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Son of Frankenstein

Son of Frankenstein (1939), starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill

Movie review of “Son of Frankenstein” starring Basil Rathbone as the son of the deceased mad scientist.  He tries to repair and revive the Monster to vindicate his father.  All the while Ygor (brilliantly played by Bela Lugosi) schemes to use the Monster for his own plans … for revenge.

Son of Frankenstein is the third entry in Universal Studios’ series of Frankenstein movies, and quite frankly my favorite — in no small part due to the acting of Bela Lugosi.  The basic plot has this movie beginning years later after The Bride of Frankenstein with the late Baron Frankenstein’s son, Wolf.  Wolf is played by the great Basil Rathbone, now grown up and returning to his ancestral home with his wife and young son. He is upset by the cold reception that he receives, with the villagers remembering all too well the pain and destruction created by the previous Baron Frankenstein.

Son of Frankenstein - Basil Rathbone as Wolf Frankenstein, Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's MonsterWolf meets Ygor, his father’s old assistant, played brilliantly by Bela Lugosi — a man who has been hung for grave robbing and survived, although with a broken neck, and a bitter hatred for the people who sentenced him. And Ygor is keeping a secret

Son of Frankenstein - Lionel Atwill as the InspectorThat secret is that Frankenstein’s monster (played by the great Boris Karloff, for the final time in the movies) is still alive, although nearly comatose. Ygor manipulates the young Baron into reviving the monster, enticing him with the idea of validating his father’s work …  But secretly plans to use the monster to get his revenge on the people that he blames for his condition.

In short, the acting is excellent all around.  Ygor is possibly Lugosi’s finest role.  Lionel Atwill is memorable as the police constable … A man whose childhood dream of becoming a great military man was dashed during a childhood encounter with the monster.  The creature ripped his arm from its socket. In short, it’s an excellent movie, with wonderful acting, directing and atmosphere, and highly recommended.

Editorial review of Son of Frankenstein (1939), starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, courtesy of Amazon.com

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster for the last timeBasil Rathbone comes to Transylvania to inherit his father’s estate in this second sequel to Frankenstein. The townspeople are suspicious, but young Frankenstein has no interest in reviving his father’s work–until he discovers the monster hidden away in the castle, inert but very much intact and watched over by Ygor (Bela Lugosi), a sinister, snaggle-toothed peasant with broken neck. Convinced to revive the creature and vindicate his father’s name, he toils away in the lab not realizing that Ygor plans to use the monster to revenge himself on the jury that sentenced him to hang.

Boris Karloff makes his final appearance as the Monster, now little more than a mute, lumbering robot under the hypnotic control of Ygor. Rathbone is a dignified, suave scientist and a marvelous match to Lugosi’s mad Ygor, a richly malevolent performance that dominates the film. Lionel Atwill makes a marvelous addition to the Frankenstein gallery as the wooden-armed constable, a legacy of the monster’s rampage 25 years before (Mel Brooks’s loving lampoon Young Frankenstein, a veritable remake of this film, features the constable and his lumber limb in a major role). Universal abandoned horror films in 1936, but the success of this sequel single-handedly revived the genre. Though lacking the gothic splendor and macabre humor of James Whale’s originals, Rowland V. Lee’s handsome production remains an intelligent, well-made classic of the genre and Universal’s last great horror film. Lugosi returns as Ygor in Ghost of Frankenstein. —Sean Axmaker


Trivia for Son of Frankenstein

  • Makeup artist Jack P. Pierce estimated it took four hours to transform Boris Karloff into the monster.
  • Bela Lugosi’s performance in this film is considered by many to be his greatest.
  • Due to the lack of a prepared script, much of the picture was written just moments before shooting scenes. This was how director Rowland V. Lee was able to keep Bela Lugosi working throughout filming.  He built up the role of Ygor, which never appeared in the original Willis Cooper screenplay. Lugosi was forever grateful to Lee for allowing him to create one of his very best characterizations.
  • Despite his frequent appearances in horror films, Basil Rathbone had a particular disdain for them. This is likely the reason for his “over the top” performance. (Source: Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror by Michael Mallory”)
  • After learning to speak in Bride of Frankenstein, the Monster is once again mute in this film. No explanation is given for the change.
  • Boris Karloff became a father for the first time while filming this movie.