blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958, Richard E. Cunha)

Frankenstein’s Daughter ought to be good camp. If the rest of the movie could keep up with Donald Murphy (as Doctor “Frank”), it’d be something to behold. Because Murphy gives it his all opening to close, seemingly more aware of the picture than the picture’s aware of itself. Though he’s never quite good—he’s better than anyone else, except maybe Wolfe Barzell as his assistant—but he’s captivating.

Unfortunately, he’s captivating in the wrong movie.

Because while this movie does a pretty good riff on modernizing old Frankenstein movies—modernizing to the late fifties—it’s also a late fifties teen movie, so literal rapist Murphy comes off less creepy than regular gaslighting fifties boyfriend John Ashley. Ashley gives the film’s worst performance, which is saying something because there are lots of terrible performances. Even the better performances have some terrible stretches, like damsel-in-distress Sandra Knight and slutty-girl-who-deserves-it-for-dressing-that-way Sally Todd. If H.E. Barrie’s script were better, it’d all be about Ashley having forced Todd while they were dating, then dumped her for good girl Knight, because even though that story’s not in the script… it’s unintentionally in the performances when you try to imagine the character relationships.

Sadly Ashley figures into the third act a bunch and drags it down a bit. The movie misses the one way it could do the right thing as far as comeuppance, and it completely fails.

Though it’s hard to imagine director Cunha ever having a good idea. He’s never got any ideas. The camera stays in medium long shot outside a couple reveal close-ups. Cunha can’t even direct over-the-shoulder shots. Then again, editor Everett Dodd wouldn’t be able to cut them, but still. Oddly, Meredith M. Nicholson’s photography is fine. Frankenstein’s Daughter looks like a movie shot in and around someone’s suburban Los Angeles house and whatever sets were still up at the rental studio, but the lighting’s always solid.

The story has Murphy posing as a lab assistant to lovable old scientist Felix Locher (who’s not unlikeable but gives a lousy performance). Locher has a fetching young niece, Knight, and a lab in his house. Apparently, Murphy gets him to hire Barzell to be the live-in gardener but really to help Murphy with his monster-making. Murphy keeps trying to force himself on Knight, which is expected in the fifties, so she never really complains—besides, he’s a bookworm and not a my-daddy’s-a-lawyer regular guy like Ashley. Daughter unintentionally says a whole lot about its cultural norms.

The movie kicks off after Murphy starts knocking Knight out when Locher goes out. Not for anything rapey, but rather to inject her with experimental serum to turn her into a monster. Albeit a bulletproof one. Knight’s ostensible friend Todd sees her and tries to tell people, but she’s one of those girls who’ll say anything for attention, so why listen to her says ex-boyfriend Ashley and his bro, her current beau, Harold Lloyd Jr. Junior’s terrible but much better than Ashley.

Though Ashley at least wants Knight to wed and obey him, it turns out Lloyd Jr. could give a shit about Todd.

Todd starts flirting with Murphy to get back at Knight for stealing Ashley away. Things go atrociously for all involved. John Zaremba and Robert Dix are the credulous but still unhelpful cops. Who shoot first and ask questions later, even with white kids, so… they could be worse? Dix seems like he’d be better with direction, something Cunha doesn’t provide.

Competent music from Nicholas Carras. Indescribable shoehorned music numbers from The Page Cavanaugh Trio—if you’ve only ever heard good white kid music from the fifties, they’re an experience.

Frankenstein’s Daughter probably plays better with people talking over it, so you can’t be so horrified at its actual content. It seems like it was made with the express purpose of being mocked on “Mystery Science Theatre.” Concerningly, of course, it was not.

so you can’t be so horrified at its actual content. It seems like it was made with the express purpose of being mocked on “Mystery Science Theatre.” Concerningly, of course, it was not.

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