Director: Roy William Neill
Writer: Curt Siodmak
Lon Chaney, Jr....The Wolf Man/Larry Talbot
Ilona Massey...Baroness Elsa Frankenstein
Patric Knowles...Dr. Frank Mannering
Lionel Atwill...Mayor of Vasaria
Bela Lugosi...The Frankenstein Monster
The sequel to both The Wolf Man and Ghost of Frankenstein, this film establishes the fact of the Universal Monster Cycle, because it crosses over previously unrelated plots and characters. It also, initially, attempts to maintain continuity with both. However, certain events in Ghost of Frankenstein would present problems, and the film underwent significant editing before release. Between the different realities of Universal Studios' various monster movies, and the cinematic surgery performed on the film's second half, Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man has a multiple personality disorder worse than any lycanthrope's and a stitched together appearance more disfigured than the Frankenstein Monster's.
The story opens in the best tradition of old horror movies, 'neath a full moon, on a night simultaneously windswept and fogbound, in a graveyard marked by crooked headstones, expressionistic trees, and an enigmatic raven. Lawrence "Larry" Talbot, the Wolf Man, has been dead four years, and two sinister grave-robbers hope to find the riches they believe to have been buried with the heir. They approach the Talbot mausoleum by the light of a hurricane lantern.
We know they'll never leave alive.
Somehow, opening the grave under the full moon revives Talbot. While we're left uncertain as to the reason, this film at least gives us a scene explaining how he returned; later movies will simply have him "reboot" after previous, definitive deaths. The full moon transforms Talbot, he slaughters a hapless tomb raider, and ends up on the streets of a rural English village, his skull still fractured from the blow of the silver cane which had dispatched him in The Wolf Man.
A doctor revives him, and becomes suspicious when he discovers that Lawrence Talbot died in a nearby village four years earlier. Larry realizes he still bears the curse of the werewolf, and also feels responsible for the death of his father, whom he learns "died from grief" sometime after the credits rolled on the earlier film. He wants to die, and to that end seeks out Maleva, the kindly, witch-like gypsy who had tried to help him years earlier.
At this point, we run up against the discontinuity between Universal's Frankenstein films and their other period horror movies. Their vampires and werewolves inhabit the contemporary world or, at least, Hollywood's version thereof. Their Frankenstein's monster dwells in some artificial, alternate universe, filled with a medley of costumes ancient and modern, teutonic villages, and unexplained anachronisms. As Larry wanders Europe seeking the gypsies, he effectively crosses from 1940s England to that other place, and we're left to wonder exactly where and when we are. Is World War II raging? What teutonic village of 1942 could an Englishman and a gypsy safely enter? In the end, we must dismiss these questions.
Talbot and Maleva approach the ruins of Castle Frankenstein, because she believes his secrets could help them. The Dr. Frankenstein in question seems to be both Heinrich Frankenstein and Ludwig, his son from Ghost of Frankenstein. The film at times refers to them more or less interchangeably, which presents some problems, given that they lived in different castles in different villages. In any case, we end up in Valaria, the village from Ghost..., where Dr. Mannering catches up with the wolf and the gypsy, and they all meet Baroness Elsa, Ludwig Frankenstein's daughter (also in the previous Frankenstein film), granddauther of the original. Predictably, Talbot also finds the Frankenstein Monster. Last seen trapped in the burning castle, he has survived with little physical damage; even his suit remains intact.
That last film, however, had ended with Ygor's brain (and, inexplicably, his voice) transplanted into the Monster's body, and the Monster blinded. Bela Lugosi played Ygor; in a stroke of casting, he plays the Monster here, looking in some respects more frightening than Boris Karloff, even if his performance proves less effective and affecting. Originally, the script had included the changes; the Monster could not see, and he spoke with, of course, Lugosi/Ygor's voice. Early tests proved far from successful; no one could take seriously a Frankenstein Monster who spoke with Lugosi's distinctive accent. Consequently, they edited out the speaking parts, and any explanation regarding the Monster's lack of sight.
The resulting second half features some choppy edits and sloppy attempts to cover the eleventh-hour changes. Lon Chaney, Jr. gets a very odd speech dubbed into the scene where he first meets the Monster, while at another point Bela Lugosi clearly mouths dialogue that has been muted. More famous is the result of the Monster's blindness; Lugosi stomps around with his arms stretched out before him, though anyone who does not recall the previous film has no idea why. This gesture has become part of the pop-culture image of the Frankenstein Monster; say, "Frankenstein," and most people will picture a bolt-necked flathead striding with arms outstretched.
The rest of the film? Well, Hollywood musicals remained popular at the time, and so we get an anomolous musical number as part of a local festival, with the crowd joining in like professionals. Dr. Manning apparently has the ability to repair complex electronic equipment, and he fixes Frankenstein's lab. He attempts to drain Talbot's life, thus giving him peace, and to restore the Monster's full strength. At least, he seems to be doing this for the Monster, and over Elsa's objections. Crucial scenes involving Ygorstein were obviously eliminated, and the characters' motives remain unclear on some points. The villagers, meanwhile, grow apprehensive.
The finale features the inevitable fight between the two monsters and an attempt by an unstable villager to eliminate everyone in the castle by blowing up a dam-- which attempt, if you examine the layout carefully, also should have flooded the village and killed its inhabitants.
Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man does not match the earlier Universal horror films in quality, but it boasts a strong first act and some decent performances. It's the last passable film in the series. The cycle of classic monster movies would deteriorate terrifically in quality afterwards, continuing with the substandard monster rallies, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, and finally ending in deliberate self-parody, with 1948's Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein, a rather entertaining comedy which nevertheless respects series continuity at least as much as the other 1940s offerings. Universal's first monster team-up has a significant place in this series, but it holds interest mainly for fans Hollywood's golden age and the horror genre.