Not sure why I love FRANKENSTEIN and the other monsters so much-- someone much smarter than I am said it's likely because they were something I was exposed to as a kid. That's true-- although I spent most of said "kid-hood" hiding behind the couch screaming anytime Frankenstein's Monster showed up on the screen. Something about those black lips and fingernails scared the willies out of me.
My favorite Frankenstein Monster is the one played by actor Glenn Strange, even though characterization wise he was little more than a slow moving robot in those scripts.
Strange played the monster three times;
- 1944 HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN
- 1945 HOUSE OF DRACULA
- 1948 ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN
Next up in my ratings of favorites is Boris Karloff-- many consider Karloff the ONLY Monster-- and I get that-- it's a different character. In the original he's a lost and frightened child, in the sequel he's a lovesick and lonely man and in his final outing he is the first glimpse at the robotic version of the monster. Karloff played the monster three times as well;
- 1931 FRANKENSTEIN
- 1935 BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN
- 1939 SON OF FRANKENSTEIN
I have a soft spot for Bela Lugosi's go at the monster. Lugosi was rumored to be the first choice for the monster in the 1931 original but turned it down due to the need to wear so much makeup, handing the role over to Karloff. I'm not sure how much of it is true-- it IS true that Lugosi was attached to the project when it was first announced but it's not clear from the notices if he was the monster or the doctor.
Rumors are that he was tested as the monster and the makeup looked ridiculous. The test reel is long lost to the ages of time but those that saw it said it more closely resembled THE GOLEM which was a German film from a few years earlier.
Lugosi only played him once;
- 1943 FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN
Lugosi gets unfair criticism for his take on the monster because he appears to be a stumbling brute-- well that was how the original script was written, because the last time we saw the monster in 1942's Ghost of Frankenstein it ended with the monster being reborn with Lugosi's brain and speech but now blind. So it made perfect sense to cast Lugosi as the Monster for this one.
It was only after preview screenings found audiences giggling that much of that storyline was cut and now you had the lumbering Lugosi for no good reason.
Speaking of Ghost of Frankenstein, that takes us to the last of the official Frankenstein actors, Lon Chaney. Born Creighton Chaney and son of immortal movie legend Lon Chaney Sr, Creighton took on his father's name and some of his legacy as he became Universal's go to horror star for much of the 40s after making a name for himself as the title character in THE WOLF MAN (1941).
Chaney was a big man and made an impressive monster. He played the character only once for Universal.
- 1942 GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN
But Chaney would play the monster again on live television in an infamous episode of TALES OF TOMORROW in 1952.
The episode was broadcast live and it retold the FRANKENSTEIN tale with a very small budget. To say it's a success would be kind, in the teleplay Chaney as the monster is given little to do except scream and grunt and smash things, although he never actually smashes things. Instead, he often will pick a prop up over his head, then set it down and make a smashing gesture.
The rumor was Chaney was blind drunk and thought they were in dress rehearsal and in those live days of TV there was no way to cut and signal him that they were actually filming. Chaney was a notorious drinker and often told his directors to get in his scenes before mid-day because by then he'd be sauced.
I'm not sure he's drunk here, but I am sure he thinks they're in rehearsal because he is saving these breakaway props for later.
It's not as terrible as it's reputation but I'll let you judge that for yourself.