Universal Classic Monsters: “Son of Frankenstein” (1939)

Ygor & Monster

Ygor, played by Bela Lugosi, may be more of a fiend than any of the Universal Classic Monsters. Director Rowland V. Lee may not be James Whale, but he beefed up the part of Ygor so Lugosi could have more screen-time. There are those who consider this to be the best role of his career, above even Count Dracula. The runtime of this film is just under and hour and forty minutes. It’s two predecessors clocked in around an hour and fifteen minutes, so “Son of Frankenstein” was an epic. It was also an original story as all plot threads from Mary Shelley’s original novel had been expended in the first two films.

Basil Rathbone plays Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, who is distraught that the locals in the Village of Frankenstein have bestowed the Monster with his surname, which is an inside joke that also serves as genuine motivation for the character. A portrait of the late Colin Clive looms in the background of certain shots. Clive passed away in 1937, but the memory of Dr. Henry Frankenstein remains. Lionel Atwill plays the part of the one-armed Inspector Krogh. Atwill, joining the ranks of Dwight Frye, became a recurring player in horror movies during the 1940s.

There are some continuity errors in the geography. In the two James Whale films, the house and Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory had much more distance between them. Also, the set design was completely different, but these are acceptable gaffes. Chalk it up to artistic license.

Ygor has a broken neck because he was hung, but somehow did not die. As I mentioned in my retrospective of “Frankenstein,” he is often mixed up with Fritz the hunchback, Dwight Frye’s character. Ygor has power over the Monster, played by Boris Karloff for the final time. The Monster has traded in his sports jacket for an animal pelt. He spends the first half of the film in a coma and has no dialogue when he wakes. Only grunts and screams. Even though Karloff has less to do then he did in “Bride of Frankenstein,” he was still effective. The sins of the father return to haunt the son. Baron Frankenstein is determined to vindicate his father’s name. He experiments on the Monster and finds that, unbeknownst to his father, cosmic rays were harnessed in its creation. When the Monster is finally up and around, he kills for Ygor, who plays his horn for all to hear, establishing his alibi. There are only glimpses of humanity left in the monster. You can sense that the fate of character is to become a lumbering brute in the remaining sequels.

Baron Frankenstein is quite coy when dealing with Inspector Krogh, especially after his butler disappears. Basil Rathbone plays paranoia well. Baron Frankenstein eventually shoots and kills (?) Ygor, leaving the Monster without a friend. Whether it’s little Marie in “Frankenstein” or the blind hermit in “Bride of Frankenstein,” all the Monster really wants is a friend. He kidnaps Baron Frankenstein’s son in the climax and gets knocked into a sulfur pit. Boris Karloff’s swansong as the Frankenstein Monster. The part that made him famous.

Baron Frankenstein is cheered as he departs the village. I’m not sure why? Either they are really happy to see him go or everything was blamed on Ygor. The first three films in this series were fodder for Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” in 1974.


About domcappelloblog

New York based screenwriter.

Posted on June 13, 2013, in Horror, Universal Classic Monsters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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