Director: George Waggner
Writer: Joseph West
Cast: Lionel Atwill, Lon Chaney Jr., Anne Nagel, Frank Albertson, Samuel S. Hinds, William Davidson, Ben Taggart, Connie Bergen, Ivan Miller, Chester Gan, George Meader, Frank O’Connor, John Dilson, Byron Foulger, and Russell Hicks
Composer: H.J. Salter
Release Date: 3/28/1941
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
After surviving a terrible bus crash, Dan McCormick (Lon Chaney Jr.)—known for his sideshow act as Dynamo Dan—becomes acquainted with Dr. Paul Rigas (Lionel Atwill), whose theories on electricity result in a horrifying outcome. Notably, McCormick—once a kind and humble man—turns into a deadly, walking conduit of electricity following the experiments of Dr. Rigas.
Combining the main plot device of The Invisible Ray with elements of Frankenstein, this film is an underrated entry in the Universal Monster movie ensemble. Specifically, Man Made Monster benefits from solid performances, strong human conflict, and genre tropes that will appeal to fans of classic sci-fi/horror offerings.
In spite of its B-grade production values and dated special effects, Man Made Monster deserves praise for the acting of Lon Chaney Jr.—best remembered for his role of Larry Talbot in Universal Studios’ The Wolf Man. Similar to his performance as Lennie in Of Mice and Men, for example, Chaney portrays Dan McCormick with a combination of pathos, gentleness, and humility that compels the audience to sympathize with him in the final act—at which point McCormick transforms into a fiendish, lumbering creature not unlike the Frankenstein monster played by Boris Karloff.
Man Made Monster may evoke criticism for the scenery chewing of Lionel Atwill, whose character of Dr. Paul Rigas comes across as an absurd caricature of a mad scientist. Especially silly are the justifications provided by Rigas, who, in one astonishing display of egomania, compares himself to Archimedes, Galileo, Newton, Pasteur, Lister, and others who “dared to dream” by challenging the status quo. (In The Ghost of Frankenstein, in contrast, Atwill offers a subdued interpretation of Dr. Theodore Bohmer—an evil but sympathetic lab assistant who transplants Ygor’s brain into the Frankenstein monster.)
In the likeness of King Kong, the Frankenstein creature, the Gill Man, and many other monsters of classic horror fiction, Dan McCormick (also known as the Electric Man) turns into a violent, homicidal maniac only when provoked and perverted by the actions of a malicious human character—a statement on how true “monsters” rarely arise without external influence.
Man Made Monster should be commended for its science fiction themes and thought-provoking subtext. Certain viewers may, however, take issue with this film for its brief running time and abrupt finale.
Overall Quality: 7/10
If you enjoyed this post, please enter your email address in the subscription box to stay tuned for more updates.