Okay, let’s go ahead and get a couple of things straight right off the bat. First of all, despite the fact that Frankie gets top billing, this is much more a Wolf Man movie than one revolving around the pieced together icon. Secondly, yes, I know that technically the titular star should be referred to as Frankenstein‘s monster, not simply by his creator’s name, but that’s what Universal decided to go with, so..
Picking up pretty directly from both of its predecessors – The Ghost of Frankenstein in Frankie’s case, and the original The Wolf Man in Larry Talbot’s, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man therefore holds a notable place in the Universal monster canon, as it at once becomes the fifth Frankenstein movie, the second Wolf Man movie, and the first of the monster mash-ups to come.
So having said that, where do we find our titular antagonists? Well, since the movie begins (in what may be one of the most atmospheric openings of any of monster film, and certainly any of the Universals) with Talbot’s story, we’ll pick up there first. Having seemingly finally found eternal peace at the hands of his cane-wielding father at the end of The Wolf Man, Larry Talbot’s body lies in repose in the family crypt, his body surrounded by wolfbane. Two graverobbers, in search of any valuables that might have been buried with him, break into the tomb, remove the wolfsbane, and his body is then suffused with the light of the full moon entering the crypt. Talbot, revived and at the same time transformed into his hairy alter ego attacks and kills the duo, then escapes the tomb to prowl the land again.
It’s funny: In a lot of ways, Lon Chaney Jr.‘s interpretation off the Wolf Man is certainly the whiniest of the classic monsters, but perhaps this is also what makes him the most human. Or at least the most tragic. Of all of the so-called “monsters”, it is Larry Talbot who must live not only with the realization that he is both a monster and a killer, but the only one to, presumably, have found a sense of peace and relief in his “death” only to have had that ripped away from him. It seems then perhaps no wonder that in this film and in all of Chaney’s subsequent portrayals of the character, he is constantly seeking a way to finally achieve a more permanent return to that peace.
Meanwhile, what of Frankenstein’s monster? Well, it appears that rather than diyng in the fire that encompassed the Frankenstein chateau at the end of Ghost, he fell through a hole into the frozen catacombs below and became encased and preserved in ice. Found by the werewolf while he is on one of his rampages, (Talbot having come to seek out Frankenstein’s descendents to see if the late doctor’s notebooks, which hold the secrets of life might also give him a clue how to permanently end his own) the weakened monster is eventually brought back to the surface, and is not only revived, but strengthened.
Of course, this happens to occur just on the night of a full moon, leading to the confrontation we have all been waiting for. The Wolf Man versus Frankenstein. The savage fury of the beast versus the unstoppable, undying giant. Who will come out on top? And what will happen afterwards? Will the inhabitants of the countryside still have to fear the night as the survivor rampages on?
Hey, you don’t really think I’m gonna give you the answers, do you?
So, how does this movie stack up in the overall Universal monster canon? In my own opinion I suppose I’d have to peg it as my third favorite, just behind Bride of Frankenstein and the original Wolf Man, and just ahead of either The Mummy or The Invisible Man. Yeah, I know, I may sound bit heretical when it comes to ranking them like that, since there are obviously the notable absences of the original Frankenstein and Dracula, and obviously those are the films that started the entire cycle and without which the later ones wouldn’t exist, but I’m talking favorites, not importance, and lets be honest, both of those are much more flawed movies than the ones that followed.
And honestly, I’m leaving Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein off this particular list, because honestly, it’s inclusion just skews the whole shebang all to hell.
Unfortunately, this was also really the movie that also can be blamed for the downfall in quality for the rest of the classic monster cycle, because from this point on, the obvious feeling at Universal became one of quantity instead of quality. You can just see someone sitting behind a desk and saying “Hey, if the kids loved two monsters, next time let’s just throw more of them into the mix”, and pretty soon we were getting the “monster rally” films like House of Frankenstein which, while fun, really don’t live up to their predecessors.
Still, despite what was to come, at least we do still have the classics, such as this one, and that’s something that all Universal monster fans can be grateful for.