MAN MADE MONSTER
THE ATOMIC MONSTER
The film stars two of the big names in horror throughout this decade. Top-billed is Lionel Atwill who made a career out of madmen and mad scientists during the 1930s and 40s in films such as Murders at the Zoo (1933), Mystery at the Wax Museum (1933), The Vampire Bat (1933) and The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942). In particular, Atwill made a standout appearance as the wooden armed inspector in Universals Son of Frankenstein (1939) and thereafter became an indispensible fixture of the Frankenstein series in various roles. Opposite him, only second billed even though he has the leading part, is Lon Chaney, Jr., son of the famous silent film actor Lon Chaney. Chaney, Jr. was not a substantially recognised name at the time that Man Made Monster was made. He had subsisted on a string of supporting roles throughout the 1930s before the acclaimed leading role in the film version of John Steinbecks Of Mice and Men (1939). However, it was with the title role in Universals The Wolf Man (1941) released nine months later, which again teamed him director George Waggner, that made Chaney into a horror icon. He appeared as most of the Famous Monsters for Universal throughout the 1940s and then a series of parts in increasingly cheaper films throughout the next two decades.
Man Made Monster is a modestly made B movie. Both Lionel Atwill and Lon Chaney, Jr. are on fine form. Atwill plays at his most demented, gleefully answering questions with an Of course, Im mad. There is a particularly good scene in the courtroom where Atwill gets Chaney to admit to killing Samuel S. Hinds while he sits back and a subtle band of light plays across his face, suggesting his calculating evil. I am of the opinion that the performance that Lon Chaney, Jr. gives in Man Made Monster is a better one than he did in The Wolf Man the role required here is that of a simple-minded lunk, a role that Chaney excelled in, whereas he didnt have the range required of a more complex part like that of Larry Talbot in The Wolf Man.
George Waggner puts the film together a whole lot better than most of the other B films of the era. There is a certain starkly effective photography. The main problem is that the structure of the story causes it to drag. There is a fine build-up as we get Atwills machinations, Chaney succumbing to the addiction to the voltage and the scene where he kills Samuel S. Hinds. Thereafter though the film gets drawn out into a courtroom drama whereas what we want it to do is get back to more scenes of the electrified Chaney. It eventually gives us that in the last fifteen minutes where Waggner delivers some worthwhile scenes of Chaney clomping across the (set-bound) countryside in fishermans waders, sparking with an electrical glow, zapping people and carrying Anne Nagel off in his arms, before an inevitably tragic end.
George Waggner is mostly known for directing various B-budget Westerns. His most famous film was the Chaney-starring The Wolf Man (1941). Within the genre, Waggner also made Mystery Plane (1939), Horror Island (1941) and The Climax (1944), as well as produced the Claude Rains version of Phantom of the Opera (1943). In the latter two decades of his career, Waggner abandoned film work and moved into television.