We’ve barely a decade of horror under their Universal belts, the powerhouse production company was struggling once more to pull in the numbers at the box office. So it’s with some sense of irony that the movies that started it all in Dracula and Frankenstein would be screened as a double feature and reignite the craze all over again. The stunt would be so successful that Universal Pictures would look to producing another instalment of their beloved monster franchise with Son of Frankenstein, in what would be the third of the series.
In Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, Universal had created two classic features, thanks to the direction of James Whale, where some have argued that the latter outweighed its predecessor. Whatever your views on the matter, it would be a touch act to follow and into the directors shoes steps Rowland V. Lee (The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers) to try and accomplish this task.
The result is one that is worthy of the Frankenstein name, despite it bordering on silliness and camp on occasion. (A sign of the direction that Universal would fall into down the track.)
With grand plans to shoot the film in colour using Technicolor only to be disbanded due to artistic and budgetary reasons, Son of Frankenstein would be presented to the audience in black and white and reunite the horror icons, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. In this instance, the latter donning the Monster mask for the last time in a feature film. The two would once again prove to be a winning formula with Lugosi playing the deformed Ygor and practically stealing the show with his performance. In an interesting turn of events, it is Ygor who is the dominant presence and has The Monster at his beckoning call, as he commands the creature to kill those that have proved him ill in the past.
Leading the cast as the son of Frankenstein is Basil Rathbone (The Adventures of Robin Hood) who cuts a fine figure of a man trying to right his fathers’ wrongs and changing the perceived conception of his family name. It would have been interesting had Peter Lorre had played the role as he had been cast, but had to withdraw due to illness. It’s a shame because I’m a huge fan of Lorre and would loved to see him cast against Lugosi and Karloff, but as I said, Rathbone more than proves his worth.
A worthy nod should also be assigned towards Lionel Atwill (Mark of the Vampire) as Inspector Krogh, a character whose past encounter saw his arm torn off his limb as a child when he came into contact with The Monster. It’s a stoic performance and Atwill shines in an already crowded cast of personalities.
It’s a fitting end to this chapter in the
Universal Horror history.
Son of Frankenstein manages to harness all the right ingredients to make it a worthy companion to its predecessors, whilst falling on the right side of drama and terror for its time.
Lugosi and Karloff are in their element and would ride out on a high. Around the corner a new king to the throne would lay in wait in Lon Chaney Jr… but that’s another tale.
- Saul Muerte