(1966) Directed by William Beaudine; Written by Carl K. Hittleman; Starring: John Lupton, Narda Onyx, Cal Bolder and Estelita Rodriguez
Available on DVD.
Rating: * ½
Imagine, if you will, the following conversation between Jesse James vs. Frankenstein’s Daughter’s writer Carl K. Hittleman and producer, Carroll Case…
Hittleman: “Okay, what do you think of this? It’s a horror western. Jesse James is running from the law, and he just happens to encounter the direct descendent of Dr. Frankenstein.”
Case: “Sounds great. But we need to get this movie in the theaters ASAP! We already have Billy the Kid vs. Dracula lined up for a double bill. Who are we gonna get?”
Hittleman: “Why not William ‘One Shot’ Beaudine? He works fast, and he directed my last screenplay, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. Look how well that turned out!”
Case: “Um… yeah. Well, how fast?”
Hittleman: “They don’t call him ‘One Shot’ for nothing. No second takes.”
Case: “Sounds like he’s our man. There’s just one other thing…According to your script, isn’t she really Dr. Frankenstein’s granddaughter?”
Hittleman: “Yeah, well… whatever. Who would pay to see Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Granddaughter? Now that’s a stupid title.”
I probably had numerous opportunities to catch Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter on TV in the 70s and 80s, but something always stopped me (perhaps a sense of self-preservation). As a kid, I instinctively knew it couldn’t possibly be good, but I was always intrigued by the title, and the promise of a melding of genres and characters that shouldn’t share the same room together. Curiosity finally got the best of me after all these years. I’m now older, but not necessarily wiser for the experience.
Über-prolific William Beaudine, responsible for helming approximately 350 feature films (as well as dozens of television episodes), directed this little piece of cinematic excreta, which would prove to be his swan song. His involvement in movies started with the silents, under the guidance of D.W. Griffith. Beaudine worked in virtually every genre, but he seemed especially at home with westerns. It’s easy to see how the familiar western tropes in the movie seem second nature, while the sporadic horror elements simply look awkward and perfunctory.
The western portion of the story follows Jesse James (John Lupton) and his dim-witted sidekick Hank Tracy (Cal Bolder) as they flee a botched stagecoach robbery attempt. They run into Dr. Maria Frankenstein (Narda Onyx) and her brother Rudolph (played by Steven Geray, who looks old enough to be her father), who have fled Europe and set up shop in the western United States. Lupton’s lifeless performance somehow manages to make Jesse James seem dull. At least as he’s portrayed here, it’s hard to imagine that he would be the center of a love triangle between concerned villager Juanita (Estelita Rodriguez) and the scheming Maria. Bolder, with his hulking muscle-bound appearance and perennially blank expression, seems in danger of being out-acted by the surrounding foliage. When Hank (suddenly re-named Igor) succumbs to one of Maria’s experiments and falls under her control, he plays the role of mindless drone all-too convincingly. Only Narda Onyx provides any spice to the film, with her sneering, over-the-top performance as Maria Frankenstein
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter was career poison for more than just its director. According to Joe Bob Briggs (his wry DVD commentary might be the only sane way to watch this flick), this was the last feature film for several of the stars (Onyx, Geray, Bolder and Rodriguez). Two of the cast members, Rodriguez and Nestor Paiva (playing a small role as a saloon owner) died after filming was completed. Paiva would appear in a few more movies after this one, albeit posthumously.
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter is an ode to ineptitude, good for a few scattered laughs. Some dubious highlights are the mind transference devices that resemble surplus U.S. Army helmets painted red, yellow and green and adorned with neon, and a scene (straight out of a cartoon) in which Rudolph Frankenstein reaches for a flask conveniently labeled “poison,” with a skull and crossbones. Whether or not it’s worth watching this film directly correlates to your tolerance for bad cinema. The fact that the movie’s absurd story and general lack of competence hold a certain kitsch value cannot balance out the realization that you’ve just wasted nearly 90 minutes of your life. Ah well… Such is the life of a movie blogger.