SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) is
final movie as the Frankenstein Monster. It seems to take
place some years after THE
BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, as Henry Frankenstein
is now dead and his son, Wolf (of course), is a full grown man, and
soon to be full-fledged mad scientist. The film was not directed by the
great James Whale, who helmed the first two films, but by Rowland V.
Lee, who specialized in costumes dramas such as THE COUNT OF MONTE
CRISTO (1934) and THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1935). He doesn't have the
flair of Whale, but he does a serviceable job, and there is a
sufficient creepy atmosphere provided by the strange and shadowy
angular sets and the cast of bizarre characters.
Bela Lugosi creates his most memorable character since Count Dracula in Ygor, the crazy, broken-necked body snatcher who is nursing the Monster back to health. Lugosi often had a bad habit of either chewing up the scenery or sleepwalking through his films, but when handed a juicy part, which wasn't often enough, he proved himself to be in the same league as Karloff at instilling ghoulish characters with personality and dignity.
Karloff has little to do as the Monster, as for at least half of the film he is in a coma. His hair has grown back and is a little too neatly trimmed and dyed a touch too dark, and he is now sporting a horrible sheepskin poncho. The new look does not suit him well, and this, plus the long delay in the movie before he is up and about and smashing things, makes this a rather lesser film than its illustrious predecessors. Karloff does have some magnificent moments, such as when he sees himself in the mirror and is depressed at how ugly he is compared to the handsome Wolf. Later, his agonized, gut wrenching scream when he comes upon a dead friend is one of the series' most heartbreaking scenes.
The soon to be ubiquitous Lionel Atwill plays Inspector Krogh, the constable with an artificial arm (which serves as a handy place for holding your darts while playing a friendly game with Wolf Frankenstein.) As he explains to Wolf, he lost his arm after a tussle with the Monster years ago, and adds with dramatic understatement "One doesn't easily forget an arm torn out by its roots." I imagine not.
Basil Rathbone, in one of his last evil parts before becoming the definitive screen Sherlock Holmes, works hard but can hardly compete with the weirdness of the rest of the fine cast. This is not meant to slight Rathbone, but when you are pitted against an undead brute, a broken-necked loon and a one armed inspector, it is hard to come off as anything but a Zeppo.
The first two Frankenstein films concentrated on squeezing every bit of atmosphere, horror and comedy out of each scene. SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is what it is: an enjoyable, ultimately unsatisfactory movie made to cash in on the success of the recent theatrical re-releases of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN. ½ - JB