SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. (1939) BASED ON CHARACTERS CREATED BY MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT SHELLEY. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY ROWLAND V. LEE. PRODUCTION/DISTRIBUTION BY UNIVERSAL PICTURES.
STARRING BASIL RATHBONE, BELA LUGOSI, BORIS KARLOFF AND LIONEL ATWILL.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This vintage black-and-white horror film is an absolute cracker, containing four of the biggest name stars of the day, namely Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lionel Atwill.
It’s a sequel to FRANKENSTEIN and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN that sees Basil Rathbone arriving in his father’s home town of Frankenstein as his father’s son, Wolf Von Frankenstein. That’s an awful lot of FRANKENSTEINS, as I think you’ll agree.
The setting is somewhere in that sort of ambiguous ‘mitt-Europe’ favoured by Hammer Horror films as well as UNIVERSAL ones. It’s that sort of blurry Germany/Austria area that has men wearing Tyrolean hats and lederhosen while they’re dancing gaily to old folk songs from their native soil or downing the kind of massive tankards of ale that normally come with bratwurst on Oktoberfest. Well, that’s an awful lot of racial stereotyping to begin with, let’s quickly move on to the plot…!
The opening scenes are tremendously atmospheric. Wolf von Frankenstein arrives in Frankenstein by train, via London and Paris, with his attractive wife Elsa and adorable curly-headed young son Peter. It’s dark and lashing rain when they disembark from the train, facing straightaway into a sea of umbrellas owned by the waiting villagers, the welcome committee, as it were.
Except that it’s not very welcoming, lol. They’ve only come along to express their deep dissatisfaction, not to mention disgruntlement, that yet another member of the accursed Frankenstein family is moving into the village to bring more trouble down on their heads. At least, this is what they think.
If they only had the least idea of what was going to happen, they’d have run the little family of Frankensteins outta town on a rail, ‘the same way we got ridda Laura Ingalls Wilder,’ heh-heh-heh. (SIMPSONS reference there!)
Basil Rathbone (the Sherlock Holmes films with Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson) is marvellous as the handome and aristocratic- and neatly moustached- Dr. Wolf Von Frankenstein, who initially has no intention in the world of following in his father’s ultimately murderous footsteps.
His father was, of course, the fantastic Colin Clive’s character in FRANKENSTEIN and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the ‘mad scientist’ who created life, ie, the Monster, out of the dead body parts of cadavers which his mad assistant Ygor dug up for him from local cemeteries. What a wholesome thought.
His triumph ended in catastrophe for the locals, however, who don’t even want to hear the word of ‘Frankenstein’ mentioned in their hearing ever again, never mind nestling and nurturing a further generation of mad Monster-creators in its collective bosom.
They don’t even like the idea that the mad scientist’s old laboratory is still there, glowering down at the town from its lofty position on the top of a mountain just across from the Frankenstein’s family domicile, the fabulous old castle. I bet they’d just as soon see it burned down in one big inferno and be done with it.
But when Bela Lugosi (DRACULA, 1931) as the still-living Ygor takes Wolf to view the still-intact but comatose remains of the Monster in the Frankenstein family crypt, Wolf can’t resist Ygor’s suggestion that he use his father’s old notes and records to… You’ve guessed it. Revive the Monster…
Of course, when he inevitably succeeds in bringing Boris Karloff’s superb Frankenstein’s Monster back to grisly life, the Monster predictably runs amok in the town, just like the cookie foretold. (Another SIMPSONS reference there, heh-heh-heh.)
He’s particularly gunning for Ygor’s enemies, the last of the eight men who sentenced Ygor to hang for his part in Colin Clive’s character’s crimes. They did hang him, in fact, but it didn’t fully take and so now Ygor feels invincible, untouchable, like he’s unkillable or something.
Certainly he can’t be sentenced to death again, as he’s already been declared legally dead by the town council, headed by the Burgomaster, without which no self-respecting town in a UNIVERSAL FRANKENSTEIN movie would be complete. No wonder Ygor feels that he can safely send Frankie out into the streets of the darkened village to kill the last two still-living members of the posse of eight that initially sentenced him to death.
Screen villain Lionel Atwill (SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON, THE VAMPIRE BAT) is brilliant as Inspector Krogh, the local copper who knows full well that there’s skullduggery afoot in Castle Frankenstein but he and Wolf have to play this elaborate game of cat-and-mouse with each other first before he can get to the real truth of the matter.
Inspector Krogh has first-hand experience of the horror of the Monster. When he was a child, presumably during the initial period when Frankie was brought to life by Colin Clive’s character, he bumped into the Monster during one of his rampages. He had his little right arm ripped out by the roots for his trouble. Now he wears a fake arm, and he’s understandably wary when he hears rumours from the worried townspeeps about the possibly monstrous goings-on up at the old castle.
Little curly-headed Peter is the one who gives the game away to Krogh when he talks about a friendly ‘giant,’ wearing a big furry jacket, who comes to visit him in his bedroom at night through a hole in the wall… Sounds well dodgy to me, does that…!
By the way, the chap who plays Peter- Donnie Dunagan- is still alive at the ripe old age of eighty-four. Furthermore, it may interest you film buffs to know that in 1942, this child star was the voice of Bambi in the famous DISNEY film that’s been tugging at heartstrings everywhere for nearly eighty years now, which is no mean feat.
THE SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is so atmospheric, and it brings out a wonderful nostalgia as well in the viewer for the original Frankie films. Basil Rathbone hams it up marvellously as the slightly manic Dr. Frankenstein and Bela Lugosi is deliciously evil as Ygor. And with those fake teeth he’s wearing, he looks like the cartoon character Muttley from the pairing of Dastardly And Muttley, remember, the doggie who was always sniggering? Aw. Such a sweet film. You’ll love it.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
You can contact Sandra at: