Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter [DVD]
Director : William Beaudine
Screenplay : Carl Hittleman
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1966
Stars : John Lupton (Jesse James), Narda Onyx (Dr. Maria Frankenstein), Estelita Rodriguez (Juanita Lopez), Cal Bolder (Hank Tracy), Jim Davis (Marshal MacPhee), Steven Geray (Dr. Rudolph Frankenstein), Rayford Barnes (Lonny Curry), William Fawcett (Jensen), Nestor Paiva (Saloon Owner), Roger Creed (Butch Curry), Rosa Turich (Nina Lopez), Felipe Turich (Manuel Lopez)
Director William Beaudine had the nickname “One Shot” because he rarely if ever shot more than one take, even if the first one was bad. Having started as a prop boy for D.W. Griffith in 1909, his career was long and storied, encompassing everything from mainstream Hollywood fare (1926’s Sparrows, starring Mary Pickford, and 1934’s The Old Fashioned Way, starring W.C. Fields), to one of the most well-known and successful exploitation films of all time (1947’s Mom and Dad, which was peddled by legendary roadshowman Kroger Babb), to TV work that included dozens of episodes of Lassie and The Green Hornet. Over his career, he directed more than 250 movies in virtually every genre, which at the very least makes him an extremely prolific filmmaker, if never a very good one.
Directors like William Beaudine rarely end on a good note—their careers tend to get worse and worse as the years go on. As testament to this, Beaudine’s last film, directed when he was 73 years old, is the sublimely silly Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, a ludicrous horror-western hybrid featuring awful acting, silly dialogue, cheap stock footage, and wooden direction—basically, all the hallmarks of a cheapie, grade-Z guilty pleasure.
Combining Jesse James and the Frankenstein myth is an oddball concoction, most likely dreamed up out of desperation for something that would generate a good, attention- grabbing title. The screenwriter, Carl Hittleman, had produced two other films about the notorious outlaw (1949’s I Shot Jesse James and 1950’s The Return of Jesse James), although he takes plenty of liberties with the historical facts, particularly the way in which he reimagines James as some kind of Robin Hood figure.
But, let’s face it: Historical veracity is not of much importance to a movie like Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. It’s so shoddy, in fact, that it doesn’t even get its own facts right: Maria Frankenstein (Narda Onyx), the movie’s resident mad scientist, isn’t even the notorious Dr. Frankenstein’s daughter, but rather his granddaughter. Maria and her browbeaten brother, Rudolph (Steven Geray), have escaped from Vienna to a deserted mission on a cliff in Arizona (rendered in a flat matte painting), ostensibly because the desert southwest offers lots of electrical storms. Maria is trying to create a zombie servant by replacing a man’s brain with an artificial one, but for various reasons her experiments have failed and there are no more men left in the small village below her mission (she’s either killed them or they’ve run off).
Enter Jesse James. He and his partner, a big, amiable lug named Hank Tracy (played by bodybuilder Cal Bolder), take part in a stagecoach robbery that is undermined by another outlaw, Lonny (Rayford Barnes), who wants to turn James in for $10,000 in reward money. Hank is shot in the process, and with the help of a pretty villager named Juanita (Estelita Rodriguez), James finds himself in Dr. Frankenstein’s castle and she finds the perfect body in Hank.
That bare outline of the plot doesn’t begin to get at just how aimless and silly the movie really is. There are moments of utter nonsense, yet too much of the movie involves long, seemingly endless sequences of characters talking and talking and talking, as if plot points are really crucial. The mixing of genres is uneasy at best, with the movie switching back and forth between western clichés and horror clichés without ever finding a way to integrate them. The western elements are never very exciting, and the horror elements are certainly never scary, although they do have a genuinely enjoyable kitsch value, particularly when Maria Frankenstein starts espousing her fervent dreams and desires of creation. Narda Onyx turns Maria into a memorably campy screen villainess, one that deserves a much better movie than this one.
|Joe Bob Briggs Presents: Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter DVD|
|Release Date||July 29, 2003|
| 1.85:1 (Anamorphic)|
Although presented in a new anamorphic widescreen transfer, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter still looks pretty shoddy, although I doubt that all the restoration in the world could make it look very good. The print used for the transfer was in moderately good shape, with some noticeable damage, but none that is terribly distracting (mostly just dirt, a few scratches here and there). The colors are flat and fairly lifeless, with flesh tones looking somewhat grayish, and the image is generally soft and grainy (especially when stock footage is used). The dark scene are impenetrably murky, but that is probably how they have always looked.
| English Dolby 1.0 Monaural |
The original monaural soundtrack is decent—tinny, but serviceable. The ambient hiss is fairly minimal, although there are a few moments in the movie in which the sound drops out entirely for a second or two.
| Audio commentary by Joe Bob Briggs|
If you’re buying this disc, this is the reason. The audio commentary by the self-proclaimed “world’s foremost living drive-in critic” Joe Bob Briggs is a gem and significantly more entertaining than the movie itself. Briggs recognizes this, as he spends much of the commentary gamely making fun of the movie, but in a way that conveys his deep-felt love of grade-Z atrocities. At the same time, though, he has quite a bit of information at his fingertips about the making of the movie and all the people involved, which certainly adds to the experience of watching it. Those who enjoy Briggs’ amusingly twisted sense of humor and taste in movies will find plenty to enjoy here.
Original theatrical trailer
© 2003 James Kendrick