Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

“Nothing in nature is terrifying when one understands it.”

The grown son (Basil Rathbone) of Dr. Frankenstein returns to his father’s hometown with his wife (Josephine Hutchinson) and son (Donnie Dunagan), finding that the villagers still live in fear of the Monster (Boris Karloff) who terrorized them years before. When a rash of murders occurs, the town’s chief inspector (Lionel Atwill) begins to suspect Rathbone of colluding with a blacksmith named Ygor (Bela Lugosi) to revive the Monster.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Basil Rathbone Films
  • Bela Lugosi Films
  • Boris Karloff Films
  • Frankenstein
  • Horror Films
  • Lionel Atwill Films
  • Mad Doctors and Scientists

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this follow-up to Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) — two of the most highly regarded horror films in cinema history — remains an atmospheric, effective little flick in its own right. The sets are once again highly expressionistic, the cinematography is stark and moody, and director Rowland Lee confidently frames his actors for maximum effect. The performances throughout are memorable: Bela Lugosi is surprisingly effective as a crook-necked murderer obsessed with bringing his best friend, the Monster, back to life; Rathbone does a nice job showing his character’s gradually increasing interest in carrying on his father’s work; Lionel Atwill is memorable in a critical supporting role as the one-armed detective determined to prevent the Monster from resurfacing in his hometown; and young Donnie Dunagan proves himself to be one of the more natural child actors of his generation, holding his own with quite a bit of important dialogue. Karloff, unfortunately, isn’t given much to do this time around; he was right to refuse further roles as the Monster, recognizing that the creature’s character arc was essentially complete. The film’s biggest liability is its contrived premise, which essentially just recycles the original film’s storyline via a new generation of Frankensteins — but it’s nonetheless remarkably easy to get drawn into this well-crafted, timeless tale of scientific madness and hubris.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bela Lugosi as Ygor
  • Lionel Atwill as Inspector Krogh
  • Basil Rathbone as Wolf von Frankenstein
  • Jack Otterson’s expressionistic sets
  • Atmospheric cinematography
  • Accomplished direction by Rowland Lee

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable follow-up to two of cinema’s most famous early horror films.


  • Good Show
  • Historically Relevant


2 thoughts on “Son of Frankenstein (1939)

  1. Not a must.

    In ‘Gods and Monsters’, Ian McKellen (as James Whale) tells someone that he only directed the first two Frankenstein films, and that the rest were directed by “hacks”. Though I wouldn’t call ‘SOF’ director Rowland V. Lee a hack, I wouldn’t say he was working with a good script either.

    Yes, the film is certainly atmospheric and it’s shot well. But, soon after it begins, it becomes apparent that the film – as written – is superfluous. It’s noticeably lacking a fresh idea or angle. (It also seems that, of the first three Frankenstein flicks, Mel Brooks took most of his inspiration from ‘SOF’ – you can see quite a few segments which Brooks re-cycled for his own – funnier – purposes in ‘Young Frankenstein’. Actually, if ‘SOF’ had been approached as a comedy, it could have almost been pretty humorous itself. Much of it teeters on the edge of unintentionally funny. Note, for example, the early scene in which Rathbone arrives by train at his late father’s village – he cheerily greets the gathered townsfolk who hate him on sight. Soon after he begins talking, they simply exit en masse. I half expected them to throw vegetables.)

    To me, ‘SOF’ just gets more tedious the longer it continues. At 99 min., it feels way too long.

    I actually felt bad for the cast – all of them. Atwill seems to come off best – but he’s constantly showing up at Rathbone’s castle with (usually) nothing to do except showing up. (Atwill actually appears bored in a particularly dumb – but brief – dart scene just before the conclusion.) Rathbone (who I think takes to the idea of continuing dad’s work a little too quickly) soon finds himself in an endless series of making excuses to people – sounding like a transparent idiot each time he has to come up with a new lie to cover something. Hutchinson tries to mix levity and humanity into a very underwritten wife role. And I don’t feel Dunagan comes off natural at all – he seems very deliberate and heavily coached in his delivery.

    Poor Lugosi (whose character seems to have been split between Marty Feldman and Cloris Leachman in ‘Young Frankenstein’) doesn’t come off well either, I’m afraid. He appears to not have been given much direction and is rather one-note in an uninteresting way. Karloff has a touch of presence – mostly because he doesn’t have to talk. But it’s true: his story is already over and complete before ‘SOF’ begins…pointing up the fact that ‘SOF’ is rather pointless.

  2. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    The second best film in the series and it even pips the first film slightly. Superb cinematography and amazing production are the main virtues but the cast are very good as well.

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