Sunday, December 29, 2019

MAN MADE MONSTER (1941) Blu-ray Review

Man Made Monster (1941) d. George Waggner (USA) (59 min)

When Dan McCormick (Lon Chaney Jr.) emerges as the lone survivor after a bus careens into an electrical pylon, Dr. John Lawrence (Samuel S. Hinds) is puzzled until he learns that McCormick is Dynamo Dan,” a carnival performer who regularly runs voltage through his body. The doctor theorizes that Dan might have actually built up an immunity to electricity and suggests that Dan stay with him at his house/laboratory so that further tests can be performed. Dan acquiesces, but Lawrence’s overzealous assistant, Dr. Rigas (Lionel Atwill), secretly bombards him with maximum doses of electricity hoping to create a race of superhuman atomic warriors. Dan grows more and more listless, increasingly dependent on the treatments and subject to Rigas’ will, even murdering Lawrence when the senior doctor threatens to expose the misguided experiments. In a bizarre twist of fate, when the wheels of justice attempt to execute Dan in the electric chair, they unwittingly create an unstoppable weapon capable of mass destruction!

Universal’s first new monster creation in half a decade grew out of a treatment called “The Electric Man” by Harry Essex, Sid Schwartz, and Len Golos, a spin on the Nazi search for the Übermensch, the superior soldier. Originally put forth as another joint vehicle for Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, it was subsequently tailored specifically for Chaney by Waggner (under his “Joseph West” pseudonym), to the point of making Dan a slightly more intelligent version of Lennie from Of Mice and Men (1939). Shot on the cheap with little fanfare, it was also seen as a test whether Chaney warranted a studio contract – its success led directly to the actor landing his most iconic horror role later that same year: Lawrence Talbot in The Wolf Man.

Chaney isn’t exactly given a wide range of emotions to play here – he’s a likeable lunk who unwittingly becomes a menace to society at the hands of Atwill’s meddling megalomaniac – but he serves the turn nicely and is given solid support by Hinds, Atwill, and ingénue Anne Nagel. As a pestering and prodding reporter/romantic lead, Frank Albertson is a little on the annoying side; instead our loyalties go to Corky the Wonder Dog who showed up in everything from My Favorite Wife to Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross.

Waggner’s script delivers the exposition efficiently and without fuss, mood is effectively set via Hans J. Salter’s punchy musical score, and John P. Fulton’s special glowing effects (recycled from The Invisible Ray) are used sparingly to great effect. Resident makeup man Jack Pierce also got to spend a little time with Chaney prior to their hairier affair, mostly using colored shadows that deepened under particular lighting gels (a la 1932’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).

The film also bears an intriguing footnote: MMM was the film that Atwill was working on during his infamous 1940 Christmas party that landed the actor in court for projecting pornography among other illicit behavior. Despite Atwill being acquitted of the crimes, Universal henceforth only used him in minor roles, forcing him to seek out the Poverty Row programmers that sustained him until his death in 1946.

In his book, Classics of the Horror Film, William K. Everson calls Man Made Monster “an expert little made-to-measure horror vehicle, delivering everything that the fans expected, including clichés that were still new enough to be welcome friends, and not – as they would be in just a few years – repetitious bores.”

Well worth checking out.


NEW Audio Commentary With Author/Film Historian Tom Weaver And Filmmaker/Film Historian Constantine Nasr

Still Gallery

Man Made Monster is available now on Blu-ray from Shout Factory as part of the Universal Horror Collection Vol. 3, along with Tower of London (1939), The Black Cat (1941), and Horror Island (1941) and can be ordered HERE:


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