Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Directed by Rowland V. Lee

Plot

Years after the events of the last film Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), son of Henry Frankenstein (creator of the Monster), relocates his wife Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson) and their young son Peter (Donnie Dunagan) to the family castle. Wolf wants to redeem his father’s reputation, but finds that such a feat will be harder than he thought after he encounters hostility from the villagers. Aside from his family, Wolf’s only friend is the local policeman Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) who bears an artificial arm, his real arm having been “ripped out by the roots” in an encounter with the Monster as a child.

While investigating his father’s castle, Wolf meets Ygor (Béla Lugosi), a demented blacksmith who has survived a hanging for graverobbing and has a deformed neck as a result. Wolf finds the Monster’s comatose body in the crypt where his grandfather and father were buried; his father’s sarcophagus bears the phrase “Henrich von Frankenstein: Maker of Monsters” written in chalk. He decides to revive the Monster to prove his father was right, and to restore honor to his family. Wolf uses the torch to scratch out the word “Monsters” on the casket and write “Men” beside it. When the Monster (Boris Karloff) is revived, it only responds to Ygor’s commands and commits a series of murders; the victims were all jurors at Ygor’s trial. Wolf discovers this and confronts Ygor. Wolf shoots Ygor and apparently kills him. The Monster abducts Wolf’s son as revenge, but cannot bring himself to kill the child. Krogh and Wolf pursue the Monster to the nearby laboratory, where a struggle ensues, during which the Monster tears out Krogh’s false arm. Wolf swings on a rope and knocks the Monster into a molten sulphur pit under the laboratory, saving his son.

The film ends with the village turning out to cheer the Frankenstein family as they leave by train. We also see Krogh has a new false arm. Wolf leaves the keys to Frankenstein’s Castle to the villagers.

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Quote

Inspector Krogh: One doesn’t easily forget, Herr Baron, an arm torn out by the roots.

Surprisingly Good Sequel

8/10
Author: dglink from Alexandria, VA
13 October 2004

Usually the third film in a series shows signs of decline either in quality or inventiveness. Even the third ‘Godfather’ was significantly less than its predecessors. Universal’s ‘Frankenstein’ series that began in the early 1930’s was no exception and showed some wear by the end of the decade when ‘Son of Frankenstein’ was released. Under the sensitive direction of James Whale, the original ‘Frankenstein’ was a classic, and, in the first sequel, ‘Bride of Frankenstein,’ Whale even managed to better it. However, while Whale was not involved with ‘Son,’ the third installment turned out to be a surprisingly good movie even if it failed to match the two preceding films. Perhaps the major reason for the success of ‘Son’ was the casting of Basil Rathbone as Wolf Frankenstein, the original Baron’s son. Rathbone is a fine strong actor, and his characterization certainly exceeds Colin Clive’s somewhat colorless portrayal of his father in the preceding films. Rathbone holds the viewer’s attention throughout as he becomes immersed in the legacy of his father and fails to comprehend the consequences of what he is doing. Boris Karloff returns for a third time as the monster. Although he does a fine job, there is less opportunity for the actor to show the range of emotion in this film that he displayed in ‘Bride.’ Another aspect of ‘Son’ that raises it above the ordinary is the set and lighting design, which owes a debt to German expressionism. The sets have bold diagonals in their construction, and the cameraman has lit them to cast equally bold shadows against bare walls and create abstract patterns that often recall ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.’ The lighting and design of one particular section of a cave under the Frankenstein laboratory could have been blown up and framed as an expressionist photograph. Although it does not reach the heights of the Whale films, ‘Son of Frankenstein’ is a worthy successor and an engrossing film in its own right.

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Production

After the ouster of the Laemmles from Universal and the British embargo on American horror films in 1936, Karloff and Lugosi found themselves in a career slump. For two years, horror films were out of the Universal Studios lineup. On April 5, 1938, a nearly bankrupt theater in Los Angeles staged a desperate stunt by showing Frankenstein, Dracula and King Kong as a triple feature.[citation needed] The impressive box office results led to similarly successful revivals nationwide. Universal soon decided to make a big-budget Frankenstein sequel.

As director James Whale was similarly in a slump and did not wish to make any more horror films, Universal selected Rowland V. Lee to direct Son of Frankenstein. Lee’s film explores dramatic themes: family, security, isolation, responsibility and father-son relationships.

Son of Frankenstein marks changes in the Monster’s character from Bride of Frankenstein. The Monster is duller and no longer speaks. The monster also wore a giant fur vest, not seen in the first two Frankenstein films. He is fond of Ygor and obeys his orders. Unlike the previous two films, the Monster only shows humanity in two scenes: first when he discovers Ygor’s body, letting out a powerful scream, and later when he contemplates killing Peter but changes his mind.

sonoffrankenstein-still

Peter Lorre was originally cast as Baron Wolf von Frankenstein,[citation needed] but he had to leave the production when he became ill. Replacing Lorre was Basil Rathbone, who had scored a major triumph as Sir Guy of Gisbourne in The Adventures of Robin Hood.

According to the documentary Universal Horror (1998), the film was intended to be shot in color and some Technicolor test footage was filmed, but for artistic or budgetary reasons the plan was abandoned. No color test footage is known to survive, but a clip from a Kodachrome color home movie filmed at the studio and showing Boris Karloff in the monster makeup, clowning around with makeup artist Jack Pierce, is included in the same documentary.

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