The Monster Maker (1944)
Utilizing multiple plot devices from the Universal Monsters division or any number of Monogram/Lugosi quickies, this PRC release even takes the time to reference the Frankenstein Monster in the telling of it’s story. One that sees fringe boogeyman, J. Carrol Naish, enlisted to take on the role of a demented scientist we might normally see reserved for Bela, Boris or even Mr. Zucco.
Clocking in at a smooth 62 minutes, this Sam Newfield directed effort kicks off with a piano concerto courtesy of pianist Ralph Morgan. Sitting in a box seat is Naish and his lab assistant/would be lover, Tala Birell. Naish donning a goatee as Dr. Igor Markoff cannot take his eyes off the lovely blonde in the adjoining box played by Wanda McKay. So much so that she doesn’t return to her seat following the intermission.
Turns out that she’s the daughter of Morgan and when Naish approaches her in Morgan’s dressing room to apologize for his rudeness we get those hypnotic eyes of Lugosi … excuse me, we get those hypnotic eyes of Naish in close-up. And so his evil designs begin.
Naish is genuine when he tells McKay she is the image of his late wife. The boxes of flowers and poetry he sends her isn’t helping his case any towards a romance or changing her opinion of him. He’s far too old and dare I say creepy for the young beauty who is more likely to marry Morgan’s young agent, Terry Frost.
Now as far as Naish the scientist goes, his field of research is in glands and to be more specific, the affliction known as Acromegaly. That choice of research in a 1940’s horror film should give pause to any horror buff of this period in particular. Sure seems like a Rondo Hatton inspired idea.
Not familiar with Rondo Hatton? Very quickly, Hatton, was an actor cast in a number of 1940’s horror movies and even a Sherlock Holmes mystery as a “monster” of sorts based on the fact that he was in real life suffering the ravages of Acromegaly. Among his films are House of Horrors, The Pearl of Death and The Brute Man.
Now back to the lab with J. Carrol, the jealous Miss Birell and the customary “man in a gorilla suit” caged in the corner. I’ve no idea why we have the Gorilla suit turn up but for a minute or two I thought maybe we’d see Curly, Larry and Moe make an entrance. If not the Stooges than maybe the Bowery Boys?
The plot moves into overdrive when Morgan confronts Naish about his intentions towards his daughter. Naish intends to marry her which doesn’t sit well with Frank’s brother Ralph. (there’s no mistaking Ralph is the brother of The Wizard of Oz) A fight breaks out with Naish the winner and it’s at this point we’ll see just how far he’s willing to go. Not only is he working on a cure for Acromegaly but he has a serum that when injected into the bloodstream fast tracks the disease in it’s host.
Before we know it, Morgan, is looking like John Merrick, The Elephant Man. The cost for the cure? “Give me the hand of your daughter in marriage.”
I must add that the make-up job on Morgan via make-up artist, Maurice Seiderman, is quite effective. We all know that Bela …. excuse me …. we all know that Naish’s devious plans will unravel and as he doesn’t have a Tor Johnson figure who wants to protect the fair maiden from his evil master, Naish, better keep his eye on the woman scorned, Miss Mirell.
Also appearing with Naish is another name that classic horror buffs are well aware of, Glenn Strange. Glenn who would famously play the Frankenstein Monster in the final three films of the Universal Monster series is here cast as Naish’s butler who bullies and beats anyone who get’s in the good doctor’s way. Both Naish and Strange would appear in the big monster rally, House of Frankenstein, also released in 1944. Glenn as The Monster while Naish arguably steals the picture from Boris and Lon playing the lovelorn hunchback, Good Friend Daniel. It’s a film I never ever tire of.
Naish is an actor of note. A fine character player twice nominated for a supporting Oscar. He easily moved from A budget pictures like Sahara alongside Bogart to the poverty row studios in films like Monster Maker or playing the chief villain Dr. Daka in 1943’s Batman serial. Horror films, westerns, adventures, drama or historical, Naish, was a credit to most any film he appeared in. As for his final film, 1971’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein? It’s an acquired taste for those of us who love campy drive-in classics and the inept work of director Al Adamson who always gave Ed Wood a run for his title as the worst director of all time.
Our man in the gorilla suit was Ray Corrigan. A one time member of the western trio, The Three Mesquiteers, with John Wayne and Max Terhune, Corrigan surely owned the gorilla suit seen here. He seemed to have cornered the market of gorillas on camera. According to the IMDB he not only put the suit on here for Monster Maker but also in The Ape with Boris Karloff, The Strange Case of Dr. Rx, the superior of it’s type, Dr. Renault’s Secret once again with Naish, Dizzy Detectives with the Stooges, Captive Wild Woman, She’s For Me, The Phantom, Nabonga, The Hairy Ape, The Monster and the Ape, The White Gorilla, White Pongo, Tall Dark and Gruesome, Miraculous Journey, Congo Bill, Crime On Their Hands – again with the Stooges, The Lost Tribe with Johnny Weissmuller, Microspook, Zamba, Forbidden Jungle and the must see Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. He even played the monster from outer space in the highly influential, It! The Terror From Beyond Space.
With all that experience playing a gorilla on screen, why the hell wasn’t Corrigan pulled out of retirement to take on a featured role in The Planet of the Apes series?
Monster Maker is out there in the public domain and easy to access if you’re looking to turn the clock back to simpler scares from yesteryear that in the end are sometimes far more enjoyable than the scares we’re being force fed nowadays.