A happy-go-lucky Lon Chaney, Jr. as Dynamo Dan the Electric Man.
RedRiver wrote:Lon Chaney, Jr in MAN MADE MONSTER? Have we seen this recently? Have I seen it at all? I honestly don't remember! Wikipedia says it was Lon's debut in Universal horror. The story synopsis sounds delightfully campy. This is going to be a big day for me. The Kentucky Derby, the library's celebration of Orson Welles' 100th birthday, and this intriguing little number. I'll file my report tomorrow!
I can't wait to read your account of your adventures, Red. I had never seen this movie either.
Fearing that Svengoolie would be trotting out something horrendous like Abbott and Costello Meet Casper the Ghost
last night, I was delighted with Man Made Monster
(1941). Lon Chaney, Jr., wearing his best whipped puppy look, played "Dynamo Dan, the Electric Man," a side show performer whose act using electricity seems to have made him immune to the harmful effects of large amounts of voltage. This proves to be a real boon when a bus that he and his fellow carnies are riding on slams into a pylon during an electrical storm. All other passengers are goners but Dan is okay, if out of work and worried about when his unemployment check will come (who knew that carnivals in the '40s kept such careful employment records).
His remarkable survival attracts the attention of an annoying reporter (Frank Albertson, whose career must have been going through a lull), a benevolent scientist (Samuel S. Hinds) and his not-so-well-meaning crypto-fascist co-worker, played by Lionel Atwill, who uses his cold fish eye to good effect. Hinds hires Dan to help him in his research into electrobiology by studying his body, but anyone can see the gleam in Atwill's eye when he spies a chance "to go further than man was meant to" in his experiments when the cat
Prof. Hinds was away. Hinds' niece (Anne Nagel, with a killer shellacked '40s hairstyle) is also the two researchers' secretary and she befriends the doofus Dan, but she is soon involved with the reporter, who couldn't find a story if it didn't sit up and shock him. Lionel Atwill and his human night light victim, Lon Chaney, Jr.
The closest relationship that Dynamo Dan develops is with an endearing terrier, whose playfulness and growing wariness signals the effects of Atwill's evil experiments on the poor, haplessly cheerful guy turning him into a zombie with a spark. The most moving moment in the film comes between pup and Dan near the end of the movie, making me realize that the other characters are mere cardboard, while Chaney's sweet, simple character and the tenderness exhibited by the dog have considerably more dimension. Frank Albertson's dumb reporter trying to shake some sense into the bewigged and benighted Anne Nagel.
I won't give more away, but this was fairly interesting since the actors were generally very good, and the story hints at the dehumanization caused by both the scientific and fascist developments in a world at war (WWII is never mentioned, but it's there for sure). There is some fine cinematography by black and white great Elwood Bredell (Phantom Lady, The Killers, The Unsuspected), and framed by director George Waggner, who was approaching a career height later in this year. The zap, crackle and pop of the electrical equipment of Kenneth Strickfaden, the eccentric hobbyist who created the cockamamie huge electrical stuff that graced most Universal movies from Frankenstein
on, adds immeasurably to the dark and sinister atmosphere of the claustrophobic lab in this story. BTW, this is one of the few times that I thought Svengoolie's insertion of a voiceover describing Chaney as a Human Night Light was apt--and funny. Apparently this movie was the first time that Lon played a monster, that he worked with legendary makeup man Jack Pierce, and that this film led to their subsequent collaboration in the superbly entertaining The Wolf Man
later that year, which was also directed by George Wagnner. Man Made Monster
was said to be the cheapest production made at Universal in '41--though I suspect that it made back its dough pretty easily--and that not a dime was spent on Anne Nagel's hairdos.
The 57 minute Man Made Monster
(1941) can be seen here in its entirety: