Did you somehow miss this amazing sequel to Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man? Who could ever forget The Wolf Man vs. Dracula, the Technicolor square-off between Bela Lugosi’s villainous vampire and Lon Chaney, Jr.’s, hirsute antihero? You don’t remember it? Of course not, because it never existed. But, it almost did!
Welcome to “An Alternate History for Classic Film Monsters,” a wonderful series of previously unpublished screenplays from the Universal Monsters era. Curated by Philip J. Riley (Count Dracula Society award winner and inductee into the Universal Horror Hall of Fame), this collection of newly dug up scripts offers any devoted monster fan who’s “seen ‘em all” a special opportunity indeed of seeing some classic chiller movies that might have been.
Published in the same style as Riley’s earlier screenplays of the ‘30s thriller greats put out by MagicImage, these BearManor Media volumes include a James Whale-R.C. Sherriff script for Dracula’s Daughter; the famously unfilmed project Cagliostro, the Karloff-starrer that eventually morphed into The Mummy; and a pre-Lugosi draft for Dracula, when Lon Chaney Sr. was slated to fill the Count’s cloak. Once I discovered these fabulous works of horror movie history were available, I did what any responsible chiller movie collector would do…I got ‘em all!
In time, I’ll enjoy sharing my thoughts about each script, but let’s start with the project that never saw the light of day (or that of the full moon) in any manner:
The Wolf Man vs. Dracula was crafted first as a vehicle that would see Chaney, Jr., playing the (Dual? Triple?) roles of Lawrence Talbot/The Wolf Man and Count Dracula. As Talbot’s face would too much resemble the vampire’s (despite the stylish mustache he donned to play the Son of Dracula), studio suits changed course and pursued the return of Lugosi to his most iconic role. The first draft screenplay assignment was given to Bernard Schubert, who had already penned (with Guy Endore) the London After Midnight remake Mark of the Vampire.
Color makeup tests were reportedly completed for both Chaney and the sixtysomething Lugosi, apparently with only still photographs of Chaney in full wolf gear remaining in existence. Confidence in the project quickly dimmed, however, and the entire film was shelved, with Schubert moving on to write The Mummy’s Ghost.
The curious fan may now be wondering: Does the script for The Wolf Man vs. Dracula contain the material that would have given rise to a classic?
The action of the story begins in Transylvania (which would be constituted, as reported by Schubert, by the Vasaria sets from the film’s intended prequel) as Dr. Ziska (a small role that seems tailor-made for a Karloff cameo) and a collection of reporters and cameramen converge on the spot where lies the corpse of Talbot…miraculously preserved after apparently being dead for years. The body in Talbot’s embrace is written as “the skeleton of a woman, to judge from the few remaining tatters of clothing left on the bones.” A puzzling element, to be sure—since The Wolf Man “died” in FMTWM “embracing” the Lugosi monster. (Gee, what was Bela wearing under the black suit and elevator boots?) But, since the Uni monster movies never fussed that much about continuity, neither should we!
The answers as to how and why Talbot’s body avoided the usual stages of decomposition come in one of those moments that’ll bring a smile to any fan’s face, in a monologue delivered by a nameless official. The passage glows with the sort of scientific balderdash only possible inside the cosmos of the early Universal Horror classics. Emphasis mine:
The photo reveals a very unusual condition. The bullet from the pistol followed this course. In plain unscientific language, the resistance of the tissues through which it passed regarded its action bringing it to a complete stop at the pericardium or membranous sac in which the heart is suspended. It penetrated neither the membrane nor the heart itself, but lodged against it – as you see. It is Doctor Ziska’s theory—mind you, I said theory—that possibly the pressure of the bullet against the heart could have caused it to cease beating—and might thus have induced a condition of suspended animation.
If you’re not grinning a mile wide right now, much of the charm of this era has sadly escaped your notice, and I recommend an immediate marathon viewing of the Karloff-Lugosi-Chaney monster classics and their many sequels, which demanded this kind of laugh-out-loud lunacy to keep the creatures coming back into action time and time again.
Talbot is, of course, revived by Dr. Ziska, only to launch into one of his patented rages of ingratitude, warning all they should have left him good and dead, and how sorry they’ll all be when the next full moon rolls around. Which just happens to be…that night!
Post-rampage, Talbot asks the help of Anatole, a hangman, to put him to death once and for all. By horrific coincidence, Anatole’s daughter Yvonne is being courted by none other than Count Dracula. The reasoning behind Dracula’s return to un-death is never explained here, but clearly he’s decided a more mannerly approach to be in order when it comes to seeking a new vampire bride.
When Talbot and Dracula meet, they’re fast enemies, with Talbot falling just as quickly in love with Yvonne. While Talbot is unable to convince Anatole that his curse is a legitimate affliction, the beautiful young woman takes pity on her handsome new friend, and an inspired scheme is hatched between them to keep Yvonne out of Dracula’s arms.
The rest? Oh no, no spoilers here. You’ll have to read it to find out. I will say that, unfortunately, the film’s climax doesn’t quite deliver on its title—it’d be more accurate (if far less marketable) to call it Lawrence Talbot vs. The Giant Dracula Bat—but the script’s closing line brilliantly brings the Wolf Man saga to another very tentative close.
My own feelings about the script—which is, after all, simply a first draft—are that any film ultimately shot from this story would have safely fallen into that satisfying if less-than-stellar realm of the many sequels to the original Uni greats. With polish and tweaks here and there, I can picture The Wolf Man vs. Dracula fitting very snugly into the cycle of films that included such mid-range eerie entertainments like Ghost of Frankenstein, Son of Dracula, and most closely, the film it was originally designed to follow, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. The script contains enough fresh elements to set it apart, while it also shoehorns in enough of the boilerplate scenes fans expect in their classic monster mash-ups. As you read Schubert’s material, you can sense the structure of these stories leaning closer and closer to the crazy-funhouse (if completely unscary) entries like House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, without quite “getting there.” The script is a terrific missing link of sorts, with much to recommend it and much to take pleasure in interpreting and second-guessing–if you enjoy putting yourself in the mind of a producer.
You can definitely hear Chaney, Jr., in the Talbot role as written—it’s got all of the classic “I just want to die!” lines that both endeared him to viewers only to eventually transform him into perhaps the most charmingly whiny of all the great movie monsters.
The Dracula role, however, presents itself as somewhat more problematic. While the screenplay was written anticipating first Chaney, Jr., playing both parts, and subsequently Bela Lugosi’s return to the role of the Count, the part actually read to me as more suited to the regal and somewhat more cold-blooded John Carradine interpretation. Fun, too, are the effects-shot descriptions that prefigure the animated man-to-bat transformations that enlivened Carradine’s future appearances in the series.
Schubert’s script is mostly workmanlike in describing the onscreen action. While it may lack the poetry of, say, The Bride of Frankenstein script credited to William Hurlbut and John L. Balderston (but also involving the talents of many other uncredited writers such as R.C. Sherriff, Robert Florey, Philip MacDonald, and others), the text is visually descriptive enough that the reader can easily play out the scenes in his or her mind. Because the script was written in an era before the penning of camera instructions became a no-no for screenwriters (eventually seen rightly as more within the domain of the director to decide), the reader will benefit from the wealth of camera moves provided to help guide the mind’s eye.
What makes the script interesting (and unusual for the time) is just how lively the camera is meant to be. I would imagine that in future drafts, and certainly by the time the film reached production, the “shooting through” of the camera all over the place in the vein of a Scorsese picture would likely have been severely tamped down.
Devotees of the Universal Horror classics should run, not walk, to pick up these literary treasures. At the moment, I can’t decide whether to next pick up the script for Cagliostro or the Whale stab at Dracula’s Daughter. Until somebody, somewhere, somehow discovers an intact print of London After Midnight, fans can’t ask for much better than to possess these unproduced scripts that plant fresh images of your favorite scare stars into your imagination.