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
"Son of Frankenstein" is the third installment of Universal's long running Frankenstein series. It is also the longest running at 92 minutes and was given the biggest budget of all the Frankenstein films. Apparently Universal wanted this film to be their showpiece for 1939 and actually planned to film it in color. Unfortunately, the monster's makeup photographed a pale green and they went back to the old reliable black and white. With all the hoopla and first rate cast, this film comes up short of the first two in the series.
The story picks up some years after the first two. Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), the son of Henry, his wife Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson) and young son Peter (Donnie Dunagon) return to the family castle. The village resents him having not forgotten the carnage created by his father's creation. Lurking about the castle is the mysterious Ygor (Bela Lugosi) who harbors a deadly secret.
Frankenstein confronts Ygor who shows him that the monster (Boris Karloff) created by his father did not perish. Ygor explains that "He is my friend...he does things for me". We then learn that several prominent villagers have been mysteriously murdered and that the killer remains at large. Frankenstein gets his creative juices flowing and agrees to restore the monster to his full potential.
Unknown to Frankenstein, the monster has been in contact with his son and has been moving about. A suspicious police inspector (Lionel Atwill) begins to watch Frankenstein's movements. Realizing that Ygor is in control of the monster the Baron confronts him and.....
Director Rowland V. Lee takes over from James Whale as director and seems to favor dark shadowy geometric designs for his set pieces. Gone are the classic gothic creepy settings of the first two films. What we have are a sparsely furnished barn of a castle and only remnants of the glorious laboratories of the earlier films.
This was the final appearance for Karloff as the monster. Here, he is given little to do except to be Ygor's henchman. He no longer talks and invokes no pathos whatsoever. Rathbone is way over the top as usual, as the Baron. Lugosi, in his best part in years, steals the film. He is the real villain of the piece. Given the time of the film, Lionel Atwill's character seems to be a lampoon of a German officer. And poor old Dwight Frye, wasted again, appears in the crowd as a villager.
After this film the series would degenerate into "B" status with running times of just over an hour.
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