31 Days To Halloween Countdown…Continues with a review of the 1939 film “Son of Frankenstein” by Sam Juliano, from “Wonders in the Dark.”
[Editor’s Note: I want to take this time to express my sincerest thanks to Sam Juliano, for sharing his review of the 1939 film “Son of Frankenstein” and in order to visit Sam Juliano, his writers Allan Fish, Joel Bocko and all his readers from over there at Wonders just follow the link here… Wonders in the Dark …
…Addendum: Since Today Is Halloween I asked Sam Juliano , If It Would Be All right With Him If I Shared His Review of the “Son of Frankenstein”…starring Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, and Boris Karloff With His Readers…And Maybe We Can Get Sam Juliano, To List His Top Ten All Time Favorite Horror Films (That is if he was stranded on a desert island what top 10 not, 11 or 12, but 10 films would he take with him…Well, Wonders in the Dark readers, the gauntlet has been thrown down now it’s up to you to let Sam Juliano, Allan Fish and the readers, here at Wonders in the Dark… know what your favorite top 10 horror films of all time are too this…Halloween! Thanks,
Universal’s Son of Frankenstein, released in 1939, was the final in the series to feature Boris Karloff as the Monster. Produced after a successful re-release of the original Frankenstein and Dracula as a double-bill the year before, the studio decided to bring out a second sequel with a replacement for James Whale, ,who fell into disfavor in the late 30’s. Rowland V. Lee, who had nowhere near Whales’ taste or sensibilities, but who was surely an excellent ‘imitator’ was versed in the Germanic school of filmmaking, which in the worst sense is plodding and theatrical.
Lee downplays physical action in the film, has the monster make a very late entrance, and runs the film to 99 minutes, the longest of any in the series. Karloff was reported to be very disappointed with his role, as it was less substantial than the ones in the first two Frankenstein entries, and he bowed out, even after the film racked up remarkable box office numbers, that convinced Universal to continued with monster movies for the next 20 years.
Word is that the film was originally planned for a Technicolor release, but Karloff’s “green” makeup would have been unconvincing. Scripted by Wyllis Cooper, Son is the first to utilize a plot line that was to be repeated in subsequent sequels- that of a relative of the Monster ‘resurrecting’ him, only to have mayhem erupt in a small village, whose inhabitants conspire to achieve the usual total destruction that ends movies of this type. Admittedly it’s fresher here than in its follow-ups, but the premise is a major plot cliche. Ironically, in Son of Frankenstein, the seemingly static theatrical underpinnings, which replaced the cinematic inventiveness of his predecessor (Bride) work to give the film it’s own identity.Some of the dialogue is inspired, like in one scene where (Bela Lugosi,) playing Igor, looks down upon the then dormant body of The Monster and says cryptically: “He’s my friend……he does things for me.” Needless to say, that line was later seen by some as a sexual reference, but Lugosi plays it to the hilt. Actually the character of Igor is one of the film’s strengths, as
Bela Lugosi, mostly hidden in the shadows, is illuminated by cinematographer George Robinson’s camera to personify the very essence of evil. Needless to say, as Karloff is essentially given little to work with, Lugosi, who desperately needed money, delivers the far more accomplished performances, as his character is fleshed out. Bela Lugosi is touching as the leader of the two outcasts who only have each other in the world, and truth be said the fruits of their association can only end in tragedy.
Some have contended that Basil Rathbone, who plays the lead role, hams it up, but who can argue with that decision, especially as a straight-forward portrayal would make the film even more static than it turned out to be. The maid’s solemn little verse- “When the house is filled with dread, place the beds at head to head” is a piece of Transylvania worth remembering, and Rathbone utters “Strange country!” while looking at the forest of dead trees, and dry-ice mist. There is a level of self-parody that serves as an underpinning for the some of the seemingly austere sequences, but this element works in the film’s favor.
One of the most impressive aspects of Son of Frankenstein is the sets. The sets in the film, constructed by Jack Otterson, are the most impressive of any Universal horror film. Otterson refereed to these sets as “Psychological sets” because they were intended to reflect the moods of the characters inhabiting them.
When combined with the art direction, lighting and general visual elegance it can be safely said that Son of Frankenstein, after Bride, is the most impressive looking film of the series. Of course, the original film was restricted by the relative novelty of the talking picture, while Lee’s film did have the advantage of 9 years in cinematic advancement. Making rain, thunder and darkness pervade the look of the film, Lee creates a nightmare world where the sun is never seen, the country air never experienced and the only trees are dead ones. The palette here is atmospheric, rich and infused with suggestiveness.
The most often posed complaint against Son of Frankenstein is that the Monster is a minor player in the screenplay. As he is basically a tool to enact revenge for Igor, who orders him to murder jurors who tried to have him hung, he is understandable seen as comparatively less important than he was in the previous two films. Still, it would be an injustice to overlook the scene in the lab with Rathbone, where Karloff creates a sympathetic, wretched creature who is trying to make sense of his ugliness, and who in one short segment, uses his facial movements to express his exasperation at the perceived notion that he is looking to hurt Dr. Frankenstein. Karloff’s work in this one scene matches anything he has done previously in the series, but admittedly as the film moves on such opportunities are rarer.
The final third of Son of Frankenstein is weaker than what comes before, but it all comes down to “routine” now that it’s arresting visual look and atmosphere have already given the film’s it’s distinguished look. The plot winds down to concern itself with accusations, inquests and murders, but when the Monster discovers the bullet-ridden body of Igor, we see one of the great moments in all classic horror as the Monster cradles the lifeless hand back and forth. With the gleeful complicity of composer Hans J. Salter, whose melodramatic and lyrical score hone the films emotions even more persuasively, Son of Frankenstein, with its elements of German Expressionism, great lines, stylized sets and arresting performances remains one of Universal’s (and classic horror’s) greatest hours.