Son of Frankenstein

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Son of Frankenstein
Son of Frankenstein movie poster.jpg
1939 US Theatrical Poster
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
Produced by Rowland V. Lee
Written by Novel:
Mary Shelley
Wyllis Cooper
Based on Frankenstein
by Mary Shelley
Starring Basil Rathbone
Boris Karloff
Béla Lugosi
Music by Frank Skinner
Cinematography George Robinson
Edited by Ted Kent
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • January 13, 1939 (1939-01-13)
Running time
99 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $420,000[1]

Son of Frankenstein is a 1939 horror monster film, the third film in Universal Studios' Frankenstein series and the last to feature Boris Karloff as the Monster. It is also the first to feature Bela Lugosi as Ygor. The picture is a sequel to James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein. It is directed by Rowland V. Lee and stars Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff and Béla Lugosi.

The film was a reaction to the very popular re-releases of Dracula with Lugosi and Frankenstein with Karloff as a double-feature in 1938.[2] Universal's declining horror output was revitalized with the enormously successful Son of Frankenstein, in which the studio cast both Karloff and Lugosi.


Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), son of Henry Frankenstein, relocates his wife Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson) and their young son Peter (Donnie Dunagan) to the family castle. Wolf wants to redeem his father's reputation, but finds that such a feat will be harder than he thought after he encounters hostility from the villagers, who resent him for the destruction his father's monster wreaked years before. Aside from his family, Wolf's only friend is the local policeman Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) who bears an artificial arm, his real arm having been "ripped out by the roots" in an encounter with the Monster as a child.

While investigating his father's castle, Wolf meets Ygor (Béla Lugosi), a demented blacksmith who has survived a hanging for graverobbing and has a deformed neck as a result. Wolf finds the Monster's comatose body in the crypt where his grandfather and father were buried; his father's sarcophagus bears the phrase "Henrich von Frankenstein: Maker of Monsters" written in chalk. He decides to revive the Monster to prove his father was right, and to restore honor to his family. Wolf uses the torch to scratch out the word "Monsters" on the casket and write "Men" beside it. When the Monster (Boris Karloff) is revived, it only responds to Ygor's commands and commits a series of murders; the victims were all jurors at Ygor's trial. Wolf discovers this and confronts Ygor. Wolf shoots Ygor and apparently kills him. The Monster abducts Wolf's son as revenge, but cannot bring himself to kill the child. Krogh and Wolf pursue the Monster to the nearby laboratory, where a struggle ensues, during which the Monster tears out Krogh's false arm. Wolf swings on a rope and knocks the Monster into a molten sulphur pit under the laboratory, saving his son.

Wolf leaves the keys to Frankenstein's Castle to the villagers. The film ends with the village turning out to cheer the Frankenstein family as they leave by train.



After the ouster of the Laemmles from Universal and the British embargo on American horror films in 1936, Karloff and Lugosi found themselves in a career slump. For two years, horror films were out of the Universal Studios lineup. On April 5, 1938, a nearly bankrupt theater in Los Angeles staged a desperate stunt by showing Frankenstein, Dracula and King Kong as a triple feature.[citation needed] The impressive box office results led to similarly successful revivals nationwide. Universal soon decided to make a big-budget Frankenstein sequel.

As director James Whale was similarly in a slump and did not wish to make any more horror films, Universal selected Rowland V. Lee to direct Son of Frankenstein. Lee's film explores dramatic themes: family, security, isolation, responsibility and father-son relationships.

Son of Frankenstein marks changes in the Monster's character from Bride of Frankenstein. The Monster is duller and no longer speaks. The monster also wore a giant fur vest, not seen in the first two Frankenstein films. He is fond of Ygor and obeys his orders. Unlike the previous two films, the Monster only shows humanity in two scenes: first when he discovers Ygor's body, letting out a powerful scream, and later when he contemplates killing Peter but changes his mind. While the first two films were clearly set in the early 1900s, this film appears to take place in the 1930s, judging by the appearance of a modern automobile.

Peter Lorre was originally cast as Baron Wolf von Frankenstein,[citation needed] but he had to leave the production when he became ill. Replacing Lorre was Basil Rathbone, who had scored a major triumph as Sir Guy of Gisbourne in The Adventures of Robin Hood.

According to the documentary Universal Horror (1998), the film was intended to be shot in color and some Technicolor test footage was filmed, but for artistic or budgetary reasons the plan was abandoned. No color test footage is known to survive, but a clip from a Kodachrome color home movie filmed at the studio and showing Boris Karloff in the green monster makeup, clowning around with makeup artist Jack Pierce, is included in the same documentary.


The movie was a big hit and helped return Universal Studios to profitability.[3] In a contemporary review, the Monthly Film Bulletin stated that "since the whole atmosphere of the film is so far removed from everyday reality it is impossible to take the horrors very seriously".[4] The review noted that for a film "of its kind, however, the production is good and of a high technical quality." and that "Basil Rathbone gives a very clever and conscientious performance and Lionel Atwill (as a police officer creates a good character).[4]

After the phenomenal success of Son of Frankenstein, Karloff decided not to return to the role of the Monster, feeling that the character was becoming the butt of jokes. Also Son of Frankenstein marked the final "A" production of Universal's Frankenstein films, which later went to "B" films, beginning with The Ghost of Frankenstein in 1942 in which Lon Chaney, Jr. took over the role of the Monster and Lugosi returned as Ygor; Lugosi himself would go on to play the Monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man in 1943, while Karloff would return to the franchise as another character in 1944's House of Frankenstein. Karloff would not don the Monster makeup again for film until an episode of the TV series Route 66 in the 1960s.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michael Brunas, John Brunas & Tom Weaver, Universal Horrors: The Studios Classic Films, 1931-46, McFarland, 1990 p184
  2. ^ "Revival of the Undead", New York Times, October 16, 1938, p. 160.
  3. ^ Stephen Jacobs, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster, Tomohawk Press 2011 p 240-241
  4. ^ a b A.P. (1939). "Son of Frankenstein". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 6 no. 61. British Film Institute. p. 21. 

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