Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Bellamy, Lionel Atwill, Bela Lugosi, Evelyn Ankers
In Ghost of Frankenstein, the ghost isn’t literal, but psychological – with another son of Victor Frankenstein, brain surgeon Ludwig (played well by Cedrick Hardwicke), who is manipulated by Ygor (wonderfully done by Bela Lugosi) — who also manipulates Ludwig’s former mentor and current assistant, Dr. Bohmer (Lionel Atwill) – as well as the childlike Frankenstein’s monster (portrayed here by Lon Chaney Jr.)
Ghost of Frankenstein begins with the residents of village Frankenstein, feeling that they’re under a curse, and blaming it on the maker of Frankenstein’s monster — and on Ygor, who’s still alive after having been shot by Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) at the end of Son of Frankenstein. Running away from the torches and pitchforks, Ygor finds the monster (Lon Chaney Jr.) released from his sulfuric tomb in the castle’s catacombs by the explosions. Unseen by the villagers, Ygor and the monster flee the castle to the surrounding countryside; during a thunderstorm, the monster is struck by a bolt of lightning, rejuvenating him. Ygor decides to find Ludwig, the second son of the original Frankenstein, to help the monster.
Ludwig Frankenstein (Cedrick Hardwicke) is a famous brain surgeon, who has just completed a revolutionary surgery — removing the living brain from a human cranium, operating on it and returning it. He’s performed this with the aid of his two assistants — Dr. Kettering (Barton Yarborough), and his former mentor, Dr. Bohmer (Lionel Atwill). Bohmer was a brilliant surgeon, whose career was ruined in one careless moment, and now works for his former student … letting his resentment grow over time.
When Ygor comes into town looking for Ludwig, the child-like monster sees some children playing, and when a young girl Cloestine Hussman (Janet Ann Gallow) loses her ball, he lifts her up to the rooftop to retrieve it — unwittingly leading to the death of two villagers. After Cloestine asks the monster to take her to daddy, the monster does so and is immediately captured by the entire police force.
The town prosecutor, Erik Ernst (Ralph Bellamy), comes to Ludwig Frankenstein and asks him to examine the giant they have captured. Frankenstein says he will do so shortly. Soon, Ygor pays Ludwig a visit informing him that the giant at the police station is his father’s monstrous creation. Ygor implores the Doctor to heal the monster’s sick body and brain. Ludwig refuses, not wanting the monster to ruin his life as it did his father’s and brother’s. Ygor blackmails Ludwig by threatening to reveal Ludwig’s ancestry to the villagers — and Ludwig agrees.
At the police station, the monster is restrained with chains as a hearing is conducted to investigate the murder of the two villagers. The mute monster does not respond until Ludwig Frankenstein arrives and the monster shows signs of recognizing him. When Ludwig Frankenstein denies knowing him, the monster goes berserk and breaks free, and Ygor leads the monster away.
While alone in her father’s study, Elsa (Evelyn Ankers), Ludwig’s daughter — love interest to prosecutor Ernst — finds the Frankenstein journals and reads them, learning the story of the monster, showing the audience scenes from the previous films in flashback. She then sees the monster and Ygor in the window and screams — reminding us of her title of “scream queen.” Next, Ygor and the monster break into Frankenstein’s laboratory and the monster kills Dr. Kettering. The monster grabs Elsa, but Ludwig is able to subdue it with knockout gas. When Elsa revives, Ludwig tells her of Kettering’s death and promises her that he will not let the Frankenstein curse come between them.
Ludwig is inspecting the monster when it revives and tries to kill him; after sedating it again, Ludwig tries to get Bohmer’s assistance in destroying it once and for all — by vivisection. Bohmer refuses, since it would be murder; Ludwig sees a vision of his father — whether a ghost, or a product of Ludwig’s mind, isn’t clear — who implores Ludwig to not destroy his creation, but instead to perfect it with a good brain instead of the damaged murderer’s brain it’s had since the original Frankenstein film.
Ludwig calls in Bohmer and Ygor and tells them that he plans to put Dr. Kettering’s brain into the monster’s skull. Ygor protests:
Ygor: No not that. Doctor, Ygor’s body is no good. His neck is broken, crippled, and distorted. Lame and sick from the bullets your brother fired into me. You can put my brain in his body.
Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein: Your brain?
Ygor: You can make us one. We’ll be together always. My brain and his body. Together
Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein: You’re a cunning fellow Ygor. Do you think I would put your sly and sinister brain into the body of a giant? That would be a monster indeed. You will do as I tell you or I will not be responsible for the consequences
Ygor is indeed a cunning fellow, and promises Bohmer the moon if Bohmer will betray the doctor, and make sure that it’s Ygor’s brain that’s transplanted into the monster’s body … and Bohmer considers it. There’s a reason that Ygor is compared to Iago, and this scene is an excellent example.
Ludwig continues his plan to operate on the monster, including charging the monster to make it strong enough for the operation — against Elsa’s protests. The police arrive at Frankenstein’s mansion, searching for the monster, and finding the secret room; but the monster and Ygor aren’t there. The monster has kidnapped the young Cloestine, returning with her to Frankenstein’s home — with a bizarre request:
Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein: [the Monster taps the child’s forehead, then his own] He wants the brain of that child!
When Ygor protests, the monster violently pushes him aside, damaging the hunchback’s spine. Elsa intervenes, as the young girl doesn’t want to donate her brain, naturally, enough, and the monster reluctantly gives the girl to Elsa. Soon, Ludwig performs the surgery, with the aid of Bohmer, believing that he is transplanting Kettering’s brilliant, benevolent brain into the body of the monster.
In the village, Cloestine’s father rouses his neighbors by telling them that his daughter has been captured by the Monster and that Ludwig Frankenstein is harboring the monster. The mob of villagers race to the chateau but Prosecutor Ernst convinces them to give him five minutes to convince Ludwig Frankenstein to give up the monster. Ludwig admits to his future son-in-law that he has the monster and agrees to show him to Erik — thinking that Kettering’s brain is in his skull.
In a truly chilling moment, however, after the operation, the monster speaks … with the voice of Ygor: “I am… Ygor.” From this point on, it is Lugosi who is made up as the monster — as least for facial close-up shots.
The villagers now storm the chateau and the Monster (with Ygor’s vicious, vindictive brain) decides to have Bohmer fill the house with gas to kill them. Ludwig tries to stop him, but the Monster repels the attack and mortally wounds Ludwig. The villagers find Cloestine and run from the building, fleeing the deadly gas. The Frankenstein monster cries out, “Bohmer! You tricked me, Bohmer!” The dying Ludwig explains, “Your dream of power is over Bohmer. You didn’t realize his blood is the same type as Kettering’s but not the same as Ygor’s. It will not feed the sensory nerves.” The monster is now blind — explaining the arm-out-front groping walk that the Monster has in his future films.
The Monster accuses Bohmer of tricking him and asks “What good is there a brain without eyes to see?” The Monster then throws Bohmer onto the apparatus electrocuting him and inadvertently sets fire to the mansion. This brings about his own demise — until the next film, Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man, at least — as he is unable to get out of the chateau while Erik and Elsa walk off toward the sunrise together.
Editorial review of Ghost of Frankenstein, courtesy of Amazon.com
The monster lives! Again! Picking up where Son of Frankenstein left off, Bela Lugosi’s gnarled Ygor survives yet another rampage by angry, torch-carrying villagers and frees the monster (The Wolf Man himself, Lon Chaney Jr., taking over from Boris Karloff) from his sulfur grave. The latest cinematic Frankenstein scion, brain surgeon Ludwig (Cedric Hardwicke), wants to dissect the creature, but the ghost of his father convinces him to save it by giving it a new, “good” brain. Ygor has his own devious plan and enlists Ludwig’s shady assistant (Lionel Atwill) in a brain-switching scheme.
Ably directed by the pedestrian Erle C. Kenton, The Ghost of Frankenstein gives up the gothic mood and moral quandaries of the original films for the busy, action-packed plots that defined Universal horror films of the 1940s. The human characters are all rather dull (except for Lugosi’s animated, eye-rolling performance), and Chaney has none of Karloff’s pathos or subtlety under the make-up, but the film opens with a spectacular bang as the villagers dynamite the castle, and skips from one inspired scene to another. The monster rejuvenates himself during an electrical storm with a jolt of lightning, mutely undergoes a courtroom cross-examination (by a ridiculously intent Ralph Bellamy), and finally goes on a blind rampage in the fiery climax. Frankenstein’s monster returns (this time with Lugosi as the creature) in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. —Sean Axmaker