Son of Frankenstein


1h 35m 1939
Son of Frankenstein

Brief Synopsis

The legendary scientist's son is tempted to resume his father's horrible experiments.

Film Details

Genre
Horror
Release Date
Jan 13, 1939
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Universal Pictures Co.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Suggested by the novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (London, 1818).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
11 reels

Synopsis

The memory of horror provoked by the man-made monster still endures when Baron von Frankenstein, accompanied by his wife Elsa and young son, arrives from America at his ancestral home in a small European mountain village to claim his late father's estate. Soon after, the baron meets his father's demented assistant, Ygor, who has robbed death by coming back to life after being cut down from the hangman's scaffold. Ygor tells the baron that his father's monster lives, and leads the young scientist through a secret passage to an outside mountain laboratory where the monster slumbers deep in a coma. Determined to prove that his father's experiments were meant to aid and not injure humanity, the baron restores the monster to life. Before he can transform the monster's brute nature, however, Ygor uses the creature as an instrument of revenge, ordering it to kill the jurors who had sentenced him to hang. The renewed terror in the village holds special significance to police inspector Krogh, who, as a boy, lost his arm in an attack by the monster. Krogh enters into a battle of wits with the baron, who is determined to conceal the monster for further experiments. However, when Ygor and the monster threaten the life of his young son, the baron finally realizes the evil that the creature embodies and, after shooting Ygor, obliterates the monster in a seething sulphur spring, thus ending the threat of evil forever.

Film Details

Genre
Horror
Release Date
Jan 13, 1939
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Universal Pictures Co.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Suggested by the novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (London, 1818).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
11 reels

Articles

Son Of Frankenstein


One of the most memorable amongst the signature horror films released by Universal Studios, Son of Frankenstein (1939) has the twin distinctions of giving Boris Karloff his last big-screen opportunity to assay the role of the patchwork creature that made him a household name, and appropriately giving a reviving jolt to a genre that had reached a cyclical nadir by the late '30s.

When Universal founder Carl Laemmle was ousted in a 1936 takeover of the studio, the new regime made no bones about its distaste for the gothic shockers like Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) that had proven so lucrative in the past. Within two years, however, it was only the studio's financial statements that were bleeding red - and a reconfigured front office set out to reverse the trend.

In 1938, a struggling L.A. theater took a shot with a triple-bill of Dracula, Frankenstein and Son of Kong (1933), and wound up catering 21 hours a day to crowds that stretched around the block. Universal responded with a hugely successful national reissue of Dracula and Frankenstein, and by green-lighting a follow-up to Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

Universal handed the director's reins to Rowland V. Lee, a recent arrival to the studio who had distinguished himself on sweeping costume dramas for Fox and RKO during the '30s. He made his first impact on the production by steering Universal from its plans to cast Peter Lorre as the heir to the Frankenstein legacy, and successfully lobbying for Basil Rathbone, whom he had directed in Love From A Stranger (1937). With Sherlock Holmes still in his future, the all-purpose villain Rathbone relished the opportunity to play a nominally heroic figure.

With Karloff's services as the Monster secured, and Lionel Atwill installed as the one-armed police inspector who'd been mauled by the creature as a boy, Lee needed a role for an already-committed Bela Lugosi. He and scenarist Willis Cooper expanded the role of Ygor, the broken-necked shepherd who had grave-robbed for the elder Frankenstein and become the sole companion for his creation. The powers-that-be at Universal sought to humble the horror-typed, struggling Lugosi by halving his salary and mandating that his scenes be shot in a week; an appalled Lee responded by keeping Bela on set for the duration of the shoot.

Lee's maverick posture didn't stop with his advocacy for Lugosi, either. While Universal initially allotted a modest $250,000 budget to the project, the director's demands to upgrade the effort - from testing for Technicolor to abandoning the original script on the eve of shooting - ultimately pushed Son of Frankenstein's final production tab to $420,000. It all reflects onscreen, as the imposing sets designed by studio art director Jack Otterson evoke the best of German expressionist filmmaking.

The performances sustain the film, as well. It's been argued that Lugosi had his best moments in film as the grotesque, gravel-voiced Ygor, shading the menace with disarmingly mordant wit ("Bone get stuck in my throat!"). Rathbone is earnest in his misguided efforts to redeem the family name by resuscitating the comatose monster, and Atwill's mannered use of his "prosthesis" displays the clever craft that underlay Kenneth Mars' inspired lampoon in Young Frankenstein (1974).

While Karloff made the most of the relatively limited screen time in which the Monster showed full consciousness, his reasons for refusing to reprise the role after Son of Frankenstein showed a great deal of prescience regarding the franchise's subsequent direction. "There was not much left in the character of the Monster to be developed; we had reached his limits," the star was quoted in Scott Allen Nollen's biography Boris Karloff (McFarland & Co.). "I saw that from here on, he would become rather an oafish prop, so to speak, in the last act or something like that, without any great stature."

Whatever private sentiments the Universal brass had regarding Lee's overruns would go unstated, as Son of Frankenstein went on to become a huge hit, and helped bolster Universal's then-record million dollar profit on its operations for 1939. Generations of genre fans would reap the benefits due to the career boosts for the films' principals and the studio's renewed commitment to its flagship properties.

Producer/Director: Rowland V. Lee
Screenplay: Wyllis Cooper, based on the novel by Mary Shelley
Art Direction: Jack Otterson
Cinematography: George Robinson
Editing: Ted Kent
Music: Frank Skinner
Cast: Basil Rathbone (Baron Wolf von Frankenstein), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Bela Lugosi (Ygor), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Krogh), Josephine Hutchinson (Elsa von Frankenstein), Donnie Dunagan (Peter von Frankenstein), Emma Dunn (Amelia), Edgar Norton (Thomas Benson).
BW-100m. Closed captioning.

by Jay S. Steinberg
Son Of Frankenstein

Son Of Frankenstein

One of the most memorable amongst the signature horror films released by Universal Studios, Son of Frankenstein (1939) has the twin distinctions of giving Boris Karloff his last big-screen opportunity to assay the role of the patchwork creature that made him a household name, and appropriately giving a reviving jolt to a genre that had reached a cyclical nadir by the late '30s. When Universal founder Carl Laemmle was ousted in a 1936 takeover of the studio, the new regime made no bones about its distaste for the gothic shockers like Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) that had proven so lucrative in the past. Within two years, however, it was only the studio's financial statements that were bleeding red - and a reconfigured front office set out to reverse the trend. In 1938, a struggling L.A. theater took a shot with a triple-bill of Dracula, Frankenstein and Son of Kong (1933), and wound up catering 21 hours a day to crowds that stretched around the block. Universal responded with a hugely successful national reissue of Dracula and Frankenstein, and by green-lighting a follow-up to Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Universal handed the director's reins to Rowland V. Lee, a recent arrival to the studio who had distinguished himself on sweeping costume dramas for Fox and RKO during the '30s. He made his first impact on the production by steering Universal from its plans to cast Peter Lorre as the heir to the Frankenstein legacy, and successfully lobbying for Basil Rathbone, whom he had directed in Love From A Stranger (1937). With Sherlock Holmes still in his future, the all-purpose villain Rathbone relished the opportunity to play a nominally heroic figure. With Karloff's services as the Monster secured, and Lionel Atwill installed as the one-armed police inspector who'd been mauled by the creature as a boy, Lee needed a role for an already-committed Bela Lugosi. He and scenarist Willis Cooper expanded the role of Ygor, the broken-necked shepherd who had grave-robbed for the elder Frankenstein and become the sole companion for his creation. The powers-that-be at Universal sought to humble the horror-typed, struggling Lugosi by halving his salary and mandating that his scenes be shot in a week; an appalled Lee responded by keeping Bela on set for the duration of the shoot. Lee's maverick posture didn't stop with his advocacy for Lugosi, either. While Universal initially allotted a modest $250,000 budget to the project, the director's demands to upgrade the effort - from testing for Technicolor to abandoning the original script on the eve of shooting - ultimately pushed Son of Frankenstein's final production tab to $420,000. It all reflects onscreen, as the imposing sets designed by studio art director Jack Otterson evoke the best of German expressionist filmmaking. The performances sustain the film, as well. It's been argued that Lugosi had his best moments in film as the grotesque, gravel-voiced Ygor, shading the menace with disarmingly mordant wit ("Bone get stuck in my throat!"). Rathbone is earnest in his misguided efforts to redeem the family name by resuscitating the comatose monster, and Atwill's mannered use of his "prosthesis" displays the clever craft that underlay Kenneth Mars' inspired lampoon in Young Frankenstein (1974). While Karloff made the most of the relatively limited screen time in which the Monster showed full consciousness, his reasons for refusing to reprise the role after Son of Frankenstein showed a great deal of prescience regarding the franchise's subsequent direction. "There was not much left in the character of the Monster to be developed; we had reached his limits," the star was quoted in Scott Allen Nollen's biography Boris Karloff (McFarland & Co.). "I saw that from here on, he would become rather an oafish prop, so to speak, in the last act or something like that, without any great stature." Whatever private sentiments the Universal brass had regarding Lee's overruns would go unstated, as Son of Frankenstein went on to become a huge hit, and helped bolster Universal's then-record million dollar profit on its operations for 1939. Generations of genre fans would reap the benefits due to the career boosts for the films' principals and the studio's renewed commitment to its flagship properties. Producer/Director: Rowland V. Lee Screenplay: Wyllis Cooper, based on the novel by Mary Shelley Art Direction: Jack Otterson Cinematography: George Robinson Editing: Ted Kent Music: Frank Skinner Cast: Basil Rathbone (Baron Wolf von Frankenstein), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Bela Lugosi (Ygor), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Krogh), Josephine Hutchinson (Elsa von Frankenstein), Donnie Dunagan (Peter von Frankenstein), Emma Dunn (Amelia), Edgar Norton (Thomas Benson). BW-100m. Closed captioning. by Jay S. Steinberg

Quotes

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

Trivia

Makeup artist Jack P. Pierce estimated it took four hours to transform Boris Karloff into the monster.

This film marks the final time Karloff would play the "Monster". The next Frankenstein film Karloff appeared in, House of Frankenstein (1944), he plays Dr. Gustav Niemann. Thus, he played the "Monster" three times in his career.

The film was originally to be shot in color, but the decision was made at the last minute to stay in black and white. Color test footage and photographs of Karloff as The Monster reveal the Monster was to have had a green face. A rare color gag movie of Karloff in Monster make-up pretending to strangle make-up artist Jack Pierce can be seen on the CD-ROM Interactive History of Frankenstein, The (1995) (VG).

At 99 minutes, this was the longest film in the classic Universal horror series. Most of the films had running times of less than 80 minutes.

'Peter Lorre' reportedly turned down the role of Wolf von Frankenstein.

Boris Karloff became the father for the first time while filming this movie. When he was told that the baby had been born, he immediately went to the hospital to see his wife and child while still in costume. When he arrived, in full Monster makeup and clothing, he created a panic throughout the hospital.

Notes

According to a pre-production news item in Hollywood Reporter, Universal originally wanted to team Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre in this film. The deal collapsed when Lorre rejected the role, claiming he had left the "menace" field to star in the Mr. Moto series. After this picture completed production on January 4, 1939, Universal rushed its editing in order to deliver it for a 13 January release. In an interview in New York Times, Jack Pierce, the makeup man who created the monster, estimated that it would take him four hours to transform Boris Karloff into the monster. For additional information about film adaptations of the Mary Shelley book, please consult the Series Index and see entry above for Frankenstein.