Son Of Frankenstein (1939)

APRIL 28, 2008


In the still-underrated Gods and Monsters, Ian McKellan, playing Bride of Frankenstein director James Whale, refers to the directors of the Frankenstein films that followed Bride as “hacks”. It’s a funny line and all, but I would hope no one else would, like me, assume for the next 9 years that the next film, Son Of Frankenstein, wasn’t as worthy a piece as a result. Because, in reality, Son is a damn good movie, if a bit slow.

The reason it feels slow is probably because the movie is like a half hour longer than most of the other films of the era (indeed – the only longer Universal monster movie is the Spanish version of Dracula). But it’s also a bit lacking in action during the middle, and could definitely have used another scene or two of Frankie just going apeshit. This one clearly had a big budget and good effects guys – the scene where he destroys a lab is top notch, probably the biggest action spectacle seen in a horror movie at the time it was released.

Otherwise it’s one of the best I’ve seen from the period. Adding Lugosi was a nice touch, and it worked beautifully. I didn’t even know he was in the film until the other day, when a buddy of mine was expressing his amusement over a song that used audio samples from the film, particularly of Lugosi saying “ they say!” over and over. This random anecdote was enough to put aside my increasingly dull Horror Classics set for the day and dig into my Universal Monster collections, so you KNOW it was funny.

Lugosi also plays the film’s score in a few scenes. It’s hilarious – you hear music, and think it’s the score, but then they cut to Lugosi, sitting in a window, playing a horn/flute/whatever.

It’s also a fare more suspenseful film than the others, in my opinion. The last third of the film deals with everyone coming at Frankenstein’s son from every angle – the cop who thinks he’s a murderer, the townsfolk who think he created a murderer, and the Monster, of course, who is seeking revenge against him. Add in a kid in peril and lots of Expressionistic-lite elements (the staircase, for example) and you got yourself a highly engaging movie.

Lionel Atwill also appears in the film, which isn’t really a big surprise. He appears to be in just about every horror movie made during the 30s. Sort of the Bill Moseley of his day.

I should also note, because someone will bitch if I don’t, that this is the last time Karloff played the Monster in this particular Frankenstein series. Bummer.

What say you?


  1. It was also supposed to be the first of the group in color - hence the costume adjustments, the vest and so on. But Universal changed their mind at the last minute. I always thought it was underrated, too.

  2. One of Lugosi's best performances imo--he's wonderful to watch as the original Ygor. Really got to play a different character here than his aristocratic typecasting, and he's great.

    I loved Lionel Atwill's character, and his backstory of having been crippled by the monster years back, giving a sense of history and the passage of time to it. Then his confrontation at the end was that much more resonant, esp. with the Monster standing over the Doctor's toddler son (a development they took from the original novel, though in that one the monster actually killed the kid).

    I dig this one a lot--but then I've always thought the Frankenstein series was the gold standard, followed by the only slightly less-excellent Creature from the Black Lagoon series.


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget