Directed by Howard W. Koch
Produced by Aubrey Schenck
Screenplay by Richard Landau and George Worthing Yates
Story by Charles A. Moses and Aubrey Schenck
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Music by Paul A. Dunlap
Film Editor: 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)
This review is partially based on a review of the previously-released DVD.
The last member of the Frankenstein family has fallen on hard times. To keep things afloat, namely his experiments, Baron Victor Von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) has rented his castle to a company shooting a cheap horror movie. The lecherous director’s played by Don “Red” Barry. Frankenstein’s eager for them to wrap and get out, until he realizes the cast and crew offer up a sizable supply of body parts for his “work.”
Frankenstein 1970 (1958) takes this terrific film-within-a-film premise — an American film crew making a Frankenstein movie in the real Frankenstein castle, while the real monster reposes in the lab below — and puts almost none of its obvious potential on the screen. Another thought-provoking idea, that Frankenstein was tortured by the Nazis — in other words, he got a bit of his own medicine, is brought up and dropped. And what could’ve been made of Karloff’s “real” monster meeting its cheesy movie namesake?
I was dying to see Frankenstein 1970 as a kid, thanks to a stack of lurid stills that kept turning up in my monster movie books and magazines — and the fact that it was in black-and-white CinemaScope (always a huge draw for me). And for an eight-day Allied Artists monster picture, it certainly has its moments. The opening’s well done, with a young woman chased through a foggy swamp by a deformed monster, only to have it revealed as part of the movie being made. And a scene where Karloff, convinced to appear in the film project, goes off script as he tells the story of his ancestors’ work — is a hoot. You don’t see Karloff get that worked up in many movies. Both of these ideas demonstrate the plot-line gold that was waiting to be mined here. Cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie does a terrific job, as always, and I’ve always liked long takes in Scope movies (I’m sure they were used more for efficiency than aesthetics on this one). If there’s one thing I’ve learned watching cheap movies of the late 50s, there were some real pros doing excellent work on these crummy things.
Howard W. Koch is never going to make a list of the Great Directors, but he made a few films I love dearly — Shield For Murder (1954), Big House, USA (1955), Untamed Youth (1957; it’s got Eddie Cochran in it!) — and I’ve developed a real fondness for Frankenstein 1970. (He produced some terrific stuff like 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate and 1967’s The Odd Couple. I’ll overlook the fact that he produced Ghost.)
Carl Guthrie’s craft is beautifully presented on the new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive, though it’s a tad lighter than I would’ve expected. The material they worked with was either in perfect condition or they skillfully made it look that way. It’s a nice jump up from the DVD. So, while I spent the last few paragraphs pointing out the picture’s disappointments, I’m thrilled to have it on Blu-Ray. For fans of such stuff, this one is easy to recommend.