The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

Son of Frankenstein (1939) Classic Movie Review 9

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

One doesn't easily forget, Herr Baron, an arm torn out by the roots.

Son of Frankenstein (1939) had some of the biggest stars of their time – Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, and Boris Karloff.

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Hello, today we are going to continue with the October 2014 Frankenstein line. Today’s film is Son of Frankenstein (1939). It is the last of the three Universal Pictures Frankenstein’s and in many ways may be the best of the three. Basil Rathbone was a much better actor than many of the others cast in this role. Bela Lugosi was amazing as Ygor both frightening and enthralling. His hands did half of his acting. Also, Karloff was able to spend more time upright as the monster and showed more of his range of emotions. They covered many of the problems like the exploding castle but fell short on the forgiveness of Dr. F.

Today’s first character is Basil Rathbone who played Baron Wolf von Frankenstein the son of Henry. Rathbone was born in South Africa, in 1892, but left as a forthcoming Boer War. In England Rathbone attended Repton School where he excelled at fencing, a skill that would serve him well later in the movies, and showed an interest in theater. After graduation, he worked for one year in business to please his father and then left for the theater. He had a cousin that was managing one of the Shakespearean troupes in Stratford-on-Avon. He joined at the bottom rung and began working his way to larger roles. These roles were interrupted by WWI when Rathbone severed as a second lieutenant in the Liverpool Scottish 2nd Battalion. He was assigned to military intelligence and later received the Military Cross for bravery. In 1919, he returned to Stratford-on-Avon. After a year there he moved to the London stage and eventually began working on Broadway.

Eventually, he left the stage to begin working in movies. His roles evolved from ladies man to sinister villain where his sword work became more important. The 1930s were very good for him where he had a run of costume dramas that included Captain Blood (1935), David Copperfield (1935), A Tale of Two Cities (1935), Anna Karenina (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Mark of Zorro (1940), Romeo and Juliet (1936), and If I Were King (1938).

In 1939, Rathbone took the role for which he was most famous, that Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939). Over the next seven years, there was a total of 145 Sherlock Homes movies starring Rathbone.

Following WWII Rathbone returned to the stage trying to lose the stereotype of Holmes. However, this was not successful. He continued to work in movies until his death.

Boris Karloff played the role of the Monster. Again I don’t think I will get much argument if I say he was the greatest Frank of them all. Although Peter Boyle was pretty good.

Karloff was a British actor that began stage work in Canada and then made his way to Hollywood. He made some silent films but had to maintain jobs such as ditch digger to survive. By 1931 Karloff was on his way with The Criminal Code (1931) and Five Star Final (1931), a film that was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Of course, the biggest role of all was that of the monster in Frankenstein (1931). Karloff was about 5 feet 11 inches. The costume that he wore for this role had 4-inch platforms and that weighed 8 pounds each. Karloff’s costume was designed by Jack Pierce and was copyrighted by Universal Studios making it harder for other studios to copy the success of Frankenstein. Oddly Lon Chaney Sr, father of wolfman Lon Chaney jr. Was offer the role of the monster but died before the filming. It was then offered to Bela Lugosi who turned it down because he didn’t want to be covered by makeup.

A year later, Karloff played Imhotep in The Mummy and the starring role in The Mask of Fu Manchu. He played non-horror genres as well such as being gunned down in a bowling alley in Scarface 1932 and a religious soldier in The Lost Patrol (1934)

However, it seems that horror was his thing. Karloff played in four Frankenstein movies, the original, today’s movie, Son of Frankenstein (1939), that also featuring Lugosi, House of Frankenstein (1944), and the Frankenstein 1970 (1958) as the grandson of the original creator where he showed that the original Baron had given his own face to the monster.

Bela Lugosi played the role of Ygor the friend and controller of the monster. I have to try and read this: Lugosi was born Be’la Ferenc Dezso Blasko in 1882 in Lugos, Austria-Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania). During WWI Lugosi was an infantry lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian Army. Yes, that is correct, it’s the other side. Since he was active in the Actors Union during the Hungarian Revolution of 1919 he was forced to leave his homeland. For a time he continued to act in Berlin but left for America in 1920. he arrived in New Orleans in December 1920. This makes me wonder, where the rats disappearing on the boat and did he mingle with the Crescent city vampires.

Read more about Bela Lugosi.

After working on the stage for three years he got his first silent screen role in America, he had been in a dozen or so in Hungary. By 1927, he was back on Broadway in the role of Dracula. It has always been rumored the Lon Chaney Sr. was the first choice for the role but died before shooting began. There is some controversy with this a Chaney was under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and would not have been available. Well, Lugosi got the role and since then he has been the archetypical vampire to most of us. However, this stuck Lugosi in the horror genera.

Helped organize the Screen Actors Guild in the mid-30’s, joining as member number 28.

Lugosi was typed into the horror genre because of his accent. a change in ownership at universal causes the number of horror roles to decrease. He also began taking opiates for his war wounds.

He finished his career in b movies such as Glen or Glenda (1953) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) which was completed with a stunt double following his death. He died of a heart attack August 16, 1956. Buried in his full Dracula costume, including a cape.

Lionel Atwill played the role of Inspector Krogh. He was educated in London and began his screen work at the age of 20. In 1915, he came to America. He was in 25 plays on Broadway and has his first major film role in 1932.

He had a deep voice and bullying manner which severed him well in his roles as noblemen, mad doctors, military, and policemen. He usually wore a trademark thin mustache. His roles include Captain Blood (1935) and To Be or Not to Be (1942).

His career was ruined in 1943 after he was implicated in what was described as an “orgy” at his home that included, naked guests, pornographic films, and a rape occurred during the event.

Josephine Hutchinson played the role of Elsa von Frankenstein. An American, she came to Hollywood in 1934 to work for Warners. She had mostly small roles including one in North by Northwest (1959). She worked a lot in television in the 50s and 60s.

Normally I wouldn’t mention the child actor Donnie Dunagan who played Peter von Frankenstein. Asa a child in this movie he wasn’t afraid of anything and that must be true of him in real life. He debut was in Mother Carey’s Chickens (1938). After sons, he was the voice talent for young Bambi (1942). He later became a career Marine (1952-77), serving in Vietnam and working in counter intelligence.

Michael Mark had an uncredited role as Edwald Numuller.

The is one unconfirmed actor and two uncredited. Dwight Frye, the original assistant was supposed to be one of the villagers. Ward Bond was in an uncredited role as a Gendarme and famous olympian Jim Thorpe was one of the town burgers.

In the tiny village of Frankenstein, the burgomaster (Lawrence Grant) says he has two boxes to give the new Baron Frankenstein when they return to the village. Stop two minutes into this film it is clear that one of the boxes has the notes for monster creating. They could just throw it in the fire. It’s like the House of Slytherin, why not just wipe those guys out and save a lot of trouble. Or don’t build a King Kong size door.

The son of Henry Frankenstein, Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), his wife Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson), and their young son Peter (Donnie Dunagan) return to the ancestral village. The village was located somewhere near hell as shown by the exterior landscapes seen during the train trip. Glowing skies and dead trees. It could be a WWI no-mans-land I suppose. Elsa even questions Wolf about the landscaped. Yeah, she calls him Wolf. So anyway it’s been 25 years since the monster terrorized the local landscape so surely all must be forgiven and forgotten.

Ygor (Bela Lugosi) has been living in the ruined castle for some time. It’s not clear if he is the Fritz character of just a hanged grave robber that took of residence in the castle. Oh, by the way, did I mentioned that castle was not destroyed, but we saw it explode with the destructor lever in the bridge. Don’t worry they fix that up in a bit.

The Frank family arrives at the town and the entire village and city council has turned out in a late night violent rain storm. The Burgomaster states “We are here to great you but not to make you welcome. Wolf Frank gives them the ole “why can’t we all get along speech” but they walk out on him.

The Franks take a car to the castle, you know its modern there now. The front door of the castle has Hugh knockers. They reconnect with Amelia (Emma Dunn) the nanny, Lang (Lionel Belmore), the butler, and Benson (Edgar Norton), Wolf’s faithful assistant. They are introduced to the Tyroleans helpers Ewald Neumüller (Michael Mark) and Mrs. Neumüller (Caroline Cooke) because the locals refuse to work for them. When Elsa goes to the bedroom the beds are head to head. Amelia tells her “If the house is filled with dread, place the bed’s head to head.” Yet they stay.

So the first night old Wolf reads the papers from the monster creating instructions and decides dear ole dad was just misunderstood. He dashes over to the lab where Ygor tries to kill him. But they quickly become friends and Ygor shows Wolf the body of the monster (Boris Karloff) laying peacefully in a coma. Igor explains that he was Putin a coma by a lighting strike. Dr. F sees the monster move and gets to do the “it’s alive” bit.

Igor explains that Dr. Frankenstein and monster are brothers from another mother.

Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) tries to set Dr. Frankenstein straight but Wolfe downplays the damage done by the monster until Krogh states “One doesn’t easily forget, Herr Baron, an arm torn out by the roots”. Krough Tells Dr. F that if the villagers bother he take a hand. See what he did. He only has one hand.

Dr. F explains the castle destruction by making the laboratory a separate building that only had the roof blown off. Dr. F brings Benson in to help against Ygor’s objections. They fix the lab up and begin probing and prodding the comatose monster. it seems at one point they hooked a CPAP to the monster. Dr. F reveals That his dad attracted cosmic rays instead of lightning rays and that’s why the monster is superhuman.

The city council meet again and reveal that 6 of the eight people who sentenced Ygor to be hanged has been murdered. Did I mention that Ygor had been hung, pronounced dead, was tossed into the castle but wasn’t dead. Since his execution had been carried out correct and he was hung by the neck until pronounced dead they didn’t feel they hang him again.

The council questions Ygor and then hires Ewald Neumüller As an in castle spy.

Dr. F Shocks the monster with a generator charge and feels that he failed to revive the creature.

Dr. F’s kid reports that a giant has been coming to visit him. Yet they stay.

Dr. F sees the monster and the monster has a pity party in front of a mirror. It is clear that Ygor is controlling the monster.

Just for effect, there is an old Roman sulfur spring under the castle that has now grown to over 800 degrees. See where this going. It is also a reference to hell as the birthplace of the monster.

Igor since the monster out to kill and then uses the shofar to bring him home. He kills the other two jury members and Benson is missing.

Now Bill Cosby always said that as a child the monster was the scariest of them all. But as an adult, he wondered how a monster that slow could kill anyone. Well, they show how in this movie. The monster hangs from a tree like an ape and grabs the victim by the neck quickly snapping it.

Well true to form the villagers get their torches and pitchforks and head for the castle.

Inspector Krogh shows up and Dr. Frankenstein almost misses the dart board. Cats beware. The inspector breaks the case with the help of the son and finds the entrance to the underground cave that leads to the lab. He also finds Benson’s body.

The Doc goes to the lab and shoots Ygor in self-defense. When the monster sees Ygor is dead he goes crazy. The monster heads to Peter’s room to kidnap him. Meanwhile, the inspector plays a little darts and holds the darts by sticking them in his wooden arm.

Krogh and Dr. f make to the lab where the monster has Peter. The monster rips Krogh’s wooden arm off. Dr. F swings on a rope like Errol Flynn and kicks the monster into the sulfur pit.

So the monster is dead. Maybe.

Now here is where it gets weird. The entire town turns out to say by to their new friends the Frankenstein’s who have donated their castle to the village. And they are allowed to leave with no recourse. After holding a grudge for 25 years they could just forgive and forget. Really

Before we end here let’s take a minute to talk about character names. Dr. F’s first name was Wolf. Was that done to conjure images of the wolf man? His wife’s first name was Elsa the same as the actress that played the bridge. Finally, his son was named Peter. Peter and the Wolf. But I digress.

I mentioned earlier that two was named Frankenstein. In the previous two Universal films, the town was called “Goldstadt” in the first two films in the series, Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

Karloff’s daughter Sara was born during this film and it is rumored that he went to the hospital in full Frank attire.

When Dr. Frankenstein examines the monster’s blood under with a microscope the image is red blood cells overlaid on top of sperm cells. Uhhhh

This film was that the bolts in the monster’s neck were where the electricity entered the monster. However, this was the first film where any wires were connected to the bolts.


a man takes a job in the country but things go badly when he begins to spend too much time on his hobby and falls in with some bad local boys.

[Tweet “Baron Wolf von Frankenstein: (about the Monster) Have you ever even seen him? Inspector Krogh: Most vivid recollection of my life. I was but a child at the time, about the age of your own son Herr Baron. The Monster had escaped and was… ravaging the countryside, killing, maiming, terrorizing. One night he burst into our house. My father took a gun and fired at him but the savage brute sent him crashing to a corner. Then he grabbed me by the arm! (Krogh lowers his wooden arm) Inspector Krogh: One doesn’t easily forget, Herr Baron, an arm torn out by the roots.”]

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