Wolf von Frankenstein returns to the Baronial manor from the United States with his wife Elsa and son Peter. He not made welcome by the locals who are still terrified of his father's works and the monster he created. The local Burgomaster gives him a sealed briefcase left by his father and inside, Wolf finds his father's scientific notes. At the manor house he meets his father's assistant Igor who has a surprise for him: the monster his father created is still alive, though in some sort of coma. Wolf's initial attempts to re-animate the creature seem to fail but when Peter says he saw a giant in the woods, it appears he's met success. When people are mysteriously killed in the village there is little doubt that the monster is responsible. Written by
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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