While I freely admit that among the classic Universal monster movies The Wolf Man is far from the best, I also happen to think it gets a pretty unfair rap as a low-rent pretender. Among the things I especially like about that film, which was directed by George Waggner, is Lon Chaney, Jr.'s portrayal of Lawrence Talbot as a lovable lug, kind of a pleasant meathead, whose reaction to the bizarre and terrible turns his life has taken is to be scared out of his mind. There's a pathos to that which eschews the high tragedy aims of movies like Frankenstein for a more blue collar approach -- instead of tragic, The Wolf Man goes for sad.
So on that level at least, I take The Wolf Man kind of seriously, and could probably become a bit defensive about it, should the situation warrant it. My viewing today of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (d. Roy William Neill) might be that situation. The problem is that this is a direct sequel to The Wolf Man, picking up four years after Talbot's death at the merciful hands of his father. In attempting to rob Talbot's grave, two no-goods sweep away the wolfsbane covering his body, said wolfsbane being the one thing keeping Talbot dead. So now he's not dead anymore, and he's still a werewolf. And, rather intriguingly, the plot of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man centers around Talbot's quest to die, for good.
After linking up again with Maria Ouspenskaya, the gypsy from the previous film, Talbot begins to track the story of Dr. Frankenstein, who apparently had mastered the powers of life and death. And here I'll not that Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is more or less a direct sequel to James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein as well, with similarly injurious results. The Wolf Man and Bride of Frankenstein end on notes of real heartbreak, which the makers of this later film -- director Neill, producer Waggner, screenwriter Curt Siodmak, who also wrote The Wolf Man -- basically scribble out by reviving not only Talbot, but, obviously, Frankenstein's monster (no Dr. Frankenstein, though, he's still dead, replaced by glaze-eyed Ilona Massey as his daughter, Baroness Elsa Frankenstein). In other words, the two deaths from those films that mattered the most no long matter. Or I guess that depends on how seriously you take sequels to beloved film, and how easily you're able to separate them if you don't like where the follow up leads you. For my part, I can do that pretty easily, so I'm not overly put out by the sacrileges of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.
Instead of being angry for an hour and twelve minutes, I instead took note that this film is to The Wolf Man and the two previous Frankenstein films as The Godfather Part II is to The Godfather, in that, like the Coppola sequel, all the points made by Waggner and Whale are simply half-heartedly underlined by Neill (there's a difference, since Coppola's underlining was quite vigorous). This is not terribly uncommon among sequels, I suppose, but there's something about Chaney's Talbot going from a happy-go-lucky fellow at the beginning of the first film, to a terrified man who wants to be rid of his curse by any means necessary by the end, and then, in the next film, to a man who, no, seriously, really wants this curse taken care of, that put me in mind of Michael Corleone's light-to-dark-to-super-dark journey. So there's that, and then there's Bela Lugosi taking over the role of Frankenstein's monster from Karloff, only to remind the world that whatever his talents, Lugosi was no Karloff, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man's ending, which is so abrupt that you have to wonder if the studio said "The moment you film a castle collapsing, no matter how much left you have to shoot, you must shut down production." That's the only thing that makes any sense, at least.