Written by Henry Myers
Starring John Newland, Lon Chaney Jr., Mary Alice Moore
First Aired Jan. 18, 1952
RT 24 min.
Watch On YouTube
Warning: review contains plot spoilers; ending of episode revealed.
For a 30-minute live television show from 1952 that now resides in the public domain, the “Frankenstein” episode of Tales of Tomorrow is not bad at all. In fact, it’s downright thrilling to see Lon Chaney, Jr. interpret the monster in a very different way than he did in Ghost of Frankenstein a decade earlier. Gone is the heavy makeup of the Universal Monster in favor of a bald head and heavily scarred face that might just be more realistic for a man who was “created artificially.”
In his tiny laboratory within a 16th century castle in Switzerland, a sport coat-wearing Victor Frankenstein, with the simple flip of a switch and adjustment of a lever, brings the monster to life. It’s naturally agitated and confused at first, then seems to wear itself out, so Victor straps it to the table. Just as the maid, Elise (Peggy Allenby), expresses concern about what’s locked in the lab, the monster escapes and terrorizes her throughout the hallways.
The monster seems more desperate at this point, struggling to communicate. However, Elise’s shrill screams agitate him again, and I can’t say I blame the poor creature. The chairs on the set must have been expensive antiques because it picks them up and then sets them back down instead of crashing them to the floor. Soon thereafter, it encounters young William, who calls it “ugly.” Sure enough, it looks in the mirror and becomes angrier, picking up William, then setting him back down on the floor.
Victor immediately realizes he’s made a mistake. He asks the butler, Matthew (Farrell Pelly), “What did I do wrong? I should never have started this. And now I must get rid of it. He must be destroyed.” In what may have been a true jump scare in 1952, the monster bursts in the door and grabs Matthew from behind. Victor lights a piece of paper on fire and drives it toward the outer wall. After ripping the bars off the window, it topples out and falls to its presumed death in the icy water below.
But we all know it’s not dead. When Victor’s fiancé, Elizabeth (Mary Alice Moore) returns to the castle because she’s worried about him, the monster is heard creating a ruckus in the other room. Victor puts Elizabeth and William in danger by asking them to lure it into the laboratory where he sets his equipment as a trap to electrify it back to death. It sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Again, in 1952, I think it would have been. Now, it’s more primitive than thrilling, but is nevertheless entertaining.
I admire how the writer, Henry Myers, compacted such a complex story into such a short running time. Everything is brief and to the point; there’s no time for fluff. Therefore, Victor’s intentions are stated early and without mystery. At dinner with the entire cast, he says “I think medical science is ready to make a human being.” Later, he tells Elizabeth that it wasn’t idle talk. “I created a living, breathing creature. I was thinking only of the power of creation. I created a monster.”
It’s like the Frankenstein tale for those with Attention Deficit Disorder. However, from what I read about the intentions of the show, Tales of Tomorrow, it reaches every goal. The show was intended for adults and the producers wanted to blend mystery and science fiction with an emphasis on fast pacing and suspense. This “Frankenstein” was probably terrifying for children and it is everything else it strives to be. That’s pretty amazing, if you ask me.