Man Made Monster
man made monster | george waggner | lionel atwill | lon chaney jr. | anne nagel | mad scientist | universal | drama | sci-fi | based on | novel | harry essex | sid schwartz | len golos | thriller | frank albertson | samuel s. hinds | william b. davidson | ben taggart
Film: Man Made Monster
Director: George Waggner
Writer: George Waggner
Starring: Lionel Atwill, Lon Chaney Jr. and Anne Nagel
This was a movie that I got turned on to while looking through the horror releases for 1941 on Letterboxd for my Odyssey Through the Ones segment here. I was shocked, I guess pun intended, to discover this is a Universal film and has Lon Chaney Jr. in it. I did read the synopsis before watching it as I wanted to pair it up for a double feature. It doesn’t necessarily fit, but it still makes for an interesting pairing. The synopsis here is a mad scientist turns a man into an electrically-controlled monster to do his bidding.
For this movie, we start with a bus accident. It is raining pretty heavily and it loses control, crashing into the supports for power lines. Everyone on board dies except for Dan McCormick (Chaney). He’s in the hospital when a Dr. John Lawrence (Samuel S. Hinds) comes to visit him. Dan is in good spirits and ready to get out. John leaves him his card and asks him to visit once he does.
John lives his niece June (Anne Nagel). She helps keep his life in order and John has a conference coming up that he has to give a speech at. John also lives with Dr. Paul Rigas (Lionel Atwill). Together, they’re conducting an experiment with electricity. The interest in Dan is that he seems to have immunity to the high voltage in the accident. John thinks it is correlated to Dan going by Dynamo Dan as he has a side show act with electricity.
Since he is out of a job, Dan comes to the house, takes a job and a liking to June. Paul behind the back of his colleague conducts experiments on this young man. He continues to increase the voltage until Dan becomes electrified to the point where he is glowing. Everything he touches pulls electricity off him until he’s drained. I picked up that the principles are very similar to that of static electricity. June notices a change in her friend and is worried about him as is John.
Paul sees the potential here with Dan’s size and as the synopsis states, tries to make a mindless monster out of him. This plan does work, but also backfires when Dan ends up in police custody. From the time he started staying there, Mark Adams (Frank Albertson) who is a newspaper reporter, started to come around. He’s now engaged to marry June and she asks him to help her. She also seeks out the district attorney, Ralph B. Stanley (William B. Davidson), as she doesn’t think Dan is capable of this alone.
I think that is where I’m going to leave my recap for the movie as that gets you up to speed with the idea. What I like here is that we’re getting a different take on the mad scientist film. In the previous decade we see Frankenstein films where we have a man of science creating a monster with electricity. Universal seemed here to take that idea and strip it back a bit more. I do have to say that this is also based off a story entitled ‘The Electric Man’, which I’m not surprised to see. It is interesting that I’m pretty sure at one time or another, Chaney played Frankenstein’s Monster.
To delve into this a bit more, I’m assuming at the time of this, electricity wasn’t as understood as it is now. I mean let’s be honest; we still don’t everything about it even now. I believe we did know that the brain controlled the body through electrical currents and that is what they’re getting at here. Paul believes if you put enough into a person and they survive, you can control them. Instead of making a monster with body parts, he believes that through just electricity you can make them into almost a zombie or a robot to do your bidding.
The idea that Dan becomes a monster though is misleading. He does do some horrific things while under the influence of Paul, but this is more metaphorical. Dan’s size if they go crazy does make them a monster of sorts. That is more in the sense that there is monstrous nature within humanity. This idea is pretty deep actually, especially for the time. It is really a shame that this movie really isn’t seen more. I do think that it is due to the stripping down of the movie as the runtime is less than an hour.
I think that I’ll go next to the acting. Atwill does an excellent job as this mad scientist. When he’s alone, we see that he’s actually the monster of this movie with his thoughts and what he’s doing to Dan. I think Chaney does a solid job as this naïve guy. He looks for the best in people and loves life. The experiments drain him of his humanity for sure. Nagel is fine as June. Her character arch doesn’t make sense to me though. I’m assuming this was due to rewrites. Albertson is fine as this nosey reporter. Hinds fits as the older doctor who does actually have good intentions. The rest of the cast fits this movie for what was needed.
Then really the last thing that I wanted to go into would be the effects. This is early cinema still so the cinematography is stationary and that’s fine. What I did like was what they did when Dan is electrified. His head and arms glow. I thought for what they did, it looked good. I could believe that he was storing lethal doses of electricity. That worked for me and I’ll give credit for the effect.
In conclusion here, I think this movie is better than I was expecting. It is a lesser known Universal film that actually has a deeper story than most. I do think that there were sub-plots or more story elements that were cut due to budget issues that would have made it even better. The acting was good. The idea of what they’re doing is interesting and the effect, although isn’t great, is solid for the era that it came out. The only other aspect would be that soundtrack didn’t stand out, but fit for what was needed. For me, this is a movie that is above average. It is lacking some things though for me to go higher, which is a shame because what we did get I liked.
My Rating: 6.5 out of 10