The forties was not a good time for SF movies. But the genre sputtered along with mad scientist B-movies turned out by Hollywood. The decade produced none of the immortal classics of the twenties and thirties, but hidden among the low-budget dregg, one can find a few genuine gems worthy of more recognition.
In the 1930’s science fiction finally made the leap from European screens to Hollywood. More than anything, the SF invasion of the thirties can be attributed to Universal Studios’ resurrection […]
Batman, Superman and Captain America were among the superheroes that made their screen debuts in film serials. The superhero serials borrowed heavily from pulp stories, radio shows and comic magazines, and in turn helped lay many of the foundations for future SF movies. Here we take a look at the origins and history of the most influential superhero serials of the thirties and forties.
Universal’s House of Frankenstein sees Boris Karloff as a mad scientist hiring Dracula as a hit man, attempting to cure the Wolf Man and restart the Frankenstein monster. All while J. Carrol Naish’s hunchback is trying to bonk a gypsy girl who’s in love with the werewolf. While the nutty story can be entertaining, this 1944 film’s downfall is its contrived plot and structure. 4/10
Universal’s first monster mashup, made in 1943, is an audience divider. Some enjoy it as a brainless schlockfest, while others find the denigration of the Frankenstein franchise painful to watch. Arguably miscast from the start as the Frankenstein monster, Bela Lugosi saw all his lines cut in the editing room. 4/10
The magic is all but gone from the fourth Universal Frankenstein picture, made in 1942. Although well-paced and entertaining, the film stumbles on a ridiculous, self-contradictory script, a low budget and a Lon Chaney Jr. who isn’t up to the task of replacing Boris Karloff as the monster. 5/10
Lionel Atwill and his hardy troop of bit-part players and slumming has-beens bravely fight their way through an inane and disjointed script on a shoestring budget. Director Joseph H. Lewis adds touches of class to this odd mad scientist/South Seas adventure horror screwball comedy. 3/10
A quick Universal cheapo from 1941, this was the first of Lon Chaney Jr.’s monster movies, and one of his best. Lionel Atwill shines as the mad doctor who pumps Chaney full of electricity, until he becomes a mindless, glow-in-the-dark monster who kills with a touch. 6/10
Basil Rathbone is the son of Frankenstein who moves back to his father’s castle, only to find Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi hiding in the basement. The latter gives what is perhaps the performance of his lifetime in this visually stunning movie, which unfortunately treats Karloff’s classic monster with little respect. 7/10
Dwight Frye, Fay Wray, Lionel Atwill and Melvyn Douglas star in this 1933 Poverty Row schlockfest, which is a lot better than its Majestic Pictures origin would imply. Filmed on the sets of Universal’s horror movies, it looks and feels like a prestige film, but sadly still has the script of a slapdash chashgrabber. 6/10
This early colour film (1932), impeccably directed by Casablanca-maker Michael Curtiz, is a stylish and atmospheric old dark house thriller with a gruesome sci-fi twist. Unfortunately it’s also an attempt at Groucho Marx-style comedy with a Lee Tracy in the lead as a wise-cracking reporter, whose comedy repertoire isn’t up to the task. Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill shine, and the whole thing has the delicious look and feel of a faded pulp magazine. 7/10