate job, giving us some nice close-ups of the different characters, letting them show a little of their work. There is also a great shot of the little girl’s view of the creature as he towers over her, as well as the shadow of the creature’s hand moving over Igor as he awakens. This shows that he was actually trying to make a decent picture as opposed to just getting it done and moving on to the next one.” Kitley’s Krypt
“As a sequel to three of the best Gothic horror films ever made, The Ghost of Frankenstein is rather puny. But by the general standard of the 1940s genre, apart from Val Lewton’s efforts, Ghost is actually of a reasonably high calibre and a very entertaining 67 minutes.” This Island Rod
“The film’s 67–minute running time, over a full half-hour shorter than its predecessor, would suggest a bottom-of-the-bill filler feature. The studio, however, wasn’t quite ready to downgrade its prize horror franchise, enhancing the film with decent production values and a strong B cast. As it was the fourth film in the popular horror series, Universal undoubtedly realized that it wouldn’t likely win plaudits from the critics and concentrated instead on making an actionful, crowd-pleasing film devoid of pretensions.” Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931-1946
” …it’s quite sad to see what this series becomes by this point. It lacks the polish and interesting environments of the previous entries, dumbs the monster down further, and wastes a great cast. Even at the mere 67-minute runtime, it seems drug out and altogether unnecessary.” The Video Graveyard
” …most of the enjoyment of Ghost comes from seeing the usual Universal stock company assembled together playing different roles (Chaney, Lugosi, Atwill, Ralph Bellamy, and Evelyn Ankers were also in The Wolf Man the previous year.) Lon, unfortunately, makes for a forgettable Frank but Bela really steals the show. Whenever he’s on-screen chewing the scenery, Ghost cooks.” The Video Vacuum
“It involves Ygor wanting to have a brain transplant, Ludwig getting a visit from his father’s ghost telling him to replace Frankenstein’s brain, and then Ygor’s brain going into Frankenstein’s brain. The whole narrative descends fast and hard into farce, never approached with even the slightest hint of comedic absurdity which could have made the convoluted story at least kind of work.” Yellow Barrel
“Seeing Lugosi reprise his best role since Dracula and Murder Legendre in White Zombie is more than satisfying, and keeps the action moving briskly. More briskly than Lon Chaney Jr’s portrayal of the Monster—under Kenton’s direction, at least—can muster alone […] From this movie onward the Frankenstein Monster becomes a scene prop of immense proportions.” Zombos’ Closet
Elsa Frankenstein (Evelyn Ankers): “It all seems so weird and ghastly!”
Ygor (Bela Lugosi): “A new brain, you understand? A new brain! A new brain!”
Ygor (Bela Lugosi): “Better death, than a life like this.”
Cast and characters:
Lon Chaney Jr. … The Monster (as Lon Chaney)
Cedric Hardwicke … Ludwig Frankenstein / Ghost of Henry Frankenstein (as Sir Cedric Hardwicke)
Ralph Bellamy … Erik Ernst
Lionel Atwill … Doctor Theodore Bohmer
Bela Lugosi … Ygor
Evelyn Ankers … Elsa Frankenstein
Janet Ann Gallow … Cloestine Hussman
Barton Yarborough … Doctor Kettering
Doris Lloyd … Martha
Leyland Hodgson … Chief Constable
Olaf Hytten … Hussman
Holmes Herbert … Magistrate
Richard Alexander … Villager (uncredited)
Lionel Belmore … Councillor (uncredited)
Chet Brandenburg … Villager (uncredited)
Colin Clive … Doctor Henry Frankenstein (archive footage) (uncredited)
Harry Cording … Frone (uncredited)
George Eldredge … Constable (uncredited)
Dwight Frye … Villager (uncredited)
Lawrence Grant … Mayor (uncredited)
Otto Hoffman … Villager (uncredited)
Brandon Hurst … Hans (uncredited)
Michael Mark … Councillor (uncredited)
Jimmy Phillips … Indian (uncredited)
William Smith … Village Boy in Courtroom (uncredited)
Ernie Stanton … Constable (uncredited)
Julius Tannen … Sektal (uncredited)
Harry Tenbrook … Villager at Hearing (uncredited)
Glen Walters … Village Mother of Hungry Children (uncredited)
Janet Warren … Goose Girl (uncredited)
Universal Studios – 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, California
Black and white
Aspect Ratio: 1.37: 1
Audio: Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)
March 13th 1942
Truncated versions were later released on 8mm as Frankenstein’s New Brain and The Trial of Frankenstein.
Image credits: Wrong Side of the Art!