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Home: And You Call Yourself a Scientist!

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JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN’S
DAUGHTER (1966)

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"Don’t do it, Maria! You are going too far! No-one should tamper with the laws of God!"

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jesse.jpg (14478 bytes)Director: William Beaudine

Starring: Narda Onyx, John Lupton, Cal Bolder, Estelita, Steven Geray, Jim Davis, Rayford Barnes, Roger Creed

Screenplay: Carl Hittleman

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Synopsis: The people who live in a village in the American southwest all pack up and leave their homes, with the exception of the Lopez family. The daughter of the family, Juanita (Estelita), returns to tell her parents that she went to the people living in the old abandoned mission, but they would not let her see her brother, who they claimed has "the sickness". Juanita points out that three of the young boys of the village have sickened and died after going to work for these people. Up at the mission, Dr Maria Frankenstein (Narda Onyx) and her brother, Rudolph (Steven Geray), watch a violent electrical storm. Maria observes that their new home was well-chosen, as such storms are just what she requires for her experiments. Rudolph tries to convince Maria to give up her work but she brushes him aside. In the laboratory, Francisco Lopez lies unconscious, a strange metal device on his head. As the storm rages, Maria starts up her equipment, sending electrical power through the device. Francisco revives briefly, then collapses. Maria orders Rudolph to prepare an injection of digitalis, but he substitutes poison, and Francisco dies. Maria checks her grandfather’s workbooks, and suddenly discovers a flaw in her procedure. She immediately begins planning her next experiment…. In a nearby town, the people watch a fist fight which is won by Hank Tracy (Cal Bolder). Hank’s companion tries to collect their winnings from the saloon owner, but he reneges. Hank tells the man that is a very bad idea, as his companion is none other than Jesse James (John Lupton). When the saloon owner expresses doubts on this point, Jesse offers to "prove" his identity. The man surrenders the bet money…. At an outlaws’ hideout, Butch Curry (Roger Creed) and his brother, Lonny (Rayford Barnes), argue over Butch’s plan to bring Jesse and Hank in on their next job. When Jesse arrives, Lonnie insults him and draws on him, but Jesse shoots the gun from his hand. Butch insists that Jesse and Hank will receive equal shares when the job is done. In retaliation, Lonny goes to Marshall McPhee (Jim Davis), claiming he wants to go straight and telling him the details of the stagecoach robbery the gang is planning. When the robbery begins, the Marshall has a posse waiting, and Butch is killed. Lonny tries to shoot Jesse, but hits Hank instead. Jesse carries Hank away. The Marshall announces his intention of going after them, and Lonny insists on accompanying him. Jesse and Hank ride until Hank collapses. Looking for help, Jesse comes upon the Lopez family, who left home after hearing of Francisco’s death. Juanita examines Hank’s wound, and tells Jesse he will die without medical attention. When Jesse explains that he and Hank cannot ride into a town, Juanita offers to take them to the Frankensteins. Juanita’s father forbids her to do it, but that night she, Jesse and Hank ride quietly away. The next day, while getting water, Juanita is captured by an Indian. Jesse rushes to her rescue, and after a desperate fight the Indian is killed. Juanita thanks Jesse for saving her life, and the two kiss. Juanita guides Jesse and Hank into the now deserted village, directing them to the mission, and saying that she will wait for them at her family home. Jesse takes Hank to the mission. Rudolph is reluctant to admit them, but as soon as Maria lays eyes on Hank, she knows she has found the perfect subject for her next experiment….

Comments: We of the B-Masters’ Cabal take turns at nominating topics for our Roundtables and, as you’ve probably guessed, "female mad scientists" was my idea. That being the case, I had to select my movie with great care. I wanted one that would demonstrate clearly that women can hold their own in the world of mad science, if only they are given the chance; one that would show that women, too, can defy both God and Man; can rave and cackle and speechify as well as any man; can devote themselves body and soul to scientific projects of no earthly use whatsoever; and, above all, can die gruesome yet poetically just deaths at the hands of their creations. Sadly, very few cinematic offerings actually met these criteria. Either female scientists just don't go nuts with the rapidity and frequency of their male colleagues, or some evil conspiracy is afoot to prevent genuinely demented women receiving their fair share of the limelight. It was a relief, therefore, to come across a film featuring a woman who not only met the criteria outlined above, but easily surpassed them: Dr Maria Frankenstein! Unsurprisingly, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter is a terrible movie. Its science is ridiculous, its western elements dull and unimaginative, and the two genres are thrown together with the same delicacy and care that went into creating The Thing In The Closet in The Brain That Wouldn't Die. Still, the film does have one thing going for it, and that is Narda Onyx's performance as Maria. As an actress, Ms Onyx may give new meaning to the Jabootuian expression "selling wood", but as a mad scientess she is unrivaled. With an evil smile upon her lips and a maniacal gleam in her eyes (and a truly magical way with the letter "R"), Ms Onyx attacks her role like a psycho killer who's cornered a sexually active teenager, chewing up the scenery and blowing her dispirited costars right off the screen. Her performance is the one thing that makes watching Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter bearable; and in my opinion, she deserves some sort of reward for it. In fact, if I had my way, people would be able to walk into a delicatessen anywhere in the world and order a Maria Frankenstein Sandwich: ham sliced thick with a whole lot of relish.

The film opens with a group of "ignorant peasants" leaving their village, which is situated in an unspecified corner of the American southwest. The only exceptions are the Lopez family: the parents, Stereotype and Cliché, and their daughter, The Feisty Juanita. The Feisty Juanita returns from the mysterious "old abandoned mission" with the news that "those people" would not let her see her brother, Red Shirt, who they claimed had come down with "the sickness". This news sends Cliché into an orgy of genuflections and "Madre de Dios!"-es. The Feisty Juanita, made of sterner stuff than her mother, scorns this story, pointing out that others before Red Shirt have sickened and died after going to the "old abandoned mission" to work. Although her parents want to leave the village like their neighbours, The Feisty Juanita insists on them staying until they have definite news of Red Shirt. Meanwhile, up at the "old abandoned mission", the villagers’ activities are being observed by our heroine (and if you think I'm using that term inappropriately, T.S.), Dr Maria Frankenstein. Although she has been using the villagers in her experiments, Maria seems unperturbed by their mass evacuation. Perhaps she is relieved to discover that while these "peasants" are just as "ignorant" as the ones in "the old country", they lack their European cousins' penchant for flaming torches and mob justice. To Maria’s delight, a violent electrical storm is brewing; and she indicates her pleasure in this phenomenon to her companion. Here we get our first real indication of what a true Mad Scientist Maria is, as we meet her requisite Wimpy Assistant, who will no doubt spend the whole film whimpering and wringing his hands and predicting disaster for them both, but nevertheless helping with Maria’s experiments. As it turns out, Maria has outdone most of her Comrades In Lunacy here, as her Wimpy Assistant is none other than her own brother, Dr Rudolph Frankenstein! Eyes alight, Maria orders her brother to the "laborrratory!" Fulfilling his destiny, Rudolph tries to talk his sister into abandoning her work, but naturally, she treats his remarks with the contempt they deserve.

Maria's laborrratory is truly a sight to behold. The walls of the large stone room are decorated with high school level anatomy charts, while the room itself contains mysterious electrical equipment (lotsa flashing lights and dials), several of those rabbit-ear doo-hickeys, a microscope, some conical flasks filled with coloured fluids, and a bizarre little device that looks like the elements from three toaster ovens stuck end to end and glued to a TV antenna. In the foreground is a doctor's examination table, on which, either unconscious or dead, lies Red Shirt, his head encased in a piece of apparatus which we will soon learn rejoices in the name of the "duo-thermal impulsator", but which looks like a Rastafarian bicycle helmet crossed with the headgear favoured by The Mighty Thor (at least, if Thor’s helmet had been decorated with lightning rods rather than lightning bolts). As the storm intensifies, Maria flicks a few switches, sending her rabbit-ear doo-hickeys and toaster oven parts into a veritable frenzy. Electricity also (we assume) pulses through the Rastafarian Bicycle Helmet (or RBH, as we scientists prefer to call it). Red Shirt convulses and begins to sit up - only to collapse back onto the table. Maria springs into action, examining her victim and ordering Rudolph to prepare an injection of digitalis. Behind his sister’s back, however, the treacherous Rudolph reaches, not for the digitalis, but for - POISON! We know it’s POISON because its flask has the word POISON written on it, not to mention a skull and crossbones the size of a stock footage elephant. (With all these indicators of the liquid's deadly properties, you'd think the Frankensteins would store it as carefully as possible. Hilariously, however, this lethal substance is kept, not in an ordinary conical flask, but in a filtering flask! [In other words, gang - it ain’t sealed!]) Rudolph injects the unfortunate Red Shirt with a hefty dose of the POISON, and he quietly fades away. Seething with frustration, Maria turns for help to "Grandfather's workbook".

"Grandfather's workbook"? I hear you ask. Yes, indeed. Maria and Rudolph are in fact the grandchildren of the Frankenstein family. Obviously, this genealogical tampering was done so as not to put viewers off before they even watched the film. After all, calling a movie Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Granddaughter would be patently absurd.

Maria reads over the methodology for her unsuccessful experiment, and then with a blinding flash of inspiration - flicks over another page or two. "What a fool I've been!" she exclaims, and it’s kind of hard to disagree. Are we to assume that she conducted three "experiments" without reading all the way through her grandfather’s notes? Well, I guess once a scientist gets all enthused about something.... Anyhoo, Grandpa Frank’s "notation" indicates that the "duo-thermal impulsator" must also be attached to a "living brain" during the experiment. Rudolph is appalled, pointing out that this could prove fatal for the "living brain" in question. "That chance I am willing to take!" retorts Maria. (Incredibly, it later turns out that she means this quite literally, using herself in her experiment. I had assumed at this point that Rudolph’s protest was due to his seeing the writing on the wall, and frankly, Maria loses a few Mad Scientist Brownie Points for not forcing her Wimpy Assistant into the role of "living vibration donor".) Consulting the workbook again, Maria decides that the reason for her failure has been that she has been using children in her experiments, when what she really needs is a big, strong man. (You may insert your own dirty joke here.) If only she had that, she concludes, she would succeed! At this point, Rudolph proves himself both infinitely more courageous and infinitely more stupid than any other Wimpy Assistant I've ever seen by asking, "But what good will it do to succeed?" Maria barely dignifies this with a response. Possibly encouraged, Rudolph makes another attempt to dissuade her from going on. "We have already caused the deaths of three children!" he pleads. Now clearly, the correct comeback to this was, "And you call yourself a scientist!?" But instead, demonstrating that she is not one to be hidebound by tradition, Maria sneers mightily, "My, you're a humanitarian!" She crosses to some shelving and picks up a glass dish filled with yet another mysterious coloured fluid, in which floats....well, I'll let Maria tell you: "This is the last artificial brain Grandfather Frankenstein made!" Hmm....this must be one of the ol’ Baron’s sidelines that somehow escaped his many cinematic biographers. "The secret of how to make them died with him," continues Maria (she sounds awfully certain, considering her habit of not reading to the end of the chapter), "and if this last attempt fails, I too am willing to die!" Now, given the state of the relationship between Maria and Rudolph, you'd think he’d consider this good news, but no. "Is it so terrible to fail?" he inquires. "You're a fool," she retorts, impatient with his shortsightedness. Persisting, Rudolph tries to cite precedent, but when he mentions their father, Maria blows her stack. "Father was a weakling! He dared not try the experiments - only on paper!" (Okay - so they’re not Basil Rathbone’s kids, or Cedric Hardwicke’s....there must have been a white sheep, the One They Don't Talk About.) Rudolph again tries to talk her into quitting, but Maria has had enough. Taking him by the lapels of his lab coat, she shakes some much needed sense into him. Then she goes back to ruminating on her ideal experimental subject: "A man, big and strong - strong as a giant!"

And - cue! We cut to a fist fight in a small western town. Both combatants are shirtless, allowing us to see that one of them is indeed "big and strong - strong as a giant!" He duly wins the fight, but when his partner tries to collect their winnings, the other party threatens to have them run out of town. "You don't want to do that, mister!" warns Hank "Strong as a giant" Tracy. "This here is Jesse James!" The saloon owner runs a dubious eye over the alleged outlaw, and really, you can't blame him. As Jesse, John Lupton is about as convincing as---well, as convincing as Chuck Courtney was as Billy The Kid in Billy The Kid Vs Dracula the preceding year. "I heard that Jesse James was killed up at North Ridge," he observes. (At this point, I can only interject - huh? This appears, amusingly enough under the circumstances, to be an attempt at historical accuracy, but in fact it was Northfield MN where Jesse was nearly killed in 1876.) Jesse responds to this by moving a hand towards his gun and offering to prove his identity. The saloon owner decides to cut his losses and hands over the dough.

We then cut to two more alleged outlaws, who at least serve to make John Lupton seem threatening. The younger of the two, Lonny Curry, is furious because his brother, Butch, has brought "the James boys" [sic.] in on the bank job that he instigated. This dispute is interrupted by the arrival of Jesse and Hank. Butch informs the newcomers that he, his brother, and their lookout, Pete, comprise all that is left of "The Wild Bunch". This announcement is met with perfectly justifiable incredulity on the part of both Jesse and the audience. (In fact, I was irresistibly reminded of Jane Fonda’s encounter with the remnants of The Hole In The Wall Gang in Cat Ballou: "How sad - you got old....") Stung by this reaction, Lonny retorts, "Well, I heard Jesse James was shot to death!" Jesse responds by "proving" his identity as he threatened to do earlier, shooting the gun from Lonny’s hand. That point settled, Butch lets Jesse and Hank in on their plan, which involves holding up a coach loaded with bank takings in a narrow pass. A decoy coach will be sent through first, and if it passes without difficulty, two shots will be fired as a signal to the real coach that it is safe to proceed. (I am indebted to my brother for pointing out just how stupid an arrangement this is. After all, surely if the decoy were to be held up, there would be, you know, shooting....) The leader of The Mildly Irritable Bunch then insists on cutting Jesse and Hank in with equal shares, which is the final straw for Lonny. Pretending he’s going straight, Lonny reports the plan to Marshall McPhee (Jim Davis, who gives a good performance here, way better than the film deserves. Actually, since his performance is "good", I guess that pretty much goes without saying). McPhee is suspicious, but organises a posse, and during the abortive robbery, two-thirds of The Not Enough Fibre Bunch are killed. Lonny tries to shoot Jesse, but hits Hank. Jesse, who earlier on was Dead-Eye Dick, shoots at Lonny and misses him by this film's credibility gap. Jesse and Hank then ride off, with McPhee and Lonny in pursuit.

In time, with Hank suffering from loss of blood (as indicated by the small red splotch on the front of his shirt), Jesse almost literally stumbles over the Lopez family, who left town after hearing of Red Shirt’s death. "We have nothing - nothing!" pleads The Feisty Juanita. "I don’t mean you no harm," Jesse reassures them. "Oh. Bueno," responds Stereotype disinterestedly. Explaining that his friend is "sick", Jesse asks if they can camp with the Lopezes. The Feisty Juanita, her womanly compassion overcoming her terror of this dangerous outlaw, rushes over to inspect Hank’s wound. "He's been shot!" she announces. "He was, ah, cleanin’ his gun," explains Jesse, somewhat awkwardly. The Feisty Juanita immediately springs into action. "This wound is very bad," she informs Jesse, who naturally knows nothing about the nature of gunshot injuries. "Oh?" he says. "Your friend is dying," she persists, still trying to get the right reaction out of him. "Dyin’?" he repeats blankly. Giving up, The Feisty Juanita tells Jesse that he must take Hank to a doctor, and this Jesse does react to. "We can't go into town!" The Feisty Juanita snorts. "I knew what you were the moment I saw you," she informs him, then tells him that she will take them to two doctors who don't live in a town. (Given The Feisty Juanita’s suspicions over Red Shirt’s death, this may be the single least believable aspect of the film.) Stereotype categorically forbids The Feisty Juanita to go anywhere near the Frankensteins, and being a well brought up peasant girl, she obeys right up until her father falls asleep, and then skips out with Jesse and Hank. During the trip back, The Feisty Juanita nurses Hank, who begins to develop "feelin’s" for her. The Feisty Juanita, however, has been swept off her feet by the rugged masculinity that is John Lupton’s Jesse James. Matters come to a crisis when The Feisty Juanita is abducted by someone that can only be described as "an Injun". Jesse comes to her rescue, and as the two men fight, we discover that The Feisty Juanita is the kind of woman who reacts to a crisis by bobbing up and down and wringing her hands (I repeat - if you think I’m ever going to regard her as "the heroine", you’re crazier than Maria!). She then adds a little prayer to this routine, and is answered when the Injun ends up with a knife in his gut. The rest of the Injun’s tribe then appears in a very unconvincing piece of stock footage, and Jesse and The Feisty Juanita duck down behind a bush. Once the insert danger has passed, The Feisty Juanita cries, "You saved my life, Jesse!" (actually, it’s more like "You zeved may leff, Zhezzy!", Estelita’s diction being a tad indistinct) and throws herself into his arms.

This tender moment past, Jesse and The Feisty Juanita collect Hank and the trio rides on. (I know Cal Bolder was cast for his size, not his acting ability, but really, you’d think it might have occurred to him that if his character is supposed to be dying from a bad bullet would in his left shoulder, he really shouldn’t use his left arm for pushing himself up off the ground, or for holding his hat on.... Still, I guess it didn’t occur to William Beaudine either....) They arrive at the village from whence the "ignorant peasants" fled earlier on, and The Feisty Juanita directs her companions to the Frankenstein place ("There’s a light....over at the...."), promising to wait for them at her old house. Jesse bangs at the door of "the old abandoned mission", and the panicky Rudolph immediately suspects that the pair are agents of the European police. "You’re a fool, Rudolph," observes Maria conversationally, and admits them. "You’re the doctor?" remarks Jesse rudely. "My brother and I are both doctors," Maria explains smoothly and, incredibly, Jesse then repeats that idiotic "he was cleanin’ his gun" story (this is the Wild, Wild West, isn’t it!? - would a gunshot would really be such a strange occurrence?). Maria comes forward and gets a good look at Hank, and her eyes light up like the elements of a toaster oven. "Rrrudolph, the laborrratory!" she purrs. Hank is carried in and placed on the table that saw the last moments of his three predecessors, and Jesse is shooed out of the room. This rouses Hank, who mutters, "Jesse! Jesse!" "Who?" asks Maria. "Jesse James!" expands the ever-helpful Hank. Jackpot! exclaims Maria (well, she doesn’t, but her eyes do). Rudolph examines Hank’s wound and warns his sister it’s bad. "It is not important. He is as strong as a giant!" she gloats. "What a brute he’ll make!"

Sssoooo....all this has been done to create "brutes"? I’m not quite sure, but I think the word I’m looking for here is "supererogation"....

Meanwhile, Marshall McPhee and Lonny have caught up with The Feisty Juanita, and ask her if she’s seen two men. Now, if you think her answer is going to be "No", you’re very much mistaken. It isn’t nearly that simple. Instead, she shifts from foot to foot and wrings her hands, her eyes darting from side to side as she stammers, "T-two men?" Not surprisingly, this propels McPhee into the house to search for the fugitives, but naturally enough he doesn't find them. "I tol’ you dey weren’ ‘ere!" says The Feisty Juanita. (Actually, you didn’t, that was the problem.) McPhee and Lonny depart, heading for the Frankenstein place. ("There’s a li-ii-ii-ii-ii-iigghht, burning in the fireplaa-aace....") At that moment, Jesse - showing himself to be as bad a liar as The Feisty Juanita - is introducing himself as "Mr - um - Howard". Maria invites "Mr - Howard" into the librrrary, and launches into her life story, which proves to be just chockful of Misdirected Answering©. "Perhaps you are wondering why we live in this old abandoned mission?" she inquires, and without waiting for an answer, reveals more than is probably wise about her problems with the authorities in Europe. When she does finally pause, Jesse ventures, "Well - it's different." Maria lets this go and offers Jesse some food. Before he can start his meal, however, there is a knock on the front door. Instinctively, Jesse goes for his gun. Maria glides past him and gets rid of McPhee and Lonny with a simple, convincing lie. "They were looking for two outlaws, Mr - Howard," she tells Jesse, then invites him to stay until Hank recovers. She then joins Rudolph, who has dug the bullet out of Hank. "Wonderful, wonderful," Maria rejoices, running her hands over Hank’s torso. (You are free to put another interpretation on Maria’s ecstasies if you wish....) Rudolph, still apprehensive, warns Maria that it was The Feisty Juanita who sent Jesse and Hank to them. Maria tells Rudolph to bring The Feisty Juanita into the house, so that she may nurse Hank, and Maria may keep an eye on her. This arrangement is put into place without any loss of time, i.e., we cut to The Feisty Juanita sitting by Hank’s bedside. Hank is recovering, and those "feelin’s" of his just keep getting stronger. At last, he asks The Feisty Juanita to ride with him and Jesse when they leave. With a sad shake of the head, she tells him that she must stay in the village, to be there when her people return. The infatuated Hank offers to stay with her, but The Feisty Juanita tells him that he and Jesse must leave as soon as they are able.

It’s a lovely moonlit night over the "old abandoned mission", just right for a romantic stroll through the graveyard. Another star of Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter makes his presence felt at this point: the Foley artist. Having put in a fairly discreet performance up to this point, he obviously decided it was time to go for gold, firstly weighing in with some intrusive guitar music certain to provoke a chorus of, "Hey, Cisco! Hey, Pancho!" from the viewer. To the strains (word chosen carefully) of this music, The Feisty Juanita sidles up to Jesse and informs him that Hank invited her to go with them when they leave. "Would you like that?" ("Heroine", my butt! Someone should tell this girl that playing two friends off against each other isn’t exactly a classy thing to do.) Jesse ums and ahs, then finally decides on noble renunciation. "Juanita, I'm an outlaw!" But that’s not good enough for The Feisty Juanita, who prods him into revealing his "feelin’s". Finally, he admits that, yes, he wants her with him. With a sad smile, she shakes her head. "No," she tells him, "I can't not leave this place!" (No, really, that is what she says.) "Well, if that isn't just like a woman!" exclaims Jesse. (More to the point, if that isn’t just like a....oh, never mind....) Having cornered him into telling her what she wants to hear, The Feisty Juanita tries to convince him to take Hank away as soon as possible. "I do not trust the Frankensteins!" Mr Foley then steps up to the plate again, drowning the scene with a melody no doubt stored in the local stock music library under the heading "Romantic Music". As this swells - and swells - on the soundtrack, Jesse kisses The Feisty Juanita, who promises him that although she cannot leave the village, she will wait for him - always.... This tender moment is interrupted by the arrival of Maria. The Feisty Juanita scuttles away and Jesse, all embarrassed in a suitably manly way, pretends he came outside for a smoke. "Kinda nice country," he observes, making conversation. "How come everyone but Juanita left?" "My brother and I are scientists," replies Maria, giving what appears to be her answer to everything (and I guess it does cover most eventualities, at that). "These peasants are ignorant" (stock answer #2) "and easily frightened." She then invites Jesse to sit with her for a while, murmuring, "It’s lonesome out here...." Mr Foley kicks in again, and we realise to our absolute horror that Dr Maria Frankenstein has also fallen for this dangerous outlaw. (Okay, so I take back that remark about The Feisty Juanita’s behaviour being the least credible part of the movie. Frankly, the notion of John Lupton as chick magnet is so utterly unbelievable that I can only assume it was the result of some weird contractual arrangement organised by his agent ["Paragraph 3, Section 7 (a): That every female in the film will be reduced to a helpless quivering mass by the mere presence of my client...."]) In a moment that made me squirm with repugnance, Maria tells Jesse that "I need your strength", and offers him a share in "the empire" she will build. (Far be it from me to point out that if she’s planning on building an empire on Grandpa Frank’s artificial brains, it ain’t going be a very big empire....) Having made Jesse this Miltonesque proposition, Maria leans forward and kisses him.... But as we know, Jesse’s heart belongs to The Feisty Juanita, and he does not respond to the caress. Feeling his coldness, the wounded Maria draws herself up. "I'm sorry I made a fool of myself!" she says bitterly. "Goodnight, Mr - Howard!" And she storms off.

Everything about Maria tells us that Jesse is in big, big trouble. After all, you all know the old saying: hell hath no fury like a mad scientist scorned; so remember, guys, if you are thinking of giving a woman the brush, first make sure that she doesn’t have a way with artificial brains and Rastafarian Bicycle Helmets.

Inside, Maria writes a note which she tells Rudolph to give to Jesse. (At this stage, the script undergoes a shift in focus. To this point, the Phrase Of The Day has been "old abandoned mission"; from hereon in it will be "Jesse James, the outlaw with a price on his head!") She tells him it’s a prescription for Hank. Rudolph objects, knowing that Hank is much better, then makes an elliptical reference to The Feisty Juanita that tells Maria that her brother has discovered her weakness. "So you know.... To think that this outlaw with a price on his head refused me for that girl!" she says incredulously (and rightly so, in my opinion). She then tells him that the note is a letter to the local druggist, informing him that the bearer is "Jesse James, the outlaw with a price on his head!" They will send Jesse into town to have the "prescription" filled, and.... Rudolph protests this dastardly scheme, but Maria is insistent. "I would have turned him in before, only----" She stops, aware that she is betraying herself. "Only you wanted him for yourself!" Rudolph says gleefully. "You're jealous! You're human! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!" We are not long left in doubt that Rudolph’s behaviour is, shall we say, unwise. It may be perfectly true that Maria is not only a scientist, she is also a woman, but she likes being reminded of the fact about as much as the rest of us; and she reacts to her brother’s schadenfreude by grabbing him by the collar and slapping him stupid. Stupider.

Cringing, Rudolph takes the note and slinks off to do his sister’s bidding. Jesse encounters The Feisty Juanita, who tries to stop him going, but Jesse insists he must, for Hank’s sake. With Jesse out of the way, Maria and Rudolph get down to business. It is now that the reason for Rudolph’s lack of backbone and general uselessness becomes apparent: he isn’t a scientist, he’s only a doctor. Maria has him prep Hank for surgery, while she goes to "activate the artificial brain". This complicated procedure involves tipping what looks like Epsom salts into the liquid containing the brain, which shortly afterwards - and really, you’d have to see this to believe it! - starts wriggling around in its dish. Mr Foley then forces himself upon our notice again, dubbing in one of the most deafening thunderstorms I've ever heard. Not surprisingly, it wakes up The Feisty Juanita, who decides to do a little snooping. Meanwhile, Hank is post-surgery, and sports a snazzy cranial scar that’s almost as prominent as Saturn’s rings. Maria slips the first RBH onto Hank, and dons the second one herself. (Okay, so the "living vibration donor" controls the experimental subject - in other words, Maria gets her Brownie Points back.) Before she can flick the dreaded switch, however, she is interrupted by the dismal howling of a dog. "That dog! It always senses when you operate!" she complains to Rudolph (the fact that he always operates in the middle of a raging thunderstorm might possibly explain this mysterious phenomenon, dontcha think?) and sends him out to muzzle it, allowing The Feisty Juanita to slip into the house. The next moment, miraculously, Rudolph reappears inside the laborrratory, and Maria gets down to business. She flicks The Switch, and her rabbit-ears and toaster oven parts burst into life. So too does Mr Foley, who reaches his apotheosis with "electronic" noises so overpowering that Maria can barely be heard over them, no matter how loudly she raves and cackles.

Seizing the microphone (?) attached to the apparatus controlling the RBHs, Maria begins to exert her will over the hapless Hank. "You are no longer Hank Tracy!" she informs him. "You are now - Igor!" (Okay, so she’s got a weakness for the classics - you got a problem with that?) "I am Maria Frankenstein! As I think, you will think! We are one! I will command, you will obey!" She repeats this catechism with increasing frenzy, finally shrieking, "I command you to get up! Get up, Igor!" And - he does. (There is a genuinely surreal moment here: the misplacement of Hank’s "scar" combined with a low camera angle makes it look as if the top of his head is missing.) Maria gazes on, her eyes ablaze with triumph, but her moment of glory is short-lived as Hank/Igor sinks back onto the table. Again Maria sends Rudolph for the digitalis, and again he substitutes POISON. (May I take this opportunity to point out that it is the "humanitarian" Rudolph, not Maria, who has done all the killing up to now?) This time, however, Maria insists on injecting Hank/Igor herself. Rudolph protests, and the suspicious Maria discovers his treachery. Rudolph turns upon her and they struggle, fighting for the syringe. Feeling herself being overpowered (I find this bit wholly unbelievable - Maria should’ve made mincemeat of the little wimp!), Maria shrieks for Hank/Igor, and he obeys! For an instant both Frankensteins freeze, their battle forgotten in this moment of supreme scientific achievement. "He’s alive!" Maria proclaims, proving herself a true Frankenstein. "He’s alive!" Maria is not, however, one to lose sight of the matter at hand for very long, and with her eyes on fire and an exultant smile upon her lips, she points a fatal finger at her brother. "Kill him!" she orders joyfully. "Kill him!" Hank/Igor advances on Rudolph, who somewhat puzzlingly calls for Maria to save him. Hank/Igor takes Rudolph in a head-lock as Maria picks up the POISON, accusing her brother of sabotaging her experiments. "You have been flaunting God’s will!" retorts Rudolph. "Help!" (I think Rudolph would be better off deciding on a definite plan of action here: denounce her, or call for help, but not both, you idiot!) This moment of indecisiveness proves, fittingly, to be Rudolph’s last, as Hank/Igor tightens his grip.... As Rudolph’s body slumps to the ground, The Feisty Juanita, who has observed all of these developments through a half-open door, takes to her heels. And none too soon, either. Thoroughly pleased with her "brute"’s obedience, Maria targets her next victim. "I want Juanita!" she tells Hank/Igor, and they go to the Lopez house. Finding it empty, Maria jumps to the conclusion that The Feisty Juanita left with Jesse. "Good riddance to them both!" she huffs, then casts a thoughtful look at Hank/Igor’s bare torso. "But I still have you, Igor!" she says breathily, the glint in her eyes suggesting that she shares certain, ah, "predilections" with her distant cousin, Lady Frankenstein.

Sadly, at this point the movie decides to bore us all by showing us what Jesse’s up to. He rides into the town of Shelby and rouses the druggist, Jenson, asking him to fill Hank’s prescription. Jenson opens Maria’s note and learns that the bearer is "Jesse James, the outlaw with a price on his head!" Jenson tells Jesse he needs to collect certain medicines, and slips out of the house via his bedroom. He does not find Marshall McPhee, however, but Lonny, who intimidates Jenson into helping him. Back in the store, Jenson’s nervousness gives Lonny away, and a couple of well-placed bullets put an end to that plot thread. Jesse sees the note and realises Maria betrayed him. He heads back to the Frankenstein place ("There’s a li-ii-ii-iight, li-ii-ii-iight, in the darkness...."), but on the road encounters The Feisty Juanita, who tries to explain about Hank. "What they did to him - it’s terrible!" Jesse insists on going back anyway, and The Feisty Juanita threatens to get the Marshall. "I know what it will mean," she says grimly, "but I’d rather see you dead than looking like Hank!" (Oh, sure - it’s all about looks with you, isn’t it, girl?) The two part. We then cut to Maria and Hank/Igor, completing a discreet burial in the back yard. Back inside, Maria hears a heavy pounding on her front door, and foolishly, to say the least, she lets Jesse back into the house. He accuses her of betrayal, and she tells him that Rudolph made her do it. (Oh, come on! - no-one’s gunna believe that!) "I don’t believe you!" says Jesse (told ya!) and demands to see Hank. "Why do you treat me like this when you know how I feel about you?" Maria asks (and it pains me to write this) tearfully. Jesse grabs her by the shoulders. "I’ll shake the truth out of you!" he threatens. "Igor!" says Maria. "Right, then I’ll choke it out of you!" announces Jesse, "Igor" apparently not being the response he was waiting for. Or at least, that’s what he thinks. Hank/Igor emerges from the laborrratory, and brings his clasped hands down upon the top of Jesse’s head. Under Maria’s orders, Hank/Igor carries Jesse into the laborrratory, and puts him onto the table, which turns out to be equipped with handy leather wrist straps. As Maria ties her captive up, Hank/Igor shows a sign of independent thought (if that’s not too strong a word for it), bending over Jesse with a puzzled expression on his face. Not caring for this development, Maria sends him to his room. Really.

Jesse comes to to find Maria leaning over him and wearing her most dangerous smile. Naturally, she gloats, telling him that he’s getting what he deserves for rejecting her, "Maria Frankenstein! Daughter of the Count!" (Yes, you heard right....) She informs him that he will be her next experimental subject, and drugs him (We see here why she used to let Rudolph prepare the injections: when she does the "get rid of the air bubble" thing, she squirts half the syringe’s contents around the room.) Meanwhile, The Feisty Juanita has confessed all to Marshall McPhee and, incredibly, he believes her. The two set out for the Frankenstein place ("....of everybody’s li-ii-ii-iife....") and arrive just as Maria is slipping the RBH onto Jesse’s head. (As she has no artificial brains left, what exactly she is doing here remains a mystery.) McPhee pounds on the front door, and - Maria lets him in. Why, girl? For God’s sake, why? That "old abandoned mission" is built like a fort! Why on earth would you open the door? (Given the Jabootuian length of this review, I guess the appropriate answer to this question is, "IITS".) McPhee accuses Maria of harbouring criminals and insists on searching. "But of course - why not start with my laborrratory?" Maria suggests. McPhee does just that, and finds Jesse tied to the table. "Well, Jesse, guess I finally caught up with you," he remarks. (Yeah, with a little help, Marshall!) From the doorway, Maria hisses, "Igor!" "What’d you say?" demands the suspicious McPhee. "Nothing!" responds Little Miss Innocence. McPhee starts to untie Jesse, but is seized from behind by Hank/Igor, who squeezes the breath out of him like an anaconda. At this point, The Feisty Juanita appears, and flies to the side of the recovering Jesse. It is then that Maria makes her (sniff!) fatal error, ordering Hank/Igor to "kill Juanita!" "One. Neater." repeats Hank/Igor. "One. Neater." For a moment it seems that he will obey Maria’s orders, but then True Love prevails (yecchhh!!!), and we find that the way to solve a problem like Maria is to grab her by the throat and slowly choke the life out of her....

With Maria, his controller, dead, you might expect that Hank/Igor would die too, or at least stop moving. But no - instead, he takes a look at the way The Feisty Juanita is clutching Jesse and decides he doesn’t like it. He moves forward, hands outstretched, as Jesse backs away, pulling his gun. "Hank, don’t make me kill ya!" he pleads, but Hank/Igor doesn’t give him the chance, grabbing him by the throat before he can fire. (Interesting.... Hank/Igor won’t hurt One. Neater., even when his mind is being controlled by someone else, but he has no hesitation in trying to strangle his lifelong friend once he realises that the friend in question is his, ah, romantic rival. In the end, the moral of Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter seems to be that, once sex enters the picture, male friendship comes a very poor second.) Jesse drops his gun, and The Feisty Juanita picks it up, putting two bullets into Hank/Igor (from the side, and with her eyes closed - that’s some shootin’, sister!). Hank/Igor moans, "One. Neater. One. Neater." and dies.... Cut to the graveyard, where Jesse and The Feisty Juanita stand by a fresh grave, the headstone reading "Hank Tracy. He was Jesse James’ friend." (God forbid he should be allowed his own identity, hey, Jesse?) "Our village is free once more, thanks to you, Jesse," says The Feisty Juanita. (Shall I be churlish, and point out that Her Hero did diddlysquat?) Once again, Jesse has to reject her. "I’m an outlaw, with a rope waiting for me!’ he reminds her. Regardless, she promises to wait for him. Jesse kisses her, then mounts his horse, and - rides off with Marshall McPhee. I stress this because this whole scene is rather odd. Jesse’s hands aren’t tied, there’s no sign of handcuffs, we are given no indication that he’s turned himself in (unlikely, given he’s wanted for murder), he just rides off into the sunset with Marshall McPhee.... Suddenly everything becomes clear: why Jesse rejected Maria, why he was so reluctant to have The Feisty Juanita ride with him and Hank, why McPhee had spent so long trying to catch up with him. Poor Juanita! I know she promised to wait for Jesse for "as long as it takes", but really, if I were her, I don’t think I’d be holding my breath....

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Pictures courtesy of the San Francisco Weekly
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"The Rastafarian Bicycle Helmet - it's practical and alluring!"

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"The Mighty Thor goes to Valhalla."

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"Gor takes up snorkelling."