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SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE (director: Rowland V. Lee; screenwriters: Willis Cooper/from the story by Mary Shelley; cinematographer: George Robinson; editor: Ted J. Kent; music: Frank Skinner; cast: Basil Rathbone (Baron Wolf von Frankenstein), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Bela Lugosi (Ygor), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Krogh), Josephine Hutchinson (Elsa von Frankenstein), Edgar Norton (Thomas Benson, the Butler), Donnie Dunagan (Peter von Frankenstein), Perry Ivins (Fritz), Emma Dunn (Amelia, the Nursemaid), Lionel Belmore (Lang), Michael Mark (Neumüller); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Rowland V. Lee; Universal; 1939)
“Despite all its flaws, there are enough grand moments to make this into a superior Frankenstein tale.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Rowland V. Lee (“Zoo in Budapest-1933″) directs a stylish and entertaining and sinister Frankenstein tale. The film is noteworthy for its craftsmanship rather than its artistry. The set is superbly shot in a classic German Expressive mold — as the enormous labyrinthine castle is composed of frightening shadows and secret rooms. “The Son of Frankenstein” features four of the horror genre’s most representative members — Basil Rathbone as the arrogant Baron Wolf von Frankenstein; Boris Karloff plays the monster for the third and last time; Bela Lugosi is Ygor, the broken-necked shepherd and former assistant to Frankenstein, a survivor of a hanging for grave robbing who has now become the monster’s master; and, Lionel Atwill as the one-armed Inspector Krogh, who lost his arm to the monster which prevented his military career. The plot dwells on the murders in the village.

Wolf von Frankenstein is the scientist son of the madman scientist Henry von Frankenstein, who miraculously created a monster from cosmic rays. His attempt to imitate God caused many deaths and injuries. The monster was supposedly destroyed by the villagers, Ygor hung on the gallows, and Frankenstein’s lab had its roof blown off and its equipment vandalized. Wolf returns home with his American wife Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson) and their young son Peter (Dunagan) and their two loyal servants, Benson the butler (Norton) and Amelia the nursemaid (Dunn), to his father’s estate to claim his inheritance. He’s greeted at the train station with contempt by the locals, even though he claims to have no intention of carrying on where his father left off in his experiments.

But Wolf ‘s surprised to find Ygor and the monster alive, living where the dead are buried in the castle. The temptation is too much for the young scientist and he revives the comatose monster by electrical stimulation, but oddly enough no explanation is offered for why the monster survived a certain death. Wolf does mention that the monster was created to live forever, but that doesn’t check out in the final death scene when Wolf in disgust with how brutal the monster is…kicks him into a bath of sulfur foaming under the castle.

After the monster is revived by Wolf he disregards his commands and obeys only the evil Ygor’s, as Ygor gets the monster to kill the two remaining jury members who voted to have him hung. He also has the monster kill Benson before he can buy railway tickets for Frankenstein’s wife and son to flee to Brussels. Ygor wants them to remain in the castle as his hostages, as he hopes to continue his reign of terror on the town.

The most unforgettable scene is when the monster rips off the artificial limb of Inspector Krogh in his cave hideout, after having snatched Peter.

Ygor becomes the focal point of the film instead of the monster. This was a mistake. There’s an outstanding performance by Lugosi, while Karloff is reduced to being a zombie figure controlled by Ygor and elicits no sympathy for being a monster like he did in the original film. While Rathbone is an unctuous figure who is self-righteous and shows no concern for the public and the dangers he exposes them to as he carries on his illicit treatment and experiments on the monster; and, what is worst than even that, he continues to lie about it while the monster goes on his murder spree as ordered by Ygor. The Rathbone character proves to be almost as repulsive a figure as Ygor, but because of his wealth and family status he comes off smelling like a rose by the film’s end. Despite all its flaws, there are enough grand moments to make this into a superior Frankenstein tale.

REVIEWED ON 11/12/2002 GRADE: B +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”