Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)

I’ll admit it. I cheated. Instead of watching this movie in its original form, I found a version that had Joe Bob Briggs do commentary. Unlike modern commentary tracks where bloggers and magazine writers try in vain to impress you with how cool and smart they are, Joe Bob just hangs back and blows your mind with his limitless info. It made this movie way better than it deserves.

Paired with director William Beaudine’s other cowboys against the supernatural film Billy the Kid Versus Dracula, this film supposes what would happen if Dr. Frankenstein’s daughter Maria would come to the American wild west along with her brother Rudolph to use prairie lightning to turn immigrant children into slaves that will help continue their father’s experiments.

Meanwhile, Mañuel and Nina Lopez are leaving town before their daughter Juanita (Estelita Rodriguez, Rio Bravo) is killed. And here comes Jesse James (John Lupton, Airport 1975), Hank Tracy and Butch Curry, the leader of the Wild Bunch (no, not the Peckinpah film), who are here to steal $100,000 from a stagecoach. Yep, Jesse James did not die on April 3, 1882.

The crime gets foiled when Butch’s brother Lonny tips off Marshall MacPhee (Jim Davis, Jock Ewing the patriarch of the Ewings of TV’s Dallas) in exchange for becoming his deputy and getting reward money for Jesse James. Everyone but Jesse is shot, with Hank barely surviving. They hide in the Lopez family’s camp and Juanita takes them to the Frankensteins in the hope that Hank’s mortal wound can be healed.

Maria, of course, is in love with Jesse instantly, even faking suicide to get in his heart. She’s goth before goth was goth, basically. Jesse manages to escape another trap and kills Lonny, who has tried to bring him back in. Maria Frankenstein has transformed Hank into Igor, her new servant, and killed off her brother. She then orders him to kill Juanita, but he turns on his mistress. In a final scuffle with Jesse, Juanita kills the monster with Jesse’s revolver. She begs the famous outlaw to stay with her, but he goes off into the sunset, arrested by the sheriff.

I fear that I’ve made this movie sound way more interesting than it really is. The one good thing I can say is that the lab equipment was provided by Ken Strickfaden, who loaned out his gadgets for all of the Universal films, as well as Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, Al Adamson’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein and Blackenstein.

That said, William Beaudine started his career as an assistant to D.W. Griffith on The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. His directing career stretched from 1922 to 1966, with this being his final film. Harry Medved’s book, The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, gave Beaudine the nickname “One-Shot” because everything ended up being in his films, like actors screwing up their lines or special effects not working properly.

The truth is that he actually had some talent and worked with plenty of talented films, including Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett and W.C. Fields. However, bad judgment and worse luck ruined his career.

Beaudine was brought to England in the 1930’s to work with their top stars. He directed there and expected to come back to the United States with his A-list status intact. Sadly, studios no longer wanted to pay his salary. And even worse, he lost his personal fortune when a bank he bought an interest failed. It got worse. Most of his UK income was then seized by the British government in taxes.

Then, publicist-turned-producer Jed Buell and Dixie National Pictures offered Beaudine $500 to direct a one week job: an all black picture. The director realized that if he took this job, he’d never return to the limelight. But at that point, he was near destitute and needed the work.

William Beaudine reinvented himself as the master of low budget films, forgoing art for survival. He recouped his finances through the amount of work he turned in, working in all genres and with stars like Bela Lugosi in the absolutely bonkers film Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, the East Side Kids and nearly half of Monogram Pictures’ series of Bowery Boys comedies. In fact, he became the master of sequel series films, also working on films with characters like Torchy Blane, Jiggs and Maggie, The Shadow and Charlie Chan.

He also directed Mom and Dad, the film that pretty much set up the exploitation movie pipeline until the death of grindhouses. Produced by Kroger Babb, this film was distributed by a loose knot organization that called themselves the Forty Thieves. You had guys like S.S. “Steamship” Millard, who produced Is Your Daughter Safe?, Samuel Cummins whose Public Welfare Pictures and Jewel Productions brought the public 10 Days in a Nudist Camp, J.D. Kendis who produced Gambling with Souls, Dwain Esper who brought one of the original serial killer movies Maniac to the public (as well as buying Freaks from MGM for just $50,000 and re-distributing films like Reefer Madness), Willis Kent who had The Wages of Sin, Louis Sonney who owned the West Coast with films like Hell-a-Vision and Howard “Pappy” Golden, who was known for stealing prints from the other thieves. They weren’t a studio as much as an informal trade association, kind of like the old National Wrestling Association, that used something they called the “states rights” system. Truly, Mon and Dad is an exploitation landmark and we wouldn’t have so many of the films we love without it.

Beaudine became so well known for his efficient directing that Walt Disney himself used him for several films (he directed the special Disneyland After Dark, whose title was appropriated by the Danish rock band D-A-D). TV was tailor-made for the director, as he worked on shows like Lassie. He was even the director of Plan 9 from Outer Space alum Criswell’s TV series, Criswell Predicts!

This Western horror mix would be his last film, although after Bruce Lee became famous, several episodes of The Green Hornet that he directed would be packaged as feature films — 1974’s The Green Hornet and 1976’s Fury of the Dragon.

Look, this isn’t a great movie. But it’s fun. And it’ll lead you to learning a lot about exploitation films and Old Hollywood, if you want to learn more.

Don’t have the Chilling Classics box set? You can watch this for free on the Internet Archive.

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