Lon Chaney, Jr., George Waggner & Hans Slater began 1941 starring, directing & scoring this medium-clever, low-budget fright flick. Universal must have liked the results, bringing them back together for THE WOLF MAN at year’s end. And while this simpler tale misses Joseph Valentine’s posh lensing & Curt Siodmak’s inventive legend engineering, it’s decent enough in its own right. It certainly gets off to a dandy start in a zippy model sequence that has a speeding bus losing control as a powerful electric storm rages, flipping over before careening into high-voltage power lines. The only survivor of the crash is Chaney, a sideshow electricity magician. Perhaps he’s built up some sort of natural electricity ‘immunity’ performing his act! From there, mad scientist Lionel Atwill takes over, zapping away at the poor man until he’s induced a sort of wattage addiction. When fully charged, Chaney’s a superman. If only he didn’t keep running down. Naturally, this being a Universal monster pic, Atwill goes too far with his experiment and loses control as a crazed & glowing Chaney murders another scientist. Quickly caught by the police, and just as quickly brought to trial, he’ll get the chair! But how to electrocute a guy who thrives on the juice? Hiding in this nutty fun is a stab at drug addiction allegory, but the censors probably missed it.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: At the murder trial, the defense fails with an insanity plea after testimony from a man listed in the end credits as ‘Alienist #2.’ An antiquated word for psychiatrist, the term will soon be better known since TRUE DETECTIVE’s Cary Fukunaga has wrested control of Caleb Carr’s long dormant bestseller, THE ALIENIST, from development hell & litigation for his next cable mini-series.