Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lon Chaney Jr. as the Frankenstein monster ... on early TV

By Doug Gibson

The Frankenstein episode of early TV show Tales of Tomorrow is a historical curio. It's an example of TV in its infancy. There's nothing spectacular about the 1952 24-minute TV teleplay drama, filmed live. Its fortunate existence today is more teaching tool than art.

Lon Chaney Jr. plays the Monster. He's the only good thing about the plodding show. It has Ed Woodian bargain basement sets and props, as well as overtheatrical wooden acting by indistinguished TV actors of the time. The plot involves Dr. Victor Frankenstein (John Newland) living in a castle on the sea with his husband and wife servants and, for some reason, his young nephew (Michael Mann) is there. Also hanging around but not living in the castle is Mrs. Frankenstein (Mary Alice Moore) and her dad, who is also Dr. Frankenstein's mentor (Raymond Bramley).

Nothing much happens until Dr. Frankenstein unveils his monster (Chaney Jr.). He lumbers around the house, killing the maid and scaring the nephew and butler. This is all rather leaden sans much drama although Dr. Frankenstein offers quite a few long-winded laments. Eventually, the principals plot to do away with the Monster.

Chaney looks nothing like his 1942 performance as the Monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein, but he's an old horror hand and he knows how to roar and generally give a menacing performance.

Now, here's the most interesting part of this creaky curio of a TV show. Apparently, Chaney Jr., a severe alcoholic most of his life, was very intoxicated when the live shoot was being don. In fact, he was so intoxicated that he thought it was the dress rehearsal and refused to throw furniture to the floor. It is true that Chaney, in two scenes, gently places furniture back on the floor that is obviously meant to be tossed! You can also hear him mumble once "save it" as he places the furniture down. Otherwise, his role is mute with grunts. Clearly, he thought it was a rehearsal.

As mentioned, an interesting curio, directed by TV director Don Medford. It is often in discount DVD packs, the kind sold via or in dollar stores. It is free to watch on the Web or you can buy it on also.

Horror fans will enjoy it, completists will want it. It's a chance to see Chaney Jr. in a TV setting. Despite his drinking, he stayed active in films until his death in the early 70s.

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