Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

The Mad Monster, 1942

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This was a bit more enjoyable than the previous George Zucco Poverty Row picture, Dead Men Walk. Where the previous film was a shabby vampire movie, The Mad Monster is a reasonably non-awful mad scientist flick.

What Mad Scientist Dr. Cameron (who does, indeed, have a beautiful daughter) has done is theorized that animal blood can be transfused into humans, and thus give them the animal’s characteristics. For this he was mocked and scorned by all his scientific colleagues — and this backstory is handled in a very cool way, a way I had not expected from a Poverty Row picture at all. Cameron, in his lab and during the experiment, goes to the head of a large table and begins talking to nobody, proclaiming what a genius he is, and deriding those who scoffed at him.

And as he does, their ghostly images fade in at the seats around the table, and he begins conversing directly with them. As presented, what they say comes straight from memory, and Cameron knows it — he’s not so nuts that he’s actually hallucinating. But it’s a creepy and effective way of getting across both the backstory and the character of Cameron before the first ten minutes of the picture have passed. What was interesting about this is that some money and time was spent to achieve the effect. It’s clearly an optical, so the production company had or had access to an optical printer, but more than that, it’s a carefully done optical — each of the ghostly figures fits into the room perfect, each is sitting in his chair, one leaning on the table, and nothing is misaligned or overlapping in a distracting way. It’s a more than competent effect that is there to serve the story, and does. How often do you see that in one of these pictures?

Anyhow, in the experiment, he turns Glenn Strange (most famous for playing Frankenstein’s monster three times, post-Karloff, and bearing more than a passing resemblance to Lon Chaney, Jr.) into a werewolf by injecting him with wolf’s blood. ((Nobody, however, trips into anybody else, and no trading of essences occurs. )) He can change him back into a human again with an “antidote” (???). And, of course, each injection causes a rapid lap-dissolve transformation a la Lon Chaney, Jr.’s The Wolfman. ((Although they only really show it once or twice — this is a Poverty Row cheapie, after all. ))

Having perfected his technique and proven his theory, Dr. Cameron does what any self-respecting Mad Scientist would do next: he uses his creation to rain vengeance upon those who laughed at him and hounded him out of the scientific world!

Glenn Strange’s character is Petro (yes, “Pedro” but with a t), a low-IQ gardener who, in character and performance, increases the feeling that Strange is Lon Chaney, Jr.’s lost twin, since he’s basically George from Of Mice And Men. He’s a gentle soul, simple but kind. But he remembers his time as a werewolf as if it were a dream, and the number of murders he commits in his dreams begins to frighten him.

It’s been some while since I actually watched this one (something over a week, I’m trying to stay ahead of the month for once), so not all the details are coming back to me, but, by the end, the Mad Doctor gets his comeuppance, at least one of the Scoffing Fools survives (this is a requirement in the Mad Scientist Film Playbook), the beautiful daughter and her beau live happily ever after, and the monster meets his end.

As I indicated above, this was a very satisfying film, given the context that it was a Poverty Row cheapie. It hangs together pretty well, so long as you overlook the idiocy of the plot-motor ((If I injected myself with rabbit blood, would I get insufferably cute and binky every time I was happy? )). And the beginning, especially, was done especially well.

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