Entertainment Magazine

Son of Frankenstein

Posted on the 12 October 2016 by Christopher Saunders
Son of FrankensteinBoris Karloff bade Frankenstein's monster farewell with Son of Frankenstein (1939). While lacking the artistry of James Whale's earlier films, it's an enjoyable enough chiller.
Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) returns to his father's homeland, haunted by memories of the Monster's (Boris Karloff) rampage. Wolf discovers crook-necked villain Ygor (Bela Lugosi) living in an old laboratory with the Monster lying comatose. Frankenstein tries to revive the Monster, drawing suspicions of townsfolk. Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill), nursing a lifelong grudge against the Monster, confronts Wolf and the Monster.
Son of Frankenstein's much more polished than Whale's work. Rowland V. Lee's direction is rather workmanlike, but the film benefits from an expanded budget, with larger sets (a cavernous, rococo castle and sulfurous laboratory) and more exterior scenes. The movie certainly looks nice, even if its pacing bogs down in repetitive scenes of the town council debating Frankenstein's fate.
Where its predecessors took place in a mythic past, Son confronts monsters with modernity, superstition with scientists. Wyllis Cooper's script shows superstitious villagers maintaining a "civilized" façade but obsessed with terror. Ygor survived a hanging and gloats that he cheated death when many of his prosecutors died. Frankenstein meticulously measures the Monster's blood and vital signs. Yet his research gives way to madness as the Monster goes on the rampage, spurred by vengeful, flute-playing Ygor.
But Son is weakest in story logic, conveniently explaining the Monster as indestructible, a trait never granted him in the past. Just as well, for the Monster is merely a menace to be disposed of at the climax, without humanity or pathos. The pacing flags and the plot progression occasionally feels unnatural; in particular, the Doctor's conversion from well-meaning to mad scientist isn't convincing. He's practically salivating at restoring his father's achievements from his introduction; depicting him as a corrupted nice guy doesn't work, and the film lacks a hook beyond chills.
While Boris Karloff's reduced to grunting and killing, the supporting cast fares well. Basil Rathbone is much more compelling than Colin Clive, even if his character development seems abrupt. Lionel Atwill's inspector, posing an artificial limb and brooding over childhood trauma, steals the show with quiet, haunted dignity. Bela Lugosi's gnarled teeth and slurred Hungarian growls are more tolerable than Dwight Frye's shameless clowning.
Son of Frankenstein's biggest mark on pop culture comes through parody, as Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein lifted its plot, characters and several scenes almost verbatim. If it doesn't measure up to Bride of Frankenstein, it still offers respectable entertainment.

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