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
In discussing the Monster makeup for a newspaper article, Jack P. Pierce stated that the metal studs in the Monster's neck were really electrodes - inlets for the electricity that brought the creature to life. This is the first film in the Universal Frankenstein series to show any wires actually being connected to the Monster's electrodes. See more »
When Inspector Krogh first warns Wolf Frankenstein to use the alarm bell to summon him he has no monocle. He has it in the camera angle with the two of them together but not in the close-up of the inspector. See more »
I died living they all died dead.
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"Son of Frankenstein" (Universal, 1939), directed by Rowland V. Lee, marked a new beginning to the second cycle of Universal horror: a lavish, stylish, stagy production as well as the longest (94 minutes) movie in the FRANKENSTEIN series. Boris Karloff returns for the third and final time as The Monster, but unfortunately, after such a grand performance in "The Bride of Frankenstein" (1935), in which Karloff got star billing, The Monster in this production is of secondary importance, coming late into the story and spending more than half the film lying in an unconscious state on an operating table inside the lab. Star billing goes to Basil Rathbone as Baron Wolf Von Frankenstein, the son of the scientist who brought nothing but misery in the German town, but the scene stealer in this production happens to be Bela Lugosi, almost unrecognizable as the bearded character of Ygor, possibly his best performance in his latter day career. It features Lugosi in a performance unlike anything he has done thus far, and he virtually helps the story along especially during its numerous slow spots. This also marked his fourth teaming opposite Karloff, but this time, Lugosi outshines Karloff's performance. Then there is Lionel Atwill, another horror film veteran, making his debut in the series, playing a one armed police inspector, another interesting presence to the story.
The story, set in a Gothic German village, finds Wolf Von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) returning by train to the town where his parents once lived. He is accompanied by his charming wife, Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson), and their little boy, Peter (Donnie Donegan). Wolf hopes to make amends to the villagers from what his late father had done (creating a Monster who terrorized their village years ago) and become their good neighbors, but with the Frankenstein name, the family is cursed, and nobody wants anything to do with them. The Frankensteins are first met by Inspector Krough (Atwill), a police official with an artificial arm, claiming to have lost his real arm when he was a young boy when the Monster ripped from his body by the roots, but in spite of all this, Krough is on duty to aide the Frankensteins in case trouble amongst the villagers prevails. Also in the castle where the Frankensteins are staying are Aunt Amelia (Emma Dunn), and Thomas Benson, the butler (Edgar Norton).
While the movie starts off rather slowly, it then comes to life when Wolf encounters Ygor (Bela Lugosi), a crazed bearded shepherd who was once or twice sentenced and hanged for grave robbing, and still lives. Ygor is also the master of the Monster (Karloff), who "does things for him." His coma condition happens to be a result of an aftereffect of being struck by lightning, and Ygor calls on Wolf to help revive the monster.
"Son of Frankenstein" is more of a science fiction nature than horror, since the movie spends a great deal of footage in the laboratory having Frankenstein examining his father's creation and how this physical being has survived such ordeals after finding his heart containing two bullets, etc. But after Karloff's monster is revived, he manages to present himself with some key scenes, such as looking at himself in the mirror and pulling Wolf along side him as a comparison; and the Monster's fondness of children, especially Wolf's little boy who fears him not.
The storyline, however, contradicts what had been said and done in previous movies, such as letting the Monster, who had learned to talk in "The Bride of ...," resorting back to only grunts. It even fails to explain how the Monster had survived his demise from the earlier film. And what's the deal with the woolly garment he is wearing? In spite of these drastic changes, the movie itself is full of characters, ranging from Lionel Bellmore, the Burgomaster in 1931's "Frankenstein," now playing Emile Lang, along with Gustav Von Seyffertitz (the villainous Grimes in the 1926 silent classic, "Sparrows") as one of the jurors. While Colin Clive's Frankenstein character allowed himself to become hysterical in the first two entries, viewers expect and accept this, but when Rathbone's character calls for him to do the same, especially during the dart playing sequence with Krough, this somewhat becomes embarrassing to sit through, in spite that Rathbone is a very capable actor who seldom overacts as he does here.
While not on the same scale as James Whale's earlier carnations of the Frankenstein films, "Son of Frankenstein" is still watchable, mainly because of its Universal staff players, and added sound effects of thunder and lightning, as well as very moody setting made to the comforts of home for the Frankenstein family. The underscoring by Frank Skinner introduced here would be heard time and time again in other Universal horror films of the 1940s. This movie played on numerous cable channels, including the Sci-Fi Channel, American Movie Classics (1991, and again from 2000 to 2002, 2006), and finally on Turner Classic Movies where it premiered in January 2003. It can also be found as a video/DVD purchase or rental. (***)
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