(This one’s from May 2007, on one of my favorite old Frankenstein movies that wasn’t produced by either Universal or Hammer, I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN —Michael Arruda)
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN (1957)
by Michael Arruda
“Answer me! You have a civil tongue in your head! I know— I sewed it in there!”
That’s Whit Bissell as Dr. Frankenstein talking to his monstrous creation (Gary Conway) in I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN (1957), the companion piece to I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957).
I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN isn’t quite as good as its WEREWOLF predecessor, mostly because it lacks the strong central performance of a lead teen, in WEREWOLF’S case it was a young dynamic Michael Landon, but also because in general, the teens seem to be missing in this one. Other than the monster- who just happens to be built from bodies of teenagers- there aren’t many of the misunderstood youth around.
No, the central character here is Dr. Frankenstein, played as a villain by Whit Bissell (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON , INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ). His characterization seems to have been heavily influenced by Peter Cushing’s portrayal of Victor Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) which came out the same year, but whereas Cushing could carry an entire movie on his shoulders, Bissell could not. That’s not for a lack of trying. Bissell is fun to watch, but his Dr. Frankenstein is all villain, and as a result one-dimensional. Cushing delved deeper than this, making his Baron Frankenstein much more complex, and thus much more intriguing and enjoyable.
I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN takes place in 1950s Los Angeles, where Whit Bissel’s Dr. Frankenstein, a descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein, is visiting from England. The good doctor decides he’s going to build—OK, three guesses – a) a house, b) a puzzle, or c) a— man. Hmmm.
Convenient for him, a horrendous car accident occurs outside his house, and suddenly he has tons of teenage bodies to work with.
The best part of the film is the make-up on the monster, by Philip Scheer. The face of the creature is among the most hideous of any Frankenstein monster ever. You gotta love it.
To screenwriter Kenneth Langtry’s credit, the monster does have dialogue, but Gary Conway plays him like a relaxed Tarzan on a California beach. (“You want to hurt me.” “You, Jane. Me, Monster. How’s the surf?”). Conway would later star in TV’s LAND OF THE GIANTS (remember that one?), a 1960s series by Irwin Allen in which Conway played the lead, a relaxed Tarzan on a California beach.
It’s really the biggest difference between this film and I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF. Michael Landon’s performance in WEREWOLF raises that movie to another level. How much better I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN would have been had the monster been the protagonist in the film and not the doctor. After all, the film is titled I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN.
Still, the monster does have a few good scenes, especially when he’s lurking about in the dark. Director Herbert L. Strock makes good use of the monster’s hideous face.
Phyllis Coates (Lois Lane from the George Reeves SUPERMAN TV show) is also in the cast, and she’s OK, although the most memorable thing she does is get fed to the alligator living underneath Frankenstein’s lab. Well, it is a horror movie, after all!
In black and white except for the final sequence which was shot in color, a gimmick used often in the 1950s, I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN is actually quite the morbid little movie. While it’s devoid of passion and characterization, it is rather fun in a grotesque sort of way. Just don’t expect anything deep- except that is, for the scars on the creature’s face.
© Copyright 2007 by Michael Arruda