Son of Frankenstein is a well produced step backwards for the franchise. After the failure of Dracula’s Daughter, Universal monster movies took a 2 year break. The success of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein made a third installment the best possible comeback. I was such a big fan that my parents got me a 5 movie Frankenstein box set when I was kid. My brother and I made the mistake of watching beyond the first 2 classics. Son of Frankenstein isn’t a bad sequel, but it did hurt my perception of the Monster I sympathized with. As the title suggests, the legendary Basil Rathbone plays Henry’s son Baron Wolf von Frankenstein.
Wolf moves his family to Frankenstein’s castle where the village immediately shuns them. Josephine Hutchinson plays his concerned wife Elsa and pre-Bambi Donnie Dunagan plays their precocious son Peter. Like the real world, the name Frankenstein has become synonymous with horror. The only person who befriends the family is an inspector played by Lionel Atwill whose arm was torn off by the Monster. Frankenstein’s quest for acceptance is intriguing, but the movie is an hour and 39 minutes too long for 1939. Boris Karloff’s final time as the Monster is severely reduced in comparison. Wolf shows some of his father’s madness when Ygor convinces him to bring his father’s creation out of a coma.
The first official appearance of Ygor sees an unrecognizable Bela Lugosi steal the show as a hairy criminal with a broken neck caused by an unsuccessful hanging. The Monster loses all of his character development from Bride of Frankenstein. Now he’s a grunting killing machine with a furry vest that does Ygor’s bidding. His innocence comes out when sparing Peter’s life, but he still dies a monster. Apart from the good performances, it’s the massive production value that saves the movie. James Whale may not have directed, but at least it retains the black & white atmosphere that came before. Son of Frankenstein gave the Monster some dignity before the quality suffered.