Review of “Son of Frankenstein” (1939)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie night offering, another classic. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

In a German village, children run down a lane. One pauses to pick up a rock and throw it toward a building where a sign hangs warning Eingang Verboten. A man with wild hair and beard (Bela Lugosi) looks down at them from a broken second-story window, sending them flying.

In the town hall, the burghers debate the problem of the arrival of the new Baron von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone). They remember all too well the death and destruction wrought by the monster, the creation of the Baron’s father, and want nothing to do with any Frankenstein. Nevertheless, the Burgomaster (Lawrence Grant) is determined to hand over a box of papers the old baron left for his son to the present baron. He will meet him and his family at the train when they arrive.

Aboard the train, Elsa von Frankenstein (Josephine Hutchinson) tucks in her son, Peter ((Donnie Dunagan), then remarks to her husband, Wolf, how odd the countryside looks. They’re both excited about their new life, but Wolf notes the castle is haunted because of the misdeeds of the creature his father created. He blames the horrors on the blunder of his father’s assistant, Ygor.

It’s pouring rain when they arrive. A sea of umbrellas meets them. True to his word, the Burgomaster gives the Baron the chest of his father’s papers. The Baron addresses the townspeople, but they fade away.

At Castle Frankenstein, Butler Thomas Benson (Edgar Norton) tells him he had to hire staff from out of town. None of the local people will work in the castle. The Baron reads from his father’s papers, which promise to divulge the secrets of his work before a portrait of old baron. Outside, the rain continues unabated. Over Wolf’s shoulder, the viewer can see the face of the same man with wild hair and beard who frightened the children earlier now looking in through the window.

Inspector Krogh pays a visit to the household to warn the baron that while he is protected as long as he is in the castle, he remains in danger.  Six men have been murdered recently. None of the murders have been solved.

 The inspector’s right arm is wooden. He pushes it around when he needs to hold things, like a monocle, while he polishes it with his left hand. He also promises to come at any time should the baron summon. Wolf says while he did not receive a warm welcome, he does not feel he is in danger. He continues to throw darts at a target. Besides, what proof is there that the monster was all that destructive, anyway?

The Inspector (Lionel Atwill) relates how he lost his arm to the monster while his father shot at it to no avail. The injury prevented him from joining the army, relegating him to the police force of a tiny village.

The next day, Wolf investigates the remains of the old baron’s lab, blown up in the troubles of times past. A gaping hole stands in the roof. There, the same man attempts to kill him by rolling a boulder into him. He misses, as does Wolf when he fires his rifle in retaliation. The wild-haired man is Ygor, his father’s assistant, who talks about himself in the third person. His neck was broken when the town council hanged him and pronounced him dead. They did a poor job of both. He’ll show the Baron something…

He leads him down to the family crypt. There, Wolf finds the coffins of his grandfather and his father, who, according to the inscription, created monsters. He also sees the monster (Boris Karloff) laid out on a slab. Ygor explains he’s “sick” and wants the baron to make him well again.

Thoughts:

This is the third of some eight classic Universal Frankenstein monster movies made between 1931 and 1948. It falls between 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein and 1942’s The Ghost of Frankenstein.

It is moody and somber. The present Baron von Frankenstein admires his father, whom he never knew, though he abhors his legacy of death and destruction. At the same time, he can’t help but be intrigued by his father’s scientific investigations. On seeing the monster for the first time, he cries, “It’s alive!”

Too late, he realizes his error, that Ygor, and not he, controls the monster. To make matters all the more horrifying, he fears for his son—and with good reason.

The interior of Castle Frankenstein is full of shadows. The windows have non-parallel edges. The grand stairway at the entrance winds and bends at odd angles, with steps that grow and shrink in size for no apparent reason. Of course, the walls move and lead to secret passageways.

There is little gore in this movie. Of course, the monster meets a suitably horrible end (I trust I give away nothing), but most of the film is atmosphere and anticipation. It presents a moral dilemma: Wolf knew he was treading on thin ice, and now he can’t get himself out of a quandary he didn’t see (but should have seen) coming.

A lot of this movie would later be parodied so well in Young Frankenstein (1974), but the original is worth watching on its own.

I liked this film. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it available for free download. If you’re interested, though, I’d say it’s worth a rental.



Title: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Director
Rowland V. Lee

Writers
Mary Shelley (suggested by the story written in 1816)
Wyllis Cooper (screenplay)

Cast:
Basil Rathbone…Baron Wolf von Frankenstein
Boris Karloff…The Monster
Bela Lugosi…Ygor
Lionel Atwill…Inspector Krogh
Josephine Hutchinson…Elsa von Frankenstein

Released: 1939
Length: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

10 thoughts on “Review of “Son of Frankenstein” (1939)

  1. Son of Frankenstein is a good film that marks the end to what is probably known as the first actual trilogy. It unfortunately also marks the last time Boris Karloff would dawn the Frankenstein costume. Leaving it for Lugosi and others who could sadly never deliver the right persona. I always felt the Frankenstein monster would become less of an appealing character that is a tortured soul looking for love and acceptance in a terrible cruel world. But the movie is good for what it is. Lugosi as the hunchback is great and he practically steals the show. I for one admire it for its continuity.
    Good job calling out young Frankenstein for using this one as its frame story.

      1. I’ve never seen that one.

        Somehow, though, I suspect I am not missing anything if I skip watching either David Lynch’s 1984 bomb or the new one that comes out on the 21st.

      2. Oh, read at least the first book. It’s fantastic Sci-fi/fantasy as its best. Maybe the second. It’s something of a death spiral after that.

        I saw the Lynch movie, or at least bits and pieces of it. My main complaint was how ugly it was. It was hard to watch. I don’t plan on watching the movie when it comes out.

        A quick Google search tells me there are fifteen books in the Dune series. I believe the first six are written by Frank Herbert, who passed away in the 80s, when I was reading them.

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