Cast & Crew
Howard W. Koch
In 1970, an American television crew comes to the German estate of Baron Victor Von Frankenstein to film a movie based on the life of the baron's famous mad scientist ancestor who was obsessed with bringing the dead to life. Headed by director Douglas Row and starring vivacious Carol Hayes, the cast and crew are ill at ease around Victor, who is hunchbacked and crippled from being tortured by the Nazis years earlier during the war. Victor has allowed the filming in order to be able to pay for an atomic reactor which he insists will be used to heat the vast, ancient estate. However, Victor's old friend and estate manager, Wilhelm Gottfried, worries that Victor is fixated upon the idea of utilizing the reactor to recreate the original Dr. Frankenstein's failed experiment. As filming commences, Carol is unnerved by Victor's fawning over her, but grows fond of the kindly family butler, Shuter. Judy Stevens, Doug's former wife and the film's script supervisor, resents Doug's attentions to Carol, but nevertheless refuses the advances of publicity head Mike Shaw. After several days, Doug reports that the reactor has been delivered, which pleases Victor. Suspicious, Wilhelm asks Victor if he is aware that bodies have been reported missing from the local morgue, but Victor claims no knowledge of the thefts. Later, Victor sneaks into his hidden laboratory beneath the family crypt, which is accessed by a secret passageway in a fake tomb. Each of the guest rooms have been equipped with recording devices, thus enabling Victor to keep track of the activity throughout the estate. With the reactor now installed, Victor resumes his clandestine work which, as Wilhelm has feared, is a continuation of Dr. Frankenstein's experiment. Victor laments that the bodies he has stolen from the morgue are not all compatible and therefore his creature lacks several vital organs. That evening, Shuter accidentally stumbles upon the fake tomb and enters the lab. Although sad to do away with his old friend, Victor murders Shuter and places his brain in the creature. The next morning, when Carol asks after Shuter, Victor informs her that the butler has gone to visit his family. When Wilhelm privately tells Victor that he knows that Shuter has no family, Victor warns him against being too inquisitive. Later that afternoon in his lab, Victor accidentally drops the jar holding Shuter's eyes, but finally succeeds in bringing his creature to life. That night, after Judy evades Mike's drunken romantic overtures, she is attacked and carried off by the creature, who has been ordered by Victor to capture Doug. The next morning, when the group finds a note from Judy announcing her departure, Mike believes he is to blame for driving her away. Later, when Carol and cinematographer Morgan Haley test lighting conditions in the crypt, Carol is very nearly snatched by the creature, who recognizes her, though she does not see him. After Carol departs, Morgan is captured by the creature, but Victor is annoyed that his blood type fails to match the creature's, thus preventing Victor from performing an eye transplant. Disturbed that the sudden disappearances of Shuter, Judy and Morgan have slowed his film production, Doug summons the police, and Inspector Raab arrives to investigate. Victor insists that each disappearance can be explained and accuses Mike of having orchestrated the events for publicity. When Wilhelm confronts Victor in his lab about the disappearances, Victor brings forth the creature before murdering Wilhelm for his eyes. At police headquarters, Doug and Raab learn that no local taxi drivers have transported Shuter or Judy from the estate and fear they have met with foul play. While Doug and Raab hasten back to the estate, Victor orders the creature to seize Carol. Realizing that Shuter is part of the creature, Carol appeals to him and is set free. The creature then goes on a rampage, destroying Victor's lab and setting off the reactor, which emits a radioactive steam that kills both the creature and his creator. Much later, when the police have declared the lab safe, Doug, Raab and Mike enter, and upon peeling the tape off of the creature's face, discover that Victor made him in his own image.
Howard W. Koch
John A. Bushelman
William T. Cline
Jack T. Collis
Paul A. Dunlap
Carl E. Guthrie
Charles A. Moses
Francis E. Stahl
George Worthing Yates
Simply put, there's a lot going on in Frankenstein 1970 (1958). It is a setup pregnant with dramatic potential: sexual tensions and professional jealousies, personal anguish and historic grudges, class conflicts and meta-textual pop cultural references. All that, and Boris Karloff playing Doctor Frankenstein, in an atomic-age re-imagining of one of the English language's most enduring and relevant stories. It should have been terrific. It should at least have been good.
The project had its roots in a practical joke. In 1952, Armed Forces Network radio announcer Carl Nelson made a special Halloween night broadcast from the "real" Castle Frankenstein. "Real" in this situation must be understood to be relative. There was no "real" Dr. Frankenstein, of course, and since he was fictional he never really lived anywhere. But the monster-oriented tourist industry bent the truth a little to retrofit this actual location into the backstory of Mary Shelley's personal experiences, and in the end what happened in Castle Frankenstein in the 1700's is not what matters to us here, but what happened on that night in 1952. Poor Nelson didn't know his buddies had set up some pedestrian spook scares of the kind you might find on a carnival midway's haunted house ride--papier mâché monster heads and the like. Unprepared for what was in store, Nelson accepted it as real and panicked on air, fainting during the broadcast.
If you want, you can listen to Nelson's worst hour on the internet. Archival recordings of his fateful broadcast are a popular download to this day.
Part of the appeal is the commingling of fact and fiction that underpins the broadcast. Shelley's Frankenstein was a book, a story that turned into movies. Hokey movies, sometimes. But what if Castle Frankenstein was a real place, and real people could go there today in the present and experience terrifying things? What if a person who set out to make a documentary tribute to something fictional became an actual victim of that fictional terror?
In other hands, that very notion would turn into such things as The Blair Witch Project (1999), The Last Broadcast (1998), Ghostwatch (1992, made for British television), and so on. For filmmakers in the 1950s to stumble across a post-modern concept of such potency had the potential to lead to an extraordinary B-movie--the sort of things cults are built around.
For producer Aubrey Schenck, the idea of bringing the Frankenstein legend into modern times was an appealing one already, and the Nelson broadcast suggested one possible route: a movie crew goes to the real Castle Frankenstein in the present day (or the near future, even) and falls victim to the resurrected monster their film is supposed to be about.
Schenck was not alone in rushing a Frankenstein picture into drive-ins in the late 1950's. His production of Frankenstein 1970 would arrive fast on the heels of I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and Frankenstein's Daughter (both 1957).
Mary Shelley's novel was comfortably in the public domain--as long as filmmakers steered clear of the trademarked iconography of the Universal Studios interpretation, they were free to churn out rival Frankenstein pictures without restraint. It was a time of widespread public suspicion of the dangerous overreach of scientific progress. Entire distribution and exhibition systems had evolved specifically to channel horror and science fiction movies to a hungry audience of teens. And just in case anyone doubted the continued appeal of the Frankenstein legend, Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein had opened in the US the previous year to phenomenal success. Basically, if you ran an exploitation movie outfit and weren't doing something Frankenstein-related, you were leaving money on the table.
On top of all that, Schenck had Boris Karloff in a three-picture deal that obliged him to pay for Karloff's services whether or not they actually made a film. His competitors could crank out Frankenstein movies, but Schenck had the one name most associated with Frankenstein movies.
Karloff was suffering from arthritis--and in a mildly offensive move, the filmmakers decided to make his infirmity part of the character, wrapping one more layer of meta-textual reference into the story. They initially called it "Frankenstein 1960," but soon decided that wasn't futuristic enough and upgraded the title by another decade (no other changes were made to signal a more futuristic setting--it could just as plausibly be called Frankenstein 1950).
Based on the title and Karloff's name alone, Schenck pre-sold the film to Allied Artists for more than he needed to make it with. He'd turned a profit before even hiring the director.
In other words, making a Frankenstein picture was low-hanging fruit. Perhaps that was the problem. This particular low-hanging fruit was hanging too low. If a profitable Frankenstein picture could be manufactured with virtually no effort, why expend any effort on it?
Actually, that's being unfair. The makers of Frankenstein 1970 did put in some effort. The opening sequence, for example, is a doozy--almost worth the price of admission alone. A terrified girl is stalked through a darkened wood by a clawed and snarling thing. . . until the whole sequence is revealed to be a movie shoot, for the Frankenstein-film-within-a-film. In the same vein, later on in the picture, Karloff's Baron Frankenstein is put on camera by the same crew, in his family crypt, to explain the Frankenstein legend. Inspired by the theatrics of the moment, he goes off-script and delivers a chilling (if hammy) diatribe. This is a movie about the making of a movie--and the sad irony is that the fake movie within is demonstrably better than the real movie that frames it.
In broad strokes, Frankenstein 1970 dutifully traces all the familiar contours one would expect from a Frankenstein movie, but never quite hitting the right beats as it goes.
For example, consider what the story is fundamentally about. Dr. Frankenstein has used the money from the movie shoot to acquire an atomic reactor to revive the monster once given life by his famous ancestor. There's a nice symmetry there--the movie crew aspires to "bring Frankenstein back to life," and have unwittingly helped do just that. When it comes time for the Baron to transplant a new brain into the creature's desiccated skull, we are all primed for the inevitable cliche. He will damage the brain, and the creature will behave monstrously as a result. That's what always happens in these things. But no! The brain transplant goes off without a hitch. It all goes so swimmingly, that the Baron feels no qualm about absent-mindedly tapping away on the newly sutured brain-pan with a hammer (not in the Mad Scientist Best Practices Manual).
It is only later, when the time comes to install a fresh pair of eyes, that the butter-fingered doctor drops them and steps on them. It is hard to tell if director Howard Koch played this scene deliberately for laughs, or if the idea is simply so absurd that it cannot help but be unintentional slapstick. Either way, the rest of the film is now about the hunt for a good pair of eyes for the blind creature.
It makes sense that the film would need to establish a menace to the movie crew: their lives are at risk because their host is killing them one by one to assemble his monster. But it doesn't necessarily follow that their host would be killing them one by one solely in a goose chase after a single elusive body part, nor is there any explanation why the blind but otherwise allegedly unimpaired creature would now be a mute, lumbering murderer.
For that matter, the film squanders the obvious opportunities to have the "real" monster get mixed up with the movie-within-the-movie's version.
Boris Karloff was a gentleman actor of the old school, determined to give every part his all regardless of budget circumstance or prestige. He was also by this point a legend in his own right. These two facts collided in him to create a perfect storm. He arrived on set prepared to pour everything he had into this underwritten trifle, and no one in the production had the guts to tell him he was hamming it up.
"I was in awe of him," admitted director Koch, "We just let him go."
Karloff's costar Charlotte Austin agreed that they respected Karloff too much to tell him he was overplaying it. "I hate to say that, because he was such a gracious man, [but] it was theatrical, it was overdone."
"When you're given this kind of dialogue, what can you do with it?" she added, "It was degrading."
Schenck laid the blame at Koch's feet, saying (in some awkwardly dated slang), "That wasn't his bag. You know, when you do horror pictures, you have to have someone who really believes in this stuff. I don't think we were equipped to do real horror pictures for some reason."
For his part, Koch accepts the criticism. "I don't feel I did such a great job on Frankenstein 1970. I didn't have much time to really think."
This is not to say that Koch believes the movie to be a failure. Far from it. "I guarantee you, these cheap pictures will stand up against any two-hour movie made today. There's more care and thought in them--even though they were low-budget, we all cared what we were making, we really tried."
While Koch made that grandiose pronouncement in 1988, don't be tempted to write it off as the blowhard bluster of a has-been trying to defend his forgotten B-movie against modern pop culture. Koch actually has standing to make such a claim. In the years since directing Frankenstein 1970, he went on to serve as the chief of production of Paramount Studios in the mid-1960s, directed highly popular television series, and then produced such films as Airplane! (1980), The Odd Couple (1968), and The Manchurian Candidate (1962)! If this fella wants to say that his low-budget B-movies of the 1950's had a handmade charm that big budget Hollywood films of the 1980s lacked, well who's to argue with that?
Let's let Koch have the last word: "We weren't great talents, we were just trying to make movies."
Producer: Aubrey Schenck
Director: Howard W. Koch
Screenplay: Richard Landau, George Worthing Yates (screenplay); Charles A. Moses, Aubrey Schenck (story); Mary Shelley (characters, uncredited)
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Music: Paul A. Dunlap
Film Editing: John A. Bushelman
Cast: Boris Karloff (Baron Victor von Frankenstein), Tom Duggan (Mike Shaw), Jana Lund (Carolyn Hayes), Donald Barry (Douglas Row), Charlotte Austin (Judy Stevens), Irwin Berke (Inspector Raab), Rudolph Anders (Wilhelm Gottfried), Norbert Schiller (Shuter), John Dennis (Morgan Haley), Mike Lane (Hans Himmler/The Monster)
by David Kalat
Audio commentary by Charlotte Austin, Bob Burns, and Tom Weaver, Frankenstein 1970 DVD, Warner Brothers.
Bryan Senn, "I was a Teenage Frankenstein, Frankenstein 1970, and Frankenstein's Daughter", We Belong Dead: Frankenstein on Film, edited by Gary J. and Susan Svehla.
Bill Warren, Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties.
Tom Weaver, Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes.
Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics Collection - A DVD Review
The Walking Dead from 1936 is a pivotal film for Karloff. Although very short (65 minutes) it's a quality Warner Bros. effort directed by the respected Michael Curtiz. The plot is essentially a gangster vengeance movie. Framed by vicious hoods Ricardo Cortez and Barton MacLane, unlucky ex-con John Ellman (Karloff) is executed for a murder he didn't commit. But his body is revived by scientist Dr. Beaumont (Edmund Gwenn), who wants Ellman to tell him of secrets beyond the grave.
As can be guessed, the film's genre identity is somewhat confused. Director Curtiz handles the gangster aspect in familiar Warners' style, with Joe Sawyer playing a Murder, Inc.- style hit man named Trigger. Curtiz and Karloff put equal effort into the spooky content, splashing Germanic shadows across walls and arranging for the undead Ellman to unaccountably materialize in locked rooms, like a ghost. Ellman eventually migrates to a rain-soaked cemetery, as if drawn to death; amid all the fast "Warner Urban" wisecracks and action, Karloff must carry the horror angle on his own.
Oddly enough, The Walking Dead is identical in structure and similar in execution to John Boorman's spacey crime revenge saga Point Blank. Like that film's Lee Marvin, Karloff's Ellman is presumed dead yet returns to menace his enemies, all of whom perish without his direct assistance. In Ellman's case they fall on their own guns or out of windows, under trains, etc.
Karloff lumbers about like Frankenstein's monster, an effect heightened by removing a dental bridge and sucking in his right cheek to augment the cadaverous look. Like a ghost, Ellman asks each villain, "Why did you have me killed?" The inconsistent The Walking Dead never decides if Ellman is a literal zombie or a "Telltale Heart" guilt hallucination. The faux-religious ending chastens Edmund Gwenn with a "man was not meant to know" message, over an image of a stone angel in the cemetery.
Karloff is of course superb while the other leads deliver characteristically snappy Curtiz performances. Marguerite Churchill and Warren Hull are a truly insipid pair of youthful lab assistants never taken to task for refusing to testify for Ellman at his murder trial. The Walking Dead looks much more modern than the same year's The Invisible Ray but it marks the end of the first phase of Karloff's Hollywood career. From here on he'd land less prestigious roles, albeit always with star billing. Karloff would repeat the theme of vengeance from beyond the grave ad infinitum in a series of cheap Columbia pictures.
Author Greg Mank goes deep into The Walking Dead's production history for his commentary, detailing a long list of no-no content nixed by the Production Code office before filming began. 1930s Hollywood horror was dismantled by censor demands both here and in England, where a number of the earlier movies had been banned outright.
Universal's 1939 Tower of London and Son of Frankenstein cued a significant comeback for the horror film, but Karloff soon found himself typed as a mad doctor or glowering criminal. Before withdrawing to a much more rewarding Broadway career he appeared in a rush of minor scare pictures, eight in 1940 alone. RKO's You'll Find Out is actually a musical comedy, a vehicle for Kay Kyser's novelty "Kollege of Musical Knowledge" swing orchestra. Kyser's band of extroverts are more amenable to film work than most musicians, although comedian Ish Kabibble is perhaps Not Ready for The Big Screen -- he's like a fourth, even more unpleasant Stooge.
The movie is a standard kill-the-heir non-mystery, with Kyser's band performing at the high-toned Bellacrest mansion. Agent Chuck Deems (Dennis O'Keefe) is in love with Janis Bellacrest (Helen Parrish), the innocent target of a crooked judge, a charlatan psychic and an assassin posing as a professor: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre. Each of these actors is asked only to present their established screen personas. In a plotline dotted with novelty songs and séance hocus-pocus, the waste of great talent is almost painful. Karloff and Lugosi play the script straight and manage to survive with their dignity intact. Impish scene-stealer and ad-libber Peter Lorre has a field day using his eyes and toothy smile to add layers of gleeful malice to his performance.
With the bridge out and the phones dead the three villains try out poisoned darts, bolts of electricity and a falling spike as murder weapons. Kyser uncovers the evil scheme when he discovers Lugosi's lair in a subterranean room. The so-called horror angle wraps up much like a Droopy cartoon, with Ish Kabibble's pooch chasing the villains while carrying a stick of dynamite in his mouth. As a comedy You'll Find Out is likely to leave modern audiences completely unmoved.
Peter Frampton fans might be amused by the debut of a "talk box" invention called the Sonovox, which uses the voice as a filter for amplified musical instruments. Kay Kyser promotes the device as if the movie were an infomercial. Much more central to film historians is the set dressing used in Lugosi's secret chamber. The art directors raided the RKO prop department and unearthed a pair of Triceratops stop-motion animation models that may have been built for Willis O'Brien's aborted dinosaur epic Creation. Even more interesting are two spider models attached to a secret doorway -- they look awfully similar to the surviving still of the giant spiders in the famous censored "spider pit" scene cut from the original King Kong.
Some wartime horror pictures were haunted house comedies following in the footsteps of popular Bob Hope and Abbott & Costello hits. 1945's Zombies on Broadway is a bizarre comedic wanna-be from Wally Brown and Alan Carney, RKO's answer to Abbott & Costello. The duo's dynamic is definitely personality-challenged; as a comedy team it simply doesn't distinguish itself.
But Zombies on Broadway may be the strangest quasi-sequel ever made. Brown and Carney are Jerry Miles and Mike Streger, maladroit publicity flacks who have promised to find a fake zombie for the new nightclub of gangster Ace Miller (Sheldon Leonard). Ordered to come up with the real McCoy or die, the pair sails to the Caribbean island of San Sebastian, a noted zombie hangout. They're greeted at the dock by Calypso singer Sir Lancelot, who improvises an instant folk ballad commentary. It's immediately apparent that this is a comedy spin-off from Val Lewton's popular 'straight' horror film I Walked with a Zombie. Not only does Sir Lancelot recycle his same menacing song from the Lewton original, but the tall & cadaverous Darby Jones returns as the somnambulistic zombie Carre-four, here given a name change to Kolaga.
That's where the comparisons end, as Zombies on Broadway opts for slapstick hi-jinks. Singer Jean La Dance (Anne Jeffreys) helps Jerry and Mike escape from the clutches of Bela Lugosi's uninteresting Doctor Renault. Lugosi uses a serum to transform Mike into the walking dead. In this case, all that happens is that Mike receives a pair of (rather disturbing) zombie pop-eyes, of the same kind worn by Darby Jones. Jean and Jerry are overjoyed, and hustle Mike back to Broadway to perform! It's all over before we remember to laugh.
Veteran director Gordon Douglas doesn't waste time with fancy details. Dotty curator Ian Wolfe and Broadway columnist Louis Jean Heydt provide spirited support. Fledgling actor Robert Clarke plays a character called Wimp. You have to start somewhere.
For its final film the collection leaps ahead thirteen years to 1958, when cheap productions were cashing in on Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein, a smash hit that ignited an international horror boom. A quickie production from prolific producer Aubrey Schenck (T-Men) and director Howard W. Koch, the cut-rate Frankenstein 1970 delivers the minimum quota of shocks to qualify as a feature film. Seventy year-old Boris Karloff is given bold star billing, a spooky makeup job and a disagreeable character to play.
The screenplay by George Worthing Yates and Richard H. Landau (The Quatermass Xperiment) revamps the Frankenstein legend with an unpleasant update involving a movie crew shooting a Frankenstein story in the Baron's own castle. Brash director Douglas Row (Don "Red" Barry, former cowboy star) has rented the castle and irritates his host with insensitive remarks. The Baron (Karloff) is established as a victim of Nazi torture, to explain his mutilated eyelid. He now has an atomic reactor in his basement, and looks to the film's cast and crew for the raw materials for his new monster. The poky script has several lengthy one-shot scenes that prove Karloff adept at sustained dialogue. But suspense and surprises are sadly lacking. The Baron carries a heart in his hand and drops a jar containing human eyes to the floor, details surely inspired by the Hammer series.
Perhaps convinced that a good first impression is the key to finding a distributor, Schenck and Koch topload Frankenstein 1970 with the film's only stylish scene. A prologue follows a claw-fisted monster pursuing peasant girl Jana Lund into a foggy pond, and then wading in to strangle her. The murder turns out to be a movie-within-a-movie being filmed by director Roy's camera crew, and nothing of its kind is seen again. Audiences surely felt cheated for wanting to see that movie, not one about some boring film folk. TV personality Tom Duggan smiles incongruously while the other actors work overtime to extract some excitement the script. The "twist" ending doesn't add much to Karloff's humorless character, an unusually grouchy mad doctor. Considering that Karloff does wonders with modest movies like The Haunted Strangler, he doesn't look happy making this one.
The Allied Artists release Frankenstein 1970 is filmed in CinemaScope and occasionally finds an impressive composition. But little details undercut its impact. Frankenstein's futuristic mad lab scenes use archaeic sound effects from old Universal pictures. When the bandaged monster rolls out of the reactor furnace on a rickety hospital gurney, it appears to be pulled by a string. Apparently somebody thought it was funny for the Baron to dispose of surplus body parts in a device that makes the noise of a flushing toilet. Kids in 1958 matinees must have jeered every time Karloff nears the disposal.
Interviewer Tom Weaver hosts a commentary for Frankenstein 1970, joined by Bob Burns and actress Charlotte Austin. Burns tells stories about meeting Boris Karloff in person, and Ms. Austin has fine memories from the set. She is grateful that she didn't have to go into the freezing water with Jana Lund and recounts a shot ruined when Mike Lane's bandaged monster couldn't carry her down a flight of stairs without dropping her. Weaver enumerates some censored content, such as a silhouette scene in which the monster was supposed to squash a victim's head.
A rather motley assortment of horror odds 'n' ends, Warners' Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics box will nevertheless be a must-see disc for genre fans. The transfers are all good, with The Walking Dead showing its age and Zombies looking marginally softer than the others. Frankenstein 1970 can boast a flawless enhanced widescreen transfer. You'll Find Out and Frankenstein 1970 come with original trailers.
For more information about Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics, visit Warner Video. To order Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics Collection - A DVD Review
This project was proposed because of the success of the "Shock Theatre" package of Universal horror films released to television. The other contributing factors were the recent successes of the British made _Curse of Frankenstein" (1957)_ and the low budget American International release I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957). This low budget film would have the advantage of being shot in Cinemascope.
This film was originally going to be entitled "Frankenstein 1960" but it didn't sound futuristic enough. It was also thought to be too far fetched that an independent researcher could obtain his own atomic reactor in 1960.
The working title of the film was Frankenstein-1960. Sound man Francis E. Stahl's middle initial is mistakenly listed as "C" in the onscreen credits. Although the film is set a dozen years in the future from its production date, the costumes and art direction do not reflect a future time period.
For additional information about other films based on the character of Baron Frankenstein, created by Mary Shelley, please see the entry for the 1931 Universal Pictures film Frankenstein in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40.
Released in United States Summer July 1958
Released in United States Summer July 1958