Skiffy Flix: Son of Frankenstein

This third Frankenstein film, Son of Frankenstein, from 1939 (, again features Boris Karloff as the monster. I saw this film decades ago, likely in the 1990s when there was a fine, independent video rental store around the corner from my house in Granada Hills (now of course long gone). It was from that video rental store that I watched many of the 1950s SF movies I am now about to watch again, as well as where I discovered the films of Preston Sturges, especially The Lady Eve.

The various popular horror films of the 1930s, about Frankenstein and Dracula and the Wolf Man, were the earliest franchises. Sequels were made as long as they kept making money. Yet however serious the originals versions were, the sequels became invariably crude and trivial; thus various mash-ups were created to drum up kiddie interest, at least, like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (, which made no sense.

I recently bought DVD sets of all the Frankenstein and Wolf Man films, but don’t intend to watch any of the later ones. (The boxed sets were bargains.)

What I recall especially from seeing Son of Frankenstein was a particular feature of the film, distinct from the earlier two films. That is: the set design. Especially the interior of the Frankenstein mansion. The phrase I recall to describe it is “German Expressionism,” meaning highly stylized and perhaps symbolic. In Son of Frankenstein, the interior of the mansion is enormous, and the angles are odd, the lighting to match. (Wikipedia has this,, which mentions many familiar examples, but not this film.) The odd thing is, I’m not sure how I was alerted to this feature, or where I heard the term. The videotape box? Some reference work I have that I haven’t glanced at in years? The Wikipedia entry for the film doesn’t use the term, nor is there a DVD feature about it or a mention on the DVD case.

The plot, very roughly is this: the son of the original Henry Frankenstein, Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, played by Basil Rathbone (who was famous in later years as playing Sherlock Holmes in many films), returns to his father’s village, to reclaim his estate and redeem his father’s reputation. The villagers are hostile; they remember, perhaps in exaggerated detail, the depredations wrought by the monster. Taking occupation of the house, he meets Ygor, a demented sidekick (the first film had the hunchback Fritz), who reveals both Frankenstein’s father’s crypt, and—the body of the monster! The Baron decides to revive the monster as a way to redeem his father’s original vision. (Ygor is played by Bela Lugosi, also in The Wolf Man, as if Hollywood figured he had to be part of every high-profile horror film.)

Things go wrong; the revived monster responds only to Ygor’s commands. Ygor has him murder several townspeople who were jurors at Ygor’s trial for grave-robbing. The Baron shoots Ygor; in revenge the monster abducts the Baron’s son but cannot bring itself to kill him; the Baron managed to push the monster over into a Sulphur pit under the lab. (Here again the monster is shown to be kind and generous at heart; it’s the people who fear him and overreact.) The Baron departs, leaving the mansion to cheering villagers.

Basil Rathbone is a much better actor than was Colin Clive as the senior Frankenstein, but either he or the director make an odd choice about half way through this film, as Rathbone goes from playing the character sympathetically, to seeming half-demented once he’s revived the monster, with an obsequious little sneer on his face.

I may have seen the 1974 spoof Young Frankenstein before I saw, in the 1990s, any of the original films. It’s worth noting that that spoof film uses a couple essential elements of this third original film: the character Ygor, and the character or a local police inspector with a mechanical arm. A Wiki check on Young Frankenstein indicates a basis on the first four or five original films, not just the first three…so perhaps I’ll check out one or two more later Frankenstein films, if only to better appreciate Young F when I revisit it.

This entry was posted in Films, Movies, Skiffy Flix. Bookmark the permalink.