Monday, June 19, 2017


The latest issue of Richard Klemensen's LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS magazine (issue #38) is dedicated to a complete examination of the 1973 television production of FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY. The issue features Sam Irvin's incredibly detailed account of the making of the film, including several interviews with members of the cast & crew. The magazine also has a stunning array of artwork inspired by the production, from such talents as Mark Maddox, Bruce Timm, and Neil Vokes. It is one of the best issues of LSOH ever.

When I heard that LSOH was going to do a special issue on FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY. I decided I should watch the film myself. I had never seen it, but I was aware of it--it was mentioned in almost all of the monster movie books I had read as a kid. Those books didn't seem to impressed with it--the consensus was that it certainly wasn't the "true story" according to Mary Shelley's novel. I acquired the film on DVD from Edward R. Hamilton Booksellers for only $5. This DVD contains the complete original three-hour presentation of the film, in two parts. I watched the DVD a few months ago, and viewed it again after completely reading LSOH #38.

Producer Hunt Stromberg Jr. planned for FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY to be a mammoth, ambitious project. The script was written by acclaimed playwright Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachardy, and Stromberg tried to get as much big name on and off screen talent for the film as he could. Sam Irvin relates all of this in LSOH #38 including the various (and noteworthy) names attached to the production at one time or another. The result is that FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY winds up being unlike any other Frankenstein film--or any other horror film, for that matter. It's definitely unlike any other TV movie I have ever seen. The budget for FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY was huge--so huge that the movie makes the Hammer Gothic theatrical movies made at the same time seem tawdry by comparison. The production design, the English locations, the costumes, the esteemed cast--this is more of an event instead of a Frankenstein movie.

Because it is so unique, and so unlike anything I have seen before, it is hard for me to put it into context with other Frankenstein adaptations. I can't compare it with another horror film--heck, I can't even compare it with any other TV movie or mini-series.

The film was originally broadcast on the NBC Television network in two parts. Part One begins in the early 1800s, as young doctor Victor Frankenstein (Leonard Whiting) witnesses the accidental drowning of his younger brother William. (This sequence is handled so quickly and abruptly that it dilutes the impact it is supposed to have on Victor.) Frankenstein is so unnerved by this incident he determines to continue his medical studies, with the ultimate goal of bringing life from death. The young man meets the misanthropic Dr. Henry Clerval (David McCallum), and the pair are soon constructing their own grand experiment--a perfect body to give life to. Frankenstein's loyalty to Clerval disappoints his fiancee Elizabeth (Nicola Pagett). Clerval introduces Frankenstein to a former "colleague", a mysterious older man named Dr. Polidori (James Mason). Before Victor and Clerval can finish their experiment, Clerval dies--which leads Victor to put Clerval's brain into their creation and give it life.

The Creature (Michael Sarrazin) is so handsome that Victor describes him as "beautiful". Victor teaches the Creature basic social skills, and even dresses him up and takes him to the opera. But Victor soon finds out that the Creature is slowly reverting back to its once-dead form. The Creature's fine features are now deteriorating, and Victor now no longer wants to have anything to do with him. The Doctor apparently can't help his creation, and he can't put it out of it's misery. The saddened and hurt Creature throws himself off of a cliff into the sea....but he survives.

Part Two has the Creature wandering in a forest and coming upon an old blind man (Ralph Richardson). The Creature befriends the blind man, and pays visits to the man's cottage, but manages to avoid being seen by the blind man's beautiful granddaughter Agatha (Jane Seymour) and her husband. The Creature observes Agatha from afar, and falls in love with her. When the Creature is revealed to Agatha and her husband, tragedy ensues--the husband, treating the Creature as a monster, attacks him and is killed, and Agatha, while fleeing in terror, is run over by a horse-drawn carriage. The heartbroken Creature takes Agatha's body to the old house where he was created by Victor. Dr. Polidori has taken over the place, and he coerces the now married Victor into helping create a new creature using Agatha's body. This new experiment, called Prima (also played by Seymour), is alluring, but heartless. Victor and Polidori try to destroy the Creature, but fail--and the being barges in on Prima's debut party into society and literally rips her head from her body. In the aftermath Victor and Elizabeth flee on a ship to America--but Polidori and the Creature are on board as well. The enraged Creature kills Polidori and causes the crew to leave on lifeboats, leaving only himself, Victor, and Elizabeth on the ship. The Creature steers the vessel north to the Arctic, where he and his creator meet their fate.

At three hours long, FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY presents the viewer with a lot of material. It's a sprawling story that needs more than one viewing to appreciate it. It incorporates several elements from the Shelley novel, but also many incidents from the early classic Frankenstein films made by Universal in the 1930s. Michael Sarrazin is a magnificent Creature, and you can't help feel sorry for him. Frankenstein is proud of him when he is first "born", but he treats him like a dress-up doll. As soon as the Creature begins to lose his looks, Victor basically abandons him (you don't need to know that the producer and screenwriters of this film were gay to figure out the subtext here). Sarrazin is helped out by a excellent makeup design from Harry Frampton.

Leonard Whiting doesn't get much of a chance to shine as Victor Frankenstein, but that's not the actor's fault. As I see it, Victor in this story comes off as weak and indecisive. Whether he is working with Henry Clerval or Polidori, Victor definitely acts like the junior partner. His scientific accomplishments seem more the result of luck and his associates' knowledge than of his own doing. (To be fair, it has to be said that the Dr. Frankenstein portrayed in Mary Shelley's novel isn't the most dynamic guy in the world either.) Instead of a brilliant and ground-breaking scientist. Victor in this tale is a young man way over his head. Even his wife Elizabeth has more gumption than he does (Nicola Pagett is very good in what is usually a boring role). Whiting as Victor reminds me of those handsome young actors who played the assistants to Peter Cushing's Baron in the Hammer Frankenstein films.

The fantastic triple cover for LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS #38, by Mark Maddox

James Mason as Polidori dominates every scene he is in--he makes every line of dialogue he utters sound like a droll witticism. (When there is a scene with just Victor and Polidori, poor Leonard Whiting doesn't stand a chance.) Polidori's adventures with Prima are intriguing, but they also put Victor and the Creature off to the sidelines. Jane Seymour makes a huge impression as the strangely beguiling Prima, and her destruction at the hands of the Creature is without doubt the most thrilling moment of the story. (In the DVD I have of the film, there's nothing gory about it, but I'm still amazed this was allowed to air on early 1970s American network TV.)

Hunt Stromberg Jr. went out of his way to cast several star cameos--among the names he gathered were Agnes Moorehead, Michael Wilding, and John Gielgud. It's great to watch these legends at work, but as with the Prima scenes, the cameos have a tendency to distract from the main characters.

FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY has many outstanding individual moments. The creation sequences are unlike any shown in a Frankenstein film. The Creature comes to life from solar power--no dark & stormy night here. Prima seems to be created through Oriental mysticism instead of science--this sequence is highlighted by colorful chemicals and lava lamp-type effects. The climax of the story is superb, featuring a violent storm and finally an ice-caked ship stuck in the eerie frozen wastes of the Arctic (the production design here is magnificent). Director Jack Smight does a fine job, and he's immeasurably helped by crack cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson. Producer Stromberg wanted a bigger name than Smight as director, but that probably wouldn't have been to his liking--as Sam Irvin makes very clear, Hunt Stromberg Jr. was the main creative force behind the production.

FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY is an unusual film, and a intriguing one. I think the project would have been better served with a shorter, more concise script--or maybe it needed to be longer to adequately explore all the many pathways the story takes. (A shorter version of the film was released overseas as a theatrical feature--I've never seen it but it has been generally dismissed by critics.) Edward R. Hamilton is still selling it at $5, and it is worth adding to any classic horror film fan's collection. It is also worth picking up a copy of LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS #38 and delving into Sam Irvin's authoritative account of the making of the film--an account which is plenty thrilling and adventurous itself.

Sunday, June 18, 2017


Before Adam West became Batman, he appeared in a number of roles that were typical for a young, handsome actor in the early 1960s. West showed up in several TV shows and played many second male lead parts in theatrical films. One of his most notable performances in his pre-Batman period has him alongside the Three Stooges in THE OUTLAWS IS COMING, released in 1965.

THE OUTLAWS IS COMING is a Western spoof and the very last theatrical feature in which the Three Stooges starred in. West plays Kenneth Cabot, who works for a nature magazine in 1871 Boston. Cabot is sent out West to discover why so many buffalo are being killed. Cabot is a timid sort, so the Stooges are sent along to accompany him. (The fact that the Stooges have to help Cabot out tells you all you need to know about the man's personality.)

The destruction of the buffalo is tied to a plot to cause various Indian tribes to go on the warpath, thus allowing Western desperadoes to take advantage of the situation. The meek Cabot is named Sheriff of Casper, Wyoming as a joke, but with the help of the Stooges and the gorgeous Annie Oakley (Nancy Kovack), the bad guys are stopped and the Indians are pacified.

THE OUTLAWS IS COMING is one of the better full-length Stooges films made during the team's Joe DeRita period. (In my opinion, the best Three Stooges theatrical feature is THE THREE STOOGES MEET HERCULES.) The full-length Stooges films can in no way match the manic intensity of the team's short subject work in the 1930s and 1940s. The shorts only averaged about 15 to 18 minutes long, and characterization and plot took a back seat to wild gags and slapstick. The full-length features had to have more of a story, and other characters that the Stooges could interact with. The violent slapstick was toned down, due to the fact that the Stooges weren't getting any younger (Moe was in his late 60s), and parents groups were complaining over the Stooges' physicality being showcased for kids on TV throughout America. The addition of Joe DeRita as Curly Joe also affected how the films turned out, since DeRita wasn't anywhere near as outlandish as Curly or Shemp.

Norman Maurer (who happened to be Moe's son-in-law) was the producer & director of THE OUTLAWS IS COMING. Maurer also worked on the story with long-time Stooges gagman Elwood Ullman. The two men brought more satire and visual humor to OUTLAWS instead of the usual slapping and punching. The movie makes references to such early 1960s pop-culture items as the Beatles, GUNSMOKE, and THE MUSIC MAN. The group of bad guys called in to deal with Adam West's character includes such Western legends as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Jesse James. The movie puts forth the idea that these paragons of the frontier turned to good because the Stooges forced them to! (There's no real climatic shootout because the Stooges have stuck the gunslingers' pistols inside their holsters with industrial-strength glue.) The Western legends were played in this film by a group of TV hosts that played Stooges shorts on programs across the U.S., a canny bit of cross promotion.

The Three Stooges with Adam West

There's still some slapstick in THE OUTLAWS IS COMING--the Stooges have their own misadventures with the industrial-strength glue, and yes, there is a pie fight at the end. The Stooges do dress up as Indians, and while some may look upon the scenes with the tribes as politically incorrect, they're basically harmless (Henry Gibson gets a lot of laughs as a hip-talking brave).

As for Adam West, he's stuck playing a milquetoast, but it has to be said that he does it very well. At least his Cabot doesn't come off as so pathetic that the audience dismisses him. West can't help but be upstaged by the Three Stooges, but what really hurts him is that his leading lady winds up stealing the film. Nancy Kovack makes a huge impression as the brash Annie Oakley. Not only is she a stunning woman, she brings a lot of sass and personality to the role. It is Annie Oakley who secretly does all of Cabot's "trick" shooting--the relationship between Annie and Cabot resembles that between Bob Hope and Jane Russell in the PALEFACE movies. Annie also has a crush on Cabot (though why she would is a mystery). Whenever Nancy Kovack shows up in movies like JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS or DIARY OF A MADMAN, you can't take your eyes off her (at least I can't). She deserves more attention from Old Movie Weirdos.

Nancy Kovack as Annie Oakley

THE OUTLAWS IS COMING is a nice little Western spoof. Stooges fans will appreciate it the most. It doesn't have the amount of big laughs that a typical Stooges short would have, but it is pleasantly amusing. Usually the "normal" leading man & lady of a full-length Three Stooges feature wind up being forgettable, but that's not the case here. Adam West and Nancy Kovack give THE OUTLAWS IS COMING an extra special ingredient.

Thursday, June 15, 2017


Does WONDER WOMAN "save" the DC Cinematic Universe? Let's say it's a step in the right direction. It's a good movie, but in my opinion, not a great one. The main character is more impressive than the film itself.

Gal Gadot is without doubt the best thing concerning WONDER WOMAN. I'll even go as far to say that she gives the most appealing and charismatic portrayal of a major DC Comics heroic character since Christopher Reeve in the very first SUPERMAN. After years and years of seeing DC movies featuring actors who were unsuited for their roles (Christian Bale, Ryan Reynolds, Henry Cavill, etc.), it's refreshing to have one of the company's most legendary figures capably filled on the big screen.

Unfortunately Gadot has to share a lot of screen time with Chris Pine (who at least isn't as annoying as he is as the fake Captain Kirk). One of the things that hurts WONDER WOMAN is that it is an origin story, and I've always felt that those tales hold the characters back. We see Amazon Princess Diana's childhood on the secret island of Themyscira, and her abrupt introduction to the outside world of men through American intelligence agent Steve Trevor (Pine). Diana enters the "normal" world right at the climax of World War I, where evil Germans (of course) are hatching a scheme to release a super gas and change the tide of the conflict, while killing millions.

The real origins of the comic book Wonder Woman came out of World War II. I assume that the World War I angle was chosen for the film so people wouldn't be reminded of the first Chris Evans CAPTAIN AMERICA movie. But you can't help but be reminded of that Marvel feature while viewing WONDER WOMAN. The character of Thor also came to my mind--both Thor and Wonder Woman are the children of gods, and both of them struggle to deal with the quirks and foibles of humankind. The setting of WWI is very unusual for a summer geek flick--the story even showcases a real historical person in the figure of German General Erich Ludendorff. (This made me wonder--if Ludendorff has any living relatives or descendants, will they start showing up at Comic Cons and rake in appearance fees??)

Director Patty Jenkins does an okay job, but the movie has a lot in common with most 21st Century action features--a desaturated color scheme, a two hour-plus running time, and fight scenes dominated by MATRIX-style slow-motion movements. Once again, we have a group of villains who are underwhelming--and yes, the main bad guy gets to shoot out tendrils of energy from his fingertips at the end. I have to reiterate that I liked the movie--it's just that I've seen so many of these things that they all start to run together. When you've sat through dozens of scenes of CGI bodies flying up in the air and hitting the pavement over and over again, the effect of all that begins to wane.

I'm well aware of the fact that many folks out there want WONDER WOMAN to succeed in the hope that it will further certain causes and issues they care about. When I write a post about a particular film, I'm not interested in being politically correct--I'm attempting to articulate how I personally felt about the film. WONDER WOMAN is a good movie, especially from a DC standpoint, but I wouldn't call it one of the greatest comic book films ever made. The character of Wonder Woman--and Gal Gadot--deserves to be in a film that doesn't have the baggage of an origin story or an unnecessary leading man.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Adam West (1928-2017)

The passing of Adam West marks the passing of a childhood hero of mine. It was as a very young kid that I first started watching the 1960s BATMAN TV show. I was absolutely mesmerized by it. I hadn't begun reading comic books yet, but I didn't need to--the BATMAN TV show was a real-life comic book. To this day the show is still more accurate to the DC Comics Batman books than any of the later theatrical films. It may come off as campy--but it is the world of Batman.

Untold numbers of folks, like me, were introduced to the character of Batman through the TV show. As a little kid, I took the show seriously. I would even get scared at the end of the episodes when Batman was stuck in one of those crazy death traps. Adam West was Batman. He wasn't campy or silly to me--he was what I thought a good guy should be. To my eight-year old self, he was the ultimate superhero. Whenever West showed up on another TV show playing a "normal" character, I would watch that show, hoping that somehow he'd "turn" into Batman--and wind up being invariably disappointed when he didn't.

Later on I would watch BATMAN with a different point of view. I still didn't look upon it as a joke, however. The show was a major part of my childhood, and a major influence on what I appreciated in filmed entertainment. As an actor Adam West went through some hard times in the 1980s and 1990s, but I always looked upon him with respect and admiration.

Thankfully, as Geek Culture began to take hold in the 21st Century, West went through something of a rehabilitation. Several people who grew up watching the Adam West Batman began to make TV shows and films themselves, and the actor became sort of a father figure to the Geek community. West carved out another pop-culture role for himself by doing voice work on the animated series FAMILY GUY, and the long-overdue release of the BATMAN TV show on home video gave him plenty of chances to shine in the spotlight. West became accepted as a legend, an icon...and to many people, the true Batman.

I had one chance to meet Adam West--he was scheduled to appear at a comic con a few years ago in Chicago that I attended, but he was unable to come due to illness. (Kind of like my non-meeting of Carrie Fisher last year.) I never did get to meet him, and I certainly didn't know him personally--but I still felt I had a connection with him. That may sound silly to some, but there are performers, who, due to the circumstances and the timing of when we see them, make a profound impact on our lives. Adam West made a profound impact on mine. I happened to view the BATMAN TV show at the right age (just like STAR WARS came out at the exact proper moment for me). Adam West's portrayal of Batman shaped my perspective on what a true hero should be.

Today all over social media tributes to Adam West are pouring in. How many of us can say that we will leave such a positive effect when we leave this world? BATMAN may have been a campy TV show, but the fact that Adam West has inspired so many warm feelings from so many people is extraordinary. There have been many other actors who have played Batman. Adam West was Batman.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Dean Martin Centenary Blogathon: BANDOLERO!

Dean Martin was one of the greatest all-around entertainers of the late 20th Century. He was a success on the big screen, on television, and of course as a recording artist. To pick just one of his films to write a blog post about it kind of limits the man. Nevertheless that's what I'm about to do with my look at the 1968 Western BANDOLERO! from 20th Century Fox.

Why BANDOLERO!? Simple. When I think of Dean Martin's movie career, I think of his Westerns. For me Dean's greatest film role was as Dude in the iconic RIO BRAVO. Martin went on to appear in several more Westerns--he has more titles on his resume in that genre than many stars more associated with it. Most of Martin's Western characterizations are basically variations on Dude--men who have a bad reputation, are a bit untrustworthy, and are somewhat cynical. Yet they also have a roguish charm, and they can be depended on when the chips are down. Martin's cowboys also were not exactly on the right side of the law most of the time, yet they never came off as evil.

Those descriptions fit Dee Bishop, the character Dean plays in BANDOLERO! The film starts out with Dee and his gang attempting to rob a bank in Val Verde, Texas, in 1867. There's nothing unusual in a Western film beginning with a bank robbery--but this one is foiled by straight-arrow sheriff July Johnson (George Kennedy). Dee and his gang are thrown in jail, and they are all sentenced to hang due to a Val Verde citizen being killed during the holdup. The citizen is a rich rancher named Stoner, and his gorgeous Mexican wife Maria (Raquel Welch) is now the wealthiest woman in the territory.

Dee's brother Mace (James Stewart) hears about the capture of the Bishop gang, and happens upon the hangman heading to Val Verde to perform the executions. Mace disguises as the hangman, and helps Dee and his gang escape. As the sheriff and most of the town's men chase after Dee, Mace takes advantage of the situation to rob the bank. Dee and the gang kidnap Maria and head into Mexico, where they are joined by Mace. The sheriff, with a posse, continues the pursuit--he has a huge crush on Maria, and hopes that now she's a widow he will have a chance to be with her.

As the two groups travel farther south, they venture into bandolero territory--a desolate region dominated by bandits who will kill anyone for anything. Dee and his group stop at a deserted Mexican town, where Sheriff Johnson catches up with them. Before the sheriff can take them back, bandits attack, and the motley groups have to join forces and fight for their lives.

BANDOLERO! was directed by action veteran Andrew V. McLaglen (son of famed character actor Victor). McLaglen spent a lot of time on the film sets of John Ford, and he was heavily influenced by the great filmmaker. McLaglen's work is nowhere near the level of Ford's, but he did know how to make an entertaining tale. McLaglen did share one thing with Ford--he knew how to use a great location, and BANDOLERO! has several (the movie was shot on different locations in Texas, Arizona, and Utah). The film isn't a great Western, but it is a very good one--it's the type of movie you watch on a lazy rainy Saturday afternoon. After the opening bank robbery, the film is dominated by James Stewart's humorous play-acting as the hangman. One starts to think that the story is going to be rather lighthearted--but as the characters get farther into Mexico, things get darker. McLaglen had a very traditional, understated directorial style, and at times the movie seems to just amble along. But what makes it noteworthy is the fantastic cast. Any movie with names like Stewart, Martin, and Welch is going to be worth seeing, but there's a great supporting group here as well, with names such as Denver Pyle, Dub Taylor, and Harry Carey Jr.

Believe it or not, it is George Kennedy who steals the film (his sheriff has as much screen time as the three leads). Kennedy plays an upright, honest, "ordinary guy" who pines for Maria, and risks his life and those of his men to get her back, despite the fact he probably realizes he has no chance with her. Stewart and Martin have the showiest roles as the Bishop brothers, but it is Kennedy who the audience remembers after the film is over.

Raquel Welch doesn't have all that much to do here--her future Westerns 100 RIFLES and HANNIE CAULDER would give her a bigger showcase. Her Maria isn't all that broken up over her husband's death--she explains to Mace that Stoner literally bought her from her poor Mexican family. She also tells another character in the film that she was a whore at the age of 13 and her family of 12 never went hungry. Apparently this background is one of the reasons why Maria starts falling for Dee during the last part of the film. This relationship doesn't really have enough time to develop, and is one of the weak points of the movie.

James Stewart is wonderful as always. Stewart had worked with McLaglen and screenwriter James Lee Barrett several times before, and one gets the feeling McLaglen let Stewart do whatever he wanted acting-wise. The idea of Stewart and Martin being brothers is about as far-fetched as Martin and John Wayne being brothers in THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER, but the two men work well together. Their brother-to-brother conversations are major highlights of the story, the most memorable one being their discussion on how many Indians there are in Montana. It's too bad Stewart and Martin never made another film together, especially another Western.

Great Japanese poster for BANDOLERO!

And as far Dino himself? Many have said that Dean Martin did nothing but play Dean Martin, and there is some truth to that. But Martin did have an incredible natural performing ability, and a performer has to use whatever gifts he or she has. Dean Martin had the knack of appearing as if he wasn't really acting, or singing, or being witty--he just seemed to do it, and be totally smooth while doing it. What makes Martin's Dee a little bit different than most of his other Western roles is that Dee has a bit of an edge to him. His usual cockiness is toned down here--after all, Dee is on the run for most of the story. Dee is also a man who realizes that he's wasted most of his life, especially when he comes across his older brother. Throughout the film Mace constantly tries to get Dee to change his ways, and Martin's pained expression shows that Mace has made his point. I wouldn't say that this is a performance of great psychological depth, but Martin does more than enough to reveal that Dee is haunted by his actions. By the way, there's a great on-set story about BANDOLERO!. At one point Raquel Welch went up to James Stewart and Dean Martin and started asking about her character's motivation. After the discussion, as Welch walked away, Dean turned to Jimmy and asked, "What's she talkin' about??"

It's interesting that Dean Martin was so successful in the Western genre. It would seem that a man who was the personification of 1960s playboy cool might look ridiculous on a horse, but Martin never seems out of place in any of his Westerns, which is more than can be said for his good friend Frank Sinatra. Martin may have looked like he wasn't doing much of anything, but he always gave the audience its money's worth. BANDOLERO! isn't one of the greatest Westerns ever, and it has a surprisingly downbeat ending, but you'll always have a good time watching it--just like you'll have a good time experiencing anything Dean Martin put his considerable talents to.

Saturday, June 3, 2017


It's low-budget old monster movie time again, courtesy of Producers Releasing Corporation, better known as PRC. The film is THE MAD MONSTER (1942), starring the great George Zucco. It also features Glenn Strange, best remembered for his portrayal of the Frankenstein Monster in Universal chillers of the mid-1940s. In THE MAD MONSTER, Strange plays a werewolf--and a takeoff on Lon Chaney Jr's Lennie character to boot.

Many Poverty Row horrors waste a lot of running time before getting interesting, but THE MAD MONSTER starts off at full throttle. In the first ten minutes of the story, we see Dr. Lorenzo Cameron (George Zucco) inject the blood of a wolf into his country-bumpkin handyman Petro (Glenn Strange). Petro soon turns into a wolf man (the transformation sequence is very impressive for a low budget movie such as this), and Dr. Cameron becomes exultant. Zucco's eyes nearly pop out of his head as he starts railing about how his "scientific breakthrough" will create an army of wolf men that no enemy country will have the power to stop! Yes, it appears Dr. Cameron is just trying to do his part for the war effort! (Did Cameron ever try to tell FDR about his plans?) Cameron then really lets loose, beginning an argument with a group of scientific colleagues that have dismissed his theories. The thing is, only Cameron and the Wolf-Petro are in the basement laboratory--the wacky Doc is debating with foes who are not actually there (they are presented on-screen as transparent figments of Cameron's imagination). This opening is the best sequence in the film.

Because he has been disgraced by the scientific community, Cameron has rented an old house out in the country to continue his experiments. With him is his daughter Lenora (played by Anne Nagel, who already had Scream Queen status due to her appearances in Universal's BLACK FRIDAY and MAN MADE MONSTER). Lenora is mystified at why her father has moved to this desolate spot, and at what he is exactly doing (considering that George Zucco is her father, she ought to know the guy is up to no good). Cameron continues to inject the unknowing Petro with wolf's blood, and the half-witted he-wolf soon begins to transform on his own. One night while wondering about the nearby swamps, Wolf-Petro sneaks into a family's shack and kills their young daughter. This alerts the authorities, and gets the attention of Lenora's boyfriend Tom, who is a snoopy reporter (every Poverty Row horror has to have at least one).

Cameron has more important things on his mind, such as a plan to use Petro to wipe out his scientific rivals once and for all. The Doctor puts his nefarious scheme in motion, but Tom and the authorities start getting more suspicious. Lenora finds her way into her father's secret laboratory and comes across Wolf-Petro. A raging storm outside lets loose a bolt of lightning which strikes the house and causes a fire (divine retribution, perhaps?). The now-uncontrollable Petro attacks and kills Cameron as the house burns down around them. Tom and Lenora escape to safety.

THE MAD MONSTER was obviously influenced by Universal's hit THE WOLF MAN, which was still in theaters as THE MAD MONSTER was being produced. But I also think another Universal film, MAN MADE MONSTER, was a huge influence as well. In that one, Anne Nagel was also the leading lady, and she felt sorry for Lon Chaney Jr's none-too-bright Dynamo Dan, who in turn had a crush on her. A similar situation arises in THE MAD MONSTER--Nagel is kind to Petro, who happens to be sweet on her (it needs to be pointed out that Petro makes Dynamo Dan look like a nuclear scientist). Throw in the fact that when Petro is "normal", he acts very much like Lon Jr's interpretation of Lennie in OF MICE AND MEN, one could say that THE MAD MONSTER owes a great deal to Lon Chaney Jr's then-recent burst of stardom.

There's only one full-out wolf transformation sequence in the entire film--the one in the opening sequence. I'm sure this was done because of the budget, but director Sam Newfield does come up with some novel ways to present the wolf version of Petro. At one point Petro is sitting down, while wearing a wide-brimmed hat. He appears to doze off, and when he raises his head, he's fully transformed, the hat having hidden the need to use special effects. In another sequence, Petro is riding in a car driven by one of Dr. Cameron's scientific rivals, and when the man happens to glance over, Petro is transformed and ready to strike. The makeup used on Glenn Strange was created by Harry Ross, and of course it is not in the same class as Jack Pierce's iconic Wolf Man creations for Universal. Ross's makeup doesn't hold up very well the more you get a good look at it, but I think it does work within the context of the film.

There are a number of elements which make THE MAD MONSTER a cut above the usual low-budget chiller made during this period. One is the atmospheric mist-shrouded swamp settings in which the wolfish Petro rambles about--usually in a Poverty Row horror the story takes place in the interior of a big house, and that's nearly all we see. Petro's killing of a young child is disturbingly unusual, especially for a film of this vintage. Director Newfield handles it rather effectively--we see the young girl playing with a ball in her bedroom, while in the background the transformed Petro sneaks in through the window. We next see the ball bouncing into another room, then the girl's mother running into the bedroom and screaming. We are never shown the actual killing, or the girl's body--but that makes the act more unexpected and haunting.

George Zucco was one of the greatest movie mad scientists of all time, and he gives his role in THE MAD MONSTER way more intensity and passion than it probably deserves. Listening to Zucco's silken, authoritative voice spout out recriminations against his scientific rivals is a monster movie geek's treat. Without the brilliant presence of someone like George Zucco, these types of films would be hard to get through. Was an actor of his talent and stature wasting his time on such material as this? Maybe, but it is films like THE MAD MONSTER that have made Zucco a cult legend, while many of his contemporaries who appeared in more supposedly prestigious fare are almost forgotten. (By the way, Zucco sports a toupee in this movie.)

Anne Nagel, as mentioned, was on familiar ground here. There really isn't much to the character of Lenora--she's attractive and has a pleasant personality, but she doesn't get much to do. One thing that surprised me was the fact that she doesn't put on a nightgown and get carried off by Petro! Johnny Downs actually gets top billing as Tom, even though he doesn't show up until about a half-hour into the film. (It's a shame that Zucco didn't get top billing.) As I've stated several times before, the "David Manners" type of role in a classic horror film is the worst one to play for any actor. Downs isn't as annoying as most B movie reporters, and here, that's a problem--if he were as obnoxious as say, Wallace Ford, he'd at least be memorable.

Seeing Glenn Strange play a wolf man before his turn as the Frankenstein Monster should be on any old movie buff's bucket list. I think Strange overdoes it a bit as "normal" Petro (you wonder whether he was trying to be funny or just pathetic). He certainly has the bulk to be a movie monster, and he does look creepy when he's stalking through the mists. As Wolf-Petro he does have a tendency to say "AAARRHHH" a lot, which makes you wonder if he's playing a wolf man or a pirate. The tragedy angle of poor, put-upon Petro, especially in his relationship with Lenora, could have been developed more.

I have to say that THE MAD MONSTER ranks up among the best of the Poverty Row horrors made in the 1930s-1940s. I'd even venture to state that it's more impressive than some of Universal's lesser chillers made during the same period. It has a great mad doctor performance by George Zucco, some atmospheric scenes, and a few unusual & notable elements. I'd love to see it be restored and released on home video by a company such as Kino or Olive, with commentary by either Greg Mank or Tom Weaver (most of the information in this post was gleaned from the works of both of those men).