Tuesday, October 15, 2013

#1,156. Man-Made Monster (1941)

Directed By: George Waggner

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

Tag line: "The most amazing monster the world has ever known "

Trivia: The film was shot in three weeks and was the cheapest film made by Universal in 1941

A little-known Universal horror film from 1941, Man-Made Monster features Lon Chaney Jr. months before he became a star with The Wolf Man, as well as a deliciously evil turn by Lionel Atwill, playing a mad scientist bent on controlling the world.

We open on a rainy night. A bus, racing down a wet stretch of road, is unable to navigate a tricky turn and skids into an electrical tower, resulting in a fiery crash. The only survivor of the accident is Dan McCormick (Chaney Jr.), aka “Dynamo Dan, the Electric Man”, who performs tricks at a local carnival by pretending to “absorb” electricity. To try and determine why he survived the accident, Dr. Lawrence (Samuel Hinds) invites Dan to his laboratory, where he conducts experiments to see if Dan is truly immune to electricity. Also interested in Dan is Dr. Lawrence’s somewhat disturbed partner, Dr. Rigas (Atwill), who believes he can harness the power of electricity to control a human being, in essence turning anyone he treats into a mindless servant. But when Dr. Rigas’ “treatments” lead to tragedy, it’s Dan who’s thrown into jail, accused of a murder he committed against his will.

Despite the fact he’s the “monster” of the title, we can’t help but feel sorry for Dan, who Chaney Jr. portrays as a likable guy caught up in something he doesn’t understand. Yet as good as Chaney is, Man-Made Monster belongs to Atwill, who relishes the role of the nearly-mad Dr. Rigas. During the course of his experiments, Rigas “feeds” Dan high doses of electricity, increasing his strength, but only temporarily (Dan’s power fades when the electrical current surging inside him has run its course). Hoping to make the effect more permanent, Rigas boosts the dosage, filling Dan “to capacity”, as he writes in his journal. This large amount of electricity is what turns Dan into a dangerous creature, making him incredibly strong while, at the same time, taking away his free will. Dan McCormick may, in fact, be a monster, but Atwill’s Dr. Rigas is clearly the film’s most monstrous character.

A strong combination of sci-fi and horror with some pretty cool special-effects [Dan “lights up” whenever he’s fed electricity], Man-Made Monster is one of Universal horror’s best-kept secrets.

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