You probably know that Universal is currently trying to gin up a Marvel-style “shared universe” for all their stock monsters; what’s annoying is that they’re pretending this is something new, when anybody who’s seen any of the 40s Universal monster movies know this was already the case. (Also annoying is that the studio will almost certainly try to make them all moody anti-heroes, but that is a rant for another time)
Ghost follows directly after 1939’s Son of Frankenstein, starring Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff in his last outing as the Monster. The villagers, as usual, are pissed off and certain that Frankenstein is the cause of all their problems, even though there hasn’t been a Frankenstein in the castle for years. They decide to blow up the castle, mainly because Ygor (Bela Lugosi) managed to survive getting shot in the last movie. The Burgomeister goes, “Fine, fine.” All the explosions manage to do is free the apparently immortal Monster (now Lon Chaney Jr.) from the sulfur pit he fell into back in 1939.
Ygor takes his “friend” to the brother of Frankenstein (a less-intriguing title than Ghost of Frankenstein, to be sure) Ludwig Frankenstein (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), who runs a “Hospital for Diseased Minds”. Along the way the Monster manages to kill a couple of villagers who get in the way of the creature’s attempt to retrieve the ball of a little girl who is totally unfrightened of her “giant”. Ludwig eventually brings the Monster into his hospital with the intention of destroying it, but the appearance of the ghost of his father (title fulfillment – 100%! Though sadly it’s not Colin Clive, who had died five years previous), pointing out that all Ludwig need do is replace the Monster’s defective brain, convinces him to join the family business.
Ludwig’s plan runs aground when Ygor prevails upon his assistant, Bohmer (Lionel Atwill) to transplant his brain into the indestructible creature, with predictably dire results. Those results would even carry into the next movie in the series, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, which would feature Lugosi as the Monster. Sensible because Chaney lip-synching Lugosi’s lines after the transplant isn’t entirely successful, and, of course, Chaney had to play the Wolf Man. But that is yet another rant for yet another time.
Ghost bends itself into some interesting shapes to get all its story elements in (the means by which the villagers are made to storm yet another edifice of Frankenstein is especially suspect), but overall it’s an enjoyable way to spend 67 minutes. And that cast! Besides Hardwicke, Chaney and Lugosi, Evelyn Ankers is Elsa Frankenstein, Ralph Bellamy is the local prosecutor (and Elsa’s boyfriend). Atwill had been the one-armed Inspector Krogh in Son, and just so you don’t start deluding yourself that in-joke casting is a modern thing, Dwight Frye, the original hunchback assistant in Frankenstein, in on hand as two different villagers. You have to drill down into what Will McKinley calls “old movie weirdo”-dom to recognize I Love A Mystery‘s Barton Yarborough as the doomed Dr. Kettering. And whatever else, Ygor is pretty much the last of Lugosi’s classic roles, and it deserves some respect.
Ghost isn’t really any sort of a major linchpin in the continuing mythology of Universal Monsters, but it should be watched just for that amazing cast. And especially just for Lugosi.
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