Ghost of Frankenstein was Universal’s fourth Frankenstein movie and not surprisingly it was the weakest up to that date. It’s still fun though.
Those villagers are at it again, this time they’ve decided to burn Castle Frankenstein to the ground. Unfortunately they not only fail to kill Ygor, they also inadvertently bring the monster back to life. Ygor and his friend the monster set off for a neighbouring town in search of the original Dr Frankenstein’s second son, Ludwig. Dr Ludwig Frankenstein specialises in diseases of the mind, which is convenient.
Trouble starts immediately as the monster tries to retrieve a ball for a small girl, killing two townspeople in the process. The monster is arrested but of course they can’t hold him. Ygor and the monster take shelter in Ludwig Frankenstein’s house and Ygor blackmails him into helping the monster. Ludwig comes up with a fool-proof plan - to replace the creature’s diseased brain with a healthy one. Luckily he has one on hand, the brain of his young assistant, conveniently killed by the monster. Ygor has his own ideas however.
Bela Lugosi once again plays Ygor, and once again steals the picture. Cedric Hardwicke’s lifeless performance as Ludwig Frankenstein and Lon Chaney Jr’s similarly dull monster make this easy but Lugosi is in good form and was probably always going to steal the limelight anyway. The script makes him the dominant character, as he was in Son of Frankenstein, and Lugosi makes the most of this.
Lionel Atwill also does well as Ludwig Frankenstein’s rather sinister chief assistant Dr Bohmer who is a much more interesting and complex character than Ludwig Frankenstein himself. Bohmer had been Ludwig’s scientific mentor until an unfortunate mistake wrecked his career and his ambitions to restore his reputation are along with Ygor’s machinations provide the main engine that drives the plot.
As was usual with Universal’s monster movie the script went through several hands and some major changes before shooting began.
The absence of Boris Karloff is a major loss. It’s even more unfortunate that Basil Rathbone, who had been excellent as Ludwig’s brother Wolf Frankenstein in Son of Frankenstein, was not on hand.
Son of Frankenstein in 1939 had been the last attempt by Universal to continue their tradition of high quality horror A-pictures. They would make occasional good horror films after this but they would be good B-movies rather than A-movies. Ghost of Frankenstein lacks the superbly imaginative set design of its immediate predecessor in the Frankenstein cycle. One thing you have to say for Universal though - even their B-pictures looked great. Production values here are surprisingly high and the cinematography (by Elwood Bredell and Milton R. Krasner) is excellent and as with all the Universal monster movies the movie looks suitably moody and gothic.
Erle C. Kenton was at best a skillful artisan but he at least keeps the pacing very tight. This movie marked a significant downturn in Universal’s Frankenstein cycle but Ghost of Frankenstein is by no means a bad film and it’s still exciting and entertaining.
Worth seeing for Lugosi, and an enjoyable enough movie on its own merits.
Universal’s DVD presentation is exquisite.