Movie: Man-Made Monster (1941)

Those who have seen enough of Universal’s horror and sci-fi b-movie fare will know roughly what to expect before watching 1941s Man-Made Monster.  What is interesting is how well the movie hits the expected beats, and then does a number of things which were unexpected.

Lon Chaney, Jr., stars as the sole survivor of a bus crash involving an electrical pylon.  We see that tragedy executed in miniature, which makes it one exceptionally cute lil’ mass execution. 

Chaney is not harmed in any way by the crash, and this is attributed to his work as a carnival sideshow performer, wherein he plays around with electricity.  We don’t see his show, but I’m imagining something akin to Coleen Gray’s carnival act in Nightmare Alley, though I hope Chaney wasn’t doing his show in the outfit she wore in hers.  Also, even if he wasn’t affected by the electricity, shouldn’t he be banged up a bit from just the crash?

Apparently not, as he is feisty enough to try to steal his pants back from the nurse so he can leave the hospital.  I’m pretty sure my brain will eventually form a fantasy around the idea of a nurse trying to keep my pants away from me.

Samuel S. Hinds plays a scientist who drops in on Chaney in the hospital and invites the man to visit him at his mansion / lab.  The business card Hinds gives him lists the address as only “The Moors”.  How I wish I could live somewhere that can be identified only by the words “The Moors”.

Chaney will also find at the mansion Anne Nagel, as the daughter of Hinds, and Frank Albertson, who is somehow always at the house, as if the newspaper he works for never needs him to be anywhere else. 

Alas, Lionel Atwill will also be at the mansion, as the scientist working with Hinds, though the two geniuses are at odds with each other for what each hopes to accomplish using electricity.  Hinds wants to use Chaney to develop an immunization to electricity.  Atwill wants to use electricity to create a monster that will fulfill his crazy whims.  Why on earth does Hinds continue working with this guy?

Side note: why do these mad scientists seem to always keep such extensive documentation?  And yet Atwill maintains, and in one convenient place, something which could later seal his fate in court.

Through the use of excessive voltage, Atwill turns Chaney into the monster he can command.  For whatever reason, Atwill has only one use for him in this film, and that is to kill Hinds.  He even has such power over Chaney that he forces the poor shlub to confess to the killing.

Chaney is convicting of the killing, and here is where the film takes an awesome twist I feel stupid for not foreseeing: the man is sentenced to die in the electric chair.  Guess how well that turns out?

I love the effect when Chaney is surging with power.  Most of his body is covered by a suit of thick rubber but what is exposed has a throbbing glow around it.  I’m not completely certain how this effect was achieved but, noticing an unsteady line around the affected areas, I suspect those elements were hand-cut out of each frame and then backlit.  The only reason I can even guess that is because a similar, and similarly time-consuming, process was used for Tron.

But what really sells Man-Made Monster even more than the effects is Chaney’s performance.  I have seen him play many villains, as well as same poor oafs, but this may be the first time I have seen him in such a thoroughly likable role.  Whether he is just chewing the fat with people who are amazed by his survival, or playing with what may the cutest dog I have seen in all of film, this is a character I would like to just hang out with for a bit.

Dir: George Waggner

Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Lionel Atwill, Anne Nagel

Watched as part of Shout Factory’s blu-ray box set Universal Horror Volume 3