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The Monster Maker (1944) Plex TV

Dir: Sam Newfield | Cast: J Carrol Naish, Ralph Morgan, Talia Birell, Wanda McKay | US Horror fantasy, 62′

1944 was the year in which a hitherto obscure glandular disorder called acromegaly hit the Hollywood mainstream. In the Sherlock Holmes adventure ‘The Pearl of Death’ a crowd player named Rondo Hatton (1894-1946) who suffered the affliction was promoted to featured billing as the backbreaking Hoxton Creeper and achieved transitory stardom as the only movie monster who didn’t require makeup. And it was also a central plot element in The Monster Maker; stored in a bottle in the drugs cabinet of a certain Dr.Markoff bearing a professionally printed label reading “Acromegaly A.5.B2”, as if he’d bought it at his local branch of Boots.

It was probably tasteless for a mere horror movie to use the authentic condition which in reality afflicted poor Hatton (a picture of whom will show you what a genuine sufferer actually looks like); but the film is nowhere near as sleazy as authorities like Leonard Maltin and the late Denis Gifford made it sound (and that it’s provenance as a production of ‘Z’ budget studio PRC might lead one to expect). J.Carroll Naish and Ralph Morgan are both urbanely professional as the oily Dr Markoff and the concert pianist whose daughter he covets. The acromegalic makeup by Maurice Seiderman (who worked on Citizen Kane) is actually not bad (although is wisely not lingered on for too long by director Sam Newfield); and is more convincing than that later worn by Leo G. Carroll when afflicted with the same condition in Tarantula. Oddly enough, cinematographer Robert Cline’s name isn’t in the credits (at least in the prints posted on YouTube), but he does a fluid and elegant job; as does editor Holbrook N. Todd.

Previous IMDb reviewers have pointed up similarities to The Raven (1935); and schlockmeister Herman Cohen in turn probably drew upon youthful memories of this when he produced the laugh-out-loud funny Konga (1961), with which it shares in common a very mad scientist (hilariously overacted in Konga by Michael Gough) with a fondness for injecting serums, a besotted female assistant frustrated by her boss’s infatuation with a younger, cuter and blonder girl on whom he forces his creepy attentions to a predictably unenthusiastic response, and a pet gorilla in a cage (who looks as if he’s even wearing the same gorilla suit) who he occasionally lets out at night to deal with people who are making a nuisance of themselves.

One of the most improbable elements in the film is also one of its strengths. As played by Tala Birell, Markoff’s assistant Maxine is a smart, handsome woman who knows her way around a laboratory. But, knowing what he did to the real Markoff and his wife, why is she so besotted with this jerk in the first place? Happily she avoids the fate suffered by lab assistants in most horror movies and survives until the end, seems to take Markoff’s death in her stride and hopefully went on to settle down with someone more worthy of her. @Richard Chatten

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