Cast & Crew
Lon Chaney Jr.
Samuel S. Hinds
Carnival performer Dan McCormick is the sole survivor of a traffic accident that ends when the bus he is riding on crashes into an electricity tower. The doctors are amazed at Dan's condition, as he seems unaffected by the electricity that killed his fellow passengers. Dr. John Lawrence, an electro-biologist, asks Dan to visit him upon his release from the hospital. Back at his home, Lawrence argues with his assistant, Dr. Paul Rigas, about Rigas' obsession with developing a superior race of men who are fed and controlled by electricity. When reporter Mark Adams visits the Lawrence home, he is chastised by June, Lawrence's niece, for his flippant attitude toward Dan's accident. Lawrence tells Dan that he may have survived the accident because of his built-up immunity to electricity, which he probably developed performing electrical magic tricks as part of his carnival act. Lawrence then asks the out-of-work Dan to stay with him, so that he and Rigas can study him further. While Lawrence is away at a scientific convention, Rigas begins his mad experiments on the hapless Dan. Dan soon becomes completely dependent upon Rigas' gigantic doses of electricity. When Lawrence returns home and questions Rigas about his treatments, the insane assistant drugs him. That night, Rigas gives Dan a massive treatment of electricity, which turns him into a superhuman, radiating with electricity and completely under the mad doctor's control. To conserve Dan's energy, Rigas dresses him in a rubber suit that insulates his power. When Lawrence discovers what has happened and threatens to call the police, Rigas orders his monster to kill the good doctor. Rigas then de-electrifies Dan and tells him that he alone killed Lawrence. When June and Mark return from a date and discover Lawrence's body, the carnival performer confesses to the crime. After Dan's arrest, June tries to defend him to District Attorney Ralph D. Stanley, but is accused of being romantically attached to the confessed killer. June then announces her engagement to Mark, so Stanley agrees to examine Rigas' records. Back at the Lawrence lab, Rigas gives the district attorney a false impression of Dan's case, much to June and Mark's chagrin. At Dan's sanity hearing, Dan, who has aged drastically, is examined by a group of psychiatrists. Rigas is allowed to sit in on the examination, and his control over Dan keeps the carnival performer from telling the truth. Dan is declared sane by the doctors, and is convicted of murder and sentenced to the electric chair. Instead of killing him, however, the electrical jolts revive the weakened Dan, who then escapes the prison. After stealing a fisherman's rubber boots to conserve his energy, Dan heads back to the Lawrence laboratory. Meanwhile, Rigas finds June searching through his papers and proudly confesses all. Rigas then prepares June to be his second human experiment, only to be stopped at the last minute by Dan. Dan kills Rigas, puts on the rubber suit and carries June off just as the police arrive. Dan then becomes entangled in a barbed wire fence, and despite Mark's warnings, pushes through it, cutting his rubber suit and allowing all his electrical energy to dissipate through the fence. After Dan's death, Mark makes plans to write about Rigas' mad experiments, but June convinces him to throw the doctor's notebook away, so that no one else will be victimized like Dan.
Lon Chaney Jr.
Samuel S. Hinds
Charles S. Belden
Bernard B. Brown
H. J. Essex
R. A. Gausman
Harold H. Macarthur
H. J. Salter
Man Made Monster
Silent film star Lon Chaney had earned his infamous nickname not strictly from starring in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) at Universal but from bringing his estimable acting abilities and acuity with prosthetic make-up to bear in all manner of films, from military dramas and literary adaptations to jungle melodramas to crime films (as well as quite a few features that could only be classified as "other"). Chaney had been shortlisted to star in Dracula but his death from throat cancer in 1930 turned production in another direction, making a star of Hungarian expatriate Lugosi. With Karloff and Lugosi both getting on in years by 1940, Universal looked to another source for fresh blood. Creighton Chaney had been an actor in his own right since 1931, albeit mostly in westerns and various serials, his burly 6'3" frame stereotyping him in henchman roles. All that changed when he was cast as the Herculean halfwit Lennie in Lewis Milestone's adaptation of Of Mice and Men (1939). Universal saw potential in the hulking Chaney and ported him over to star in its first original horror thriller in half a decade.
The new project began shooting on December 9, 1940 as The Mysterious Dr. R.. Its origins lay in a story by New York Daily Mirror reporters Harry J. Essex, Sid Schwartz, and Len Golos. "The Electric Man" was a spin on the Nazi search for the Übermensch, a superior man able to live longer, fight harder, and propagate a new race. Essex, Schwartz, and Golos sold their story to a literary agency, who in turn passed it off to Universal in 1935, ostensibly as a vehicle for Karloff and Lugosi. Bela and Boris wound up in the somewhat similar The Invisible Ray (1936) - in which Karloff's character attains greatness via rays from a landed meteor - and the Essex-Schwartz-Golos property was shelved for the duration of the horror drought. With Chaney onboard (the actor had long since been persuaded to make his professional name Lon Chaney, Jr.), the property was recrafted by director George Waggner (employing the alias Joseph West), who switched the focus of the film from mad scientist (Lionel Atwill) to tragic protagonist and changed the title to The Human Robot.
Despite putting its weight behind Lon Chaney, Jr. as a potential successor to his father, Universal invested little capital in what came to be called Man Made Monster. The $86,000 production cut costs wherever possible, from larding its cast with affordable contract players to recycling Hans J. Salter's opening title from The Invisible Man Returns and minimizing a third act prison break (as Chaney's electrified fairground geek "Dynamo Dan" bursts out of the electric chair to make a beeline for the man who made him a monster) with cost-effective ellipses. The film was a success upon release in the spring of 1941 and Universal rewarded Chaney and Waggner with long-term contracts, while pointing them to their next collaboration: The Wolf Man (1941). Chaney would eventually groan under the weight of the aggregate horrors to which he was pressed - The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Son of Dracula (1943), Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and star turns in Universal's post-1941 "Mummy" sequels and its "Inner Sanctum" franchise - and capped his career thirty years later (minus a cancerous larynx) as one of the stars of Al Adamson's patchwork cheapie Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971).
Though the franchise-minded Universal limited Man Made Monster to a one-off, the film endured with horror fans. Barbra Streisand name-checked both Chaney and the film in Herb Ross' The Owl and the Pussycat (1970) and in 1974 cinema scholar William K. Everson devoted a chapter of Classics of the Horror Film to what he considered "an expert little made-to-measure horror vehicle." Man Made Monster (retitled Atomic Monster for its 1953 rerelease) bears another intriguing footnote, having been the film costar Lionel Atwill was working on at the time of his infamous 1940 Christmas party. When it was alleged that Atwill had projected stag films as part of the holiday revels, the actor was hauled into court for a highly-publicized trial that left him (a not guilty verdict notwithstanding) blacklisted in Hollywood. Though he had plunged into the Universal horrors in order to finance a personal film project (to be directed by James Whale), Atwill found himself remaindered to Poverty Row programmers and bits in Universal's monster rallies. The stress, intensified by the combat-related death in April 1941 of his son John, a Royal Air Force pilot, hastened the actor's demise from heart attack in April 1946.
Associate Producer: Jack Bernhard
Director: George Waggner
Writer: George Waggner (as Joseph West), from a story by Harry Essex, Sid Schwartz, and Len Golos
Cinematographer: Elwood Bredell
Editor: Arthur Hilton
Music: Hans J. Salter
Make-up: Jack P. Pierce
Special Effects: John P. Fulton
Cast: Lon Chaney, Jr. (Dynamo Dan McCormick), Lionel Atwill (Dr. Paul Rigas), Anne Nagel (June Lawrence), Samuel S. Hinds (Dr. John Lawrence), Frank Albertson (Mark Adams), William B. Davidson (D.A. Stanley), Chester Gan (Wong), Constance Bergen (Nurse), Byron Foulger (Alienist). BW-61m.
by Richard Harland Smith
Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946 by Michael Brunas, John Brunas, and Tom Weaver (McFarland and Company, Inc., 1990)
Heroes of the Horrors by Calvin Thomas Beck (MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1975)
Classics of the Horror Film by William K. Everson (The Citadel Press, 1974) Lionel Atwill obituary, Reading Eagle, April 23, 1946
Man Made Monster
The working titles of the film were The Mysterious Dr. R and The Mysterious Dr. X. Modern sources also list The Electric Man and The Human Robot as working titles. The film was based on the unpublished short story "The Electric Man" by H. J. Essex, Sid Schwartz and Len Golos. According to modern sources, the story was purchased by Universal for $3,300 in August 1935 and was to be the basis for a Universal project called The Man in the Cab, which was to have starred Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. That film was never made, however. This was the first Universal horror film to star Lon Chaney, Jr., the son of the famous silent film star, who was to become a popular fixture of Universal horror films of the 1940s.
According to Hollywood Reporter, Joseph West was a writing pseudonym for director George Waggner. Hollywood Reporter reported in March 1941 that Waggner was awarded a seven-year contract with Universal, based on his work on this film and Horror Island (see entry above). It was upon the conclusion of this production that actor Lionel Atwill had his supposed Christmas "wild party," which led to his conviction in 1942 for lying under oath to a Los Angeles grand jury concerning his actions of that night. According to Los Angeles Times, this conviction was later overturned, but Atwill's acting career never recovered from the scandal. Modern sources state that the film was budgeted at $86,000, and credit John P. Fulton with special photographic effects, Jack P. Pierce with makeup and David Sharpe with stunts. In addition, modern sources list Gary Breckner (Radio announcer) and Bob Reeves (Guard) in the cast. The film was reissued by Realart in 1951 under the title The Atomic Monster.