Related Posts with Thumbnails

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Son of Frankenstein (1939) review


Basil Rathbone (Baron Wolf von Frankenstein), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Bela Lugosi (Ygor), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Krogh), Josephine Hutchinson (Elsa von Frankenstein), Donnie Dunagan (Peter von Frankenstein)

Directed by Rowland V. Lee

The Short Version: Beautifully shot sequel in the ongoing FRANKENSTEIN series from Universal is arguably the most lavish and best acted of the series. Overflowing with a baroque style echoing the Expressionist cinema of Germany, it's as much a painting come to life as it is the third resurrection of the monster. Rathbone's Frankenstein and Lugosi's crazed crooked-necked hunchback vie for the top spot while Karloff's creature feels like an incidental character. For fans of Uni-Horror, it's a top class fright flick pairing two genre heavyweights and production values to match.

Baron Wolf Von Frankenstein, the son of Henry Frankenstein, moves his family from America to his father's castle in Europe--much to the disdain of the local villagers who haven't forgotten the nightmare wrought by Frankenstein's hellish experiments. Living below the castle in the family crypt is Ygor, the late patriarch's former assistant who miraculously survived a hanging after the court sentenced him to die. Wolf also finds his father's lumbering, murderous creation has likewise survived, but remains comatose. Desiring revenge on the eight jurors that sent him to hang, Ygor convinces the young Frankenstein to revive the monster; unaware that the demented hunchback wishes to use the Monster to kill those who've wronged him.

Traditionally, sequels are lesser affairs compared to the films that beget them. In regards to 1931s FRANKENSTEIN, this is not the case; the films get better with each succeeding entry--reaching an artistic zenith rarely seen in a 'part 3'. It would seem extremely difficult to top--much less match--Whale's BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), but director Lee achieved just that with this second, even more expensive sequel. After SON, things did begin to slouch comfortably into 'B' movie territory. 

After a successful re-release of some of their top horror titles, Universal decided to revive their Franken-franchise for a third go-round; bringing back some old faces and attaching some new ones. Universal wanted Peter Lorre in the title role, but he turned it down--reportedly because he had tired of villainous roles. However, incoming director Rowland V. Lee preferred Basil Rathbone--whom he'd worked with previously. In a surprising turn--refreshing that it is--the role of the son as played by Basil isn't the madman with the God complex as portrayed by Colin Clive in the previous two films.

Rathbone does flirt with his father's scientific obsession although he never descends into madness over it. His eventual scientific pursuits aren't for personal gain, but to bring legitimacy to his father's work. Colin Clive's Frankenstein wore his insanity like a tailored suit. His son, on the other hand, is a stubborn man seduced into picking up where his father left off; embarking on an ill-advised mission to bring some respectability to the family name; this upon discovering his father's creature is still alive--and quite immortal--if in a comatose state after an accident.

Another character in the film is also ambitious, if for a darker, insidious purpose...

Bela Lugosi's raucous, show-stealing turn as Ygor, the elder Frankenstein's broken-necked assistant, is the very definition of deranged. Ygor takes advantage of Frankenstein's naivete for his own ends. Wolf wishes to redeem his father's work while Ygor secretly wishes to use the Monster as an instrument of revenge against the eight jurors that hanged him. Once Wolf makes the Monster well again, Ygor controls him with a flute-like instrument--sending the creature out into the night to kill. The true monster of the film, Ygor is calculatingly evil. Frankenstein was misguided; Ygor is an outright murderer.

Arguably Lugosi's best performance, he would reprise the part of Ygor in the next sequel, THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942). The actor would instill the same ferocity into his role even if the budget and production values can't measure up. On a related note, the character of 'Igor' is often associated with FRANKENSTEIN (1931) despite that film's unhinged hunchback bearing the name of Fritz (as played to perfection by Dwight Frye). SON is the first movie to utilize such a character bearing that name.

Boris Karloff underneath Jack Pierce's incredible makeup is synonymous with both the FRANKENSTEIN series and the character of the Monster in general. He returns for the third and last time as the mad scientist's stitched-together experiment. Sadly, he's not on-camera that much; and what footage there is, it's basically a run-through of his reactions from the previous entries with little of the pathos of the previous two films. Karloff's noted tiring of the role would mirror that of Christopher Lee's disdain for donning the Dracula cape "just one more time" in a series of Hammer sequels that gave him little to do but snarl at the camera.

Master monster maker Jack Pierce's Franken-appliance is as good as before, but it's his Ygor makeup that both repulses and horrifies. With his bent, broken neck, rotted teeth and wild eyes, you can almost smell the stench of death oozing from Lugosi's lips whenever he speaks his lines. Without the astonishing makeup of Jack Pierce, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN--and a great many other Uni-horrors--wouldn't be the influential classics they remain seventy years later. 

He wasn't as venerable as Karloff and Lugosi, but Lionel Atwill was equally adept in horror film roles having done his fair share of them in the 1930s and 1940s. Among the notable titles on his resume include DOCTOR X (1932), THE MYSTERY IN THE WAX MUSEUM (1932), MURDERS IN THE ZOO (1933), MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935), MAN-MADE MONSTER (1941), THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943), HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945).

Well known for portraying villains (made even more pronounced by his deep voice), Atwill excelled in good guy roles like SON's Inspector Krogh--the one=armed policeman who lost his arm to the Monster as a young boy. The part of Krogh was among the spoofery found in Mel Brooks's classic comedy YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974).

Rowland V. Lee directed both Basil and Boris again in the same year's TOWER OF LONDON--a heavily horror tinted historical drama about Richard III. Rathbone is the hunchbacked Richard while Karloff is his bald-headed decapitator. Vincent Price is among Richard's victims--drowned in a vat of wine. Price got his turn at playing Richard of Gloucester in Corman's own B/W remake in 1962. The horror of his version was even more palpable; even if the monochrome photography was an odd fit nestled between Corman's color adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's works.

While the famous line of "It's alive!" is uttered once more, the sound of "It's a hit!" was heard in theaters across the country. SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) was a huge success--ensuring the celluloid lineage didn't stop with the SON. And while the level of quality would deteriorate, the entertainment value would live on in four more sequels.

Originally, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN was to have been shot in color, but the decision to film in more moody B/W won out, although some test color footage with Karloff as the monster was shot. The B/W photography is among the best of any horror film with impeccable lighting and shadows draped over virtually every sequence. The influence of German Expressionist cinema is evidenced throughout as well. Lee's film is a veritable painting come to life; a beautiful, macabre picture in motion.

A gamble that paid off (even if they didn't roll the dice again in terms of budget), Universal captured lightning in a bottle with this third Frank flick. Brilliance abounds in this, the longest of the series (approximately 100 minutes in length). One of Universal's best in their long line of Golden Age Horror Pictures. It's not only alive, but the horror lives on all these years later.

This review is representative of Universal's Frankenstein Double Feature DVD paired with THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942). Specs and Extras: Full-frame presentation; Production notes; cast and crew information; running time: 01:39:20

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.