MAN-MADE MONSTER (1941)
aka THE ATOMIC MONSTER, THE ELECTRIC MAN, THE MYSTERIOUS DR. R
Directed by George Waggner
Written by George Waggner (screenplay), Sid Schwartz, Len Golos, & Harry Essex (story “The Electric Man”)
Starring Lionel Atwill, Lon Chaney Jr., Anne Nagel, Frank Albertson, Samuel S. Hinds, William B. Davidson, Ben Taggart, Constance Bergen, Ivan Miller, Chester Gan, George Meader, Frank O’Connor, John Dilson, Byron Foulger, Jessie Arnold, James Blaine, William Hall, Russell Hicks, Francis Sayles, Wright Kramer, and Corky as Corky the Dog!
Lon Chaney Jr. plays a lesser known monster, the Electric Man, in MAN-MADE MONSTER, a tale of tragedy, tears, and tons of jigawatts!
After a bus collides with a power plant, 5 people are dead with only one survivor, Dan McCormick (Chaney). McCormick is put under the care of one Dr. John Lawrence (Samuel S. Hinds) who wishes to examine how and why he survived the crash. Turns out “Dynamo” Dan has been immune to electroshock since he was a wee kid and works at the local circus performing acts of daring do. While in Lawrence’s care, McCormick meets and falls for Lawrence’s daughter June (Anne Nagel). Dr. Lawrence’s assistant Dr. Paul Rigas (Lionel Atwill) murders Lawrence and frames McCormick for the murder after performing numerous electro-experiments on him. When McCormick is arrested, he is over-charged with electricity and goes on a shocking, revenge-fueled rampage!
I must admit. Out of all of the Universal Monsters stars, Lon Chaney Jr. was always my lease favorite. There is something about him that makes him feel more like a pathetic schlub than any monstrous menace. While there is always an air of spookiness to any performance by Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and even Basil Rathbone, Chaney’s puffy and pouting mug simply made me either feel sorry for him or just forget him all together. In MAN-MADE MONSTER, that schlubby-ness is front and center. Chaney plays a tragic character, even when in a rather happy demeanor, who is taken advantage of by smarter and more powerful people. He does a decent job, but while his plight is rather unique, he comes off as a Frankenstein knock-off.
The look of the Electric Man is kind of cool though. A glow is animated over Chaney as he lumbers around the screen and eventually he dons a large rubber suit so as not to shock his live June. This feels more like a tragic comic book character origin story where you only see the hero/villain in his coolest form in the last few minutes. The film unfortunately feels like it was all setup for Chaney to become the monster, with very little time for an actual rampage. That’s too bad, because had they picked up the pace and had McCormick transform earlier, this might have felt a bit more substantial.
With an iconic look and comic booky premise, it’s a shame this one never caught on. McCormick even has a noble sidekick dog named Corky who steals the show every time he’s on camera. Not the best, but certainly one of the more tragic of films I’ve seen in this collection, MAN-MADE MONSTER will amuse horror and comic book fans alike.