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13 February, 2011

Junkyardfilm.com's Moldy Oldie Movie of the Month: JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER


Year of Release—Film:  1966

Terrible events are unfolding in the abandoned Spanish Mission high on the hill above a poor southwestern village that has the village's remaining population hitting the road.  That is, all except the Lopez family who fearfully await word from their daughter, Juanita (Estelita Rodriguez), on the fate of their missing son, Francisco (Mark Norton).  Juanita returns and confirms their worst fears...Francisco has been kidnapped by the evil Dr. Maria Frankenstein (Narda Onyx) and her equally evil older brother, Dr. Rudolph Frankenstein (Steven Gerey) and has fallen victim to unholy experiments intended to revive the dead!

Meanwhile, Jesse James (John Lupton) and the James Gang hide in waiting to rob a stagecoach of $100,000.  Unknown to Jesse is that his younger and jealous brother, Lonny (Rayford Barnes) has told the local law, Marshal MacPhee (Jim Davis) about the hold-up so he can claim the $10,000 reward on Jesse's head.  A shoot-out with the local law ensues and the entire James Gang is killed with the exceptions of Jesse, his lunkhead sidekick Hank Tracy (Cal Bolder)...and the two-timing brother, Lonny.  Jesse and the wounded Hank head for the hills.  The same hills occupied by the Frankenstein family!  Along the way, they meet the fleeing Lopez family and Juanita tends to Hank's wounds while flirting with Jesse.  Juanita tells Jesse Hank will surely die without a doctor's care and convinces him to come with her to the Doctors Frankenstein, apparently forgetting that this deadly duo was responsible for her brother's recent death!  Sneaking away under the cover of darkness, they make their way back to the small, abandoned village.

Jesse delivers the wounded Hank to Dr. Maria who can scarcely believe her eyes at this beefcake lying on the exam table before her!  Summoning her brother, she makes ready for another experiment...this one to make a slave of the comatose Hank.  Suddenly, there's a knock on the Mission's door!  It's Marshal MacPhee searching for Jesse James.  Successfully convincing him that she and her brother are the only occupants, she returns to her unholy deeds.  Meanwhile, back at the village, Jesse and Juanita kiss.  Jesse wants Juanita to come with him but she tells him she must stay to tend to her brother's grave.  Broken-hearted, Jesse goes back up to the Mission where Dr. Maria, tired after a long day of treating Hank, is strolling in the garden.  Dr. Maria kisses Jesse but has her affections spurned by him.  Infuriated, she storms back inside and begins her experiment to turn Hank into her slave.  And she is successful!  However, when a horrified Dr. Rudolph tries to inject Hank with poison, he is killed by reanimated Hank at Dr. Maria's command.

The next day, Dr. Maria, still angry at Jesse for rejecting her, sends him into town to fill a prescription for the ailing Hank, who, unbeknownst to Jesse, has been turned into Igor, the doctor's mindless slave!  Equally unknown to Jesse, the sealed envelope contains a note informing the pharmacist that the bearer is none other than the wanted bank robber, Jesse James.  Terrified, the pharmacist (William Fawcett) sneaks out the back door and runs to the jail, which is being attended by the backstabbing Lonny during Marshal MacPhee's absence.  Seeing his chance to eliminate his brother, Lonny tries to sneak up on Jesse but is out-drawn and killed.  Jesse hurries back to Dr. Maria and confronts her about the double-cross.  Dr. Maria demands Hank/ Igor kill Jesse but Juanita, seeing their struggle, picks up Jesse's gun and wounds Hank/ Igor.  Dr. Maria commands Hank/ Igor to kill Juanita but Hank/ Igor, who has been secretly in love with Juanita, kills Dr. Maria, then dies with his beloved Juanita's name on his lips.  Realizing a life of crime is not for him, Jesse kisses Juanita good-bye and surrenders to the custody Marshal MacPhee.  The end.

I must confess that having sat though all agonizing 88 minutes of this before, last night I chose to numb the pain by watching it with the Joe Bob Briggs commentary track.  I find his wit and sense of humor makes even the dullest of movies possible to watch.  Especially when combined with a couple of cold ones!  Thanks for the help, Joe Bob!

JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER was the second to the last film William "One-shot" Beaudine directed near the end of a long career that spanned 50 years and produced 350 known films and shorts.  And this film turned out to be a career-killer for several of the actors!  This was the last of Narda Onyx's 27 pictures.  And  the last for veteran Nestor Pavia, although he appeared in one more TV show and two of his movies were released posthumously.  Estelita "The Mexican Spit-fire" chose for the first time to use her last name in the credits because she was attempting to switch from her song-and-dance act to a career as a dramatic actress.  This movie proved to be the end of her instead.  The hunky but oddly named Cal Bolder returned to acting in TV shows, mostly Westerns and left show business in two years.  Mark Norton, Juanita's silent brother, bid the movie business good-bye after this, his only movie.  BILLY THE KID vs. DRACULA (1966), made when Beaudine was 74, was his last film and both played together as double-features at drive-in theaters for years to come.  Why writer Carl K. Hittleman chose to film two western-horror movies during a time when westerns were fading away and classic horror icons had long been out of fashion is a mystery for the ages.  Maybe he thought that with the dearth of this type of movie on the screen, it was time to revive it.  He thought wrong!

William Beaudine, who began working in movies way back in 1909 as a prop boy, made his mark in filming silents films and early talkies.  He began work for Biograph when the film business was still headquartered in New York.  Moving to Hollywood, he worked with DW Griffith on BIRTH OF A NATION (1915).  He also worked for Goldwyn (before it became MGM), First National Pictures and Warner.  Beaudine had 30 pictures under his belt by the advent of sound pictures!  At the height of his career he was earning $2000-$2500 a week.  Then, suddenly, in 1935 he moved to Europe where he made films with Raoul Walsh, Allen Dwan and Will Hay.

Returning to the United States is 1937, Beaudine had trouble re-establishing himself as a director at the major studios.  He found work making low budget quickies for such companies as Monogram Pictures and Producers Releasing Company filming thrillers, comedies and melodramas with the East Side Kids, Bowery Boys and the Charlie Chan movies and Jiggs And Maggie films.  By the 1940's his once flourishing career was at it's lowest point and he was lucky to make $500 a picture.  It's at this time he made the acquaintance of Kroger Babb and directed the infamous sexploitation movie, MOM AND DAD (1945).  It is also at this time Beaudine got his nickname of "One-Shot" for never filming a second take regardless of flubbed lines or special effect mistakes.  By the end of the 1940's he was reduced to directing a drugged-up has-been Dracula in BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA (1952).  However, the 1950's saw a revival of his career in TV.  Beaudine's efficiency caught the eye of Walt Disney who hired him to direct several TV projects including The Naked City, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin and Lassie series.  However, his career in movie-making wasn't as lucky.

Beaudine's earlier work directing silents is evident with JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER.  He still hung on to the framing and reaction shots so popular during the silent years.  His efficiency was obvious in the medium shots he favored so he wouldn't have to use two cameras.  And he kept the lone camera trained on the actors’ faces even during long speeches, making the scenes stiff and dull.  If a scene called for a man to walk down a long hallway and leave the building, Beaudine shot every footfall.  His day-for-night shots are so dark, the actors seem to disappear completely.  Add to that, Hittleman's nonsensical script and you have little to recommend this.  So, with that, I'll let Joe Bob Briggs end this review.  During the commentary track, Joe Bob claims that at one time an assistant told Beaudine that he was over the shooting schedule for a picture and Beaudine exclaimed "Do you mean there is someone out there who is actually waiting to see this shit!?!"

William Washington Beaudine died at the age of 78 on March 18, 1970.  He is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, CA. Rest in peace, One-Shot.

Enjoy!  Or Not!


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