Basil Rathbone is the 'Son of Frankenstein'
Evil runs rampant in the Frankenstein family, or, at least, insanely god-like ambition morosely resides.
The following is a loving tribute to novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley for bringing one of cinema’s crowning creatures to life.
Son of Frankenstein (1939) marks the third installment of Universal Studios’ undeniably successful and memorable Frankenstein film series. And Son of Frankenstein is a must-see which deserves to be plumbed by genre fans and critics of all ages.
This time around it is the offspring of Henry Frankenstein, Wolf (Basil Rathbone),e who sees fit to experiment with the creature (Boris Karloff) at the behest of the arcane Ygor (Bela Lugosi). Terror expectedly ensues as Ygor seeks revenge, and Wolf wants for power while the Monster searches again for his place in a cold and unforgiving world.
If you haven’t had the pleasure, Son of Frankenstein is arguably the best sequel of the Frankenstein franchise. Purists will undoubtedly point to Bride of Frankenstein, which is an Eerie Essential in its own right, as the best sequel. However, Son is equal to the task, and 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of Son of Frankenstein.
Now, here are 21 Things Fans Should Know About Son of Frankenstein.
Son of Frankenstein opened in theaters on Friday the 13th of all dates which must have further delighted macabre movie fans with an added atmosphere of terror and trepidation for the film’s highly-anticipated opening night.
Universal Studios notoriously tried to lowball actor Bela Lugosi’s pay for the picture, even with his past success as their Count in Dracula (1931). See, the studio knew the actor fell on tough times financially. However, Director Rowland V. Lee along with actors Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff stood up to the film studio ensuring Lugosi received a fair salary.
Son of Frankenstein celebrates its 80th birthday along with many other high-profile films which made 1939 one of the most memorable years in cinema history. Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach and The Hound of the Baskervilles are included on that historic, Golden-Age film roster.
A successful 1938 double-feature rerelease of Dracula and Frankenstein (1931) prompted producers at Universal to get back into the Movie Monsters business. The double-bill was featured by theaters during matinees, primetime showings and select midnight screenings. Occasionally, theaters offered a rare triple-feature! King Kong (1933) and Son of Kong (1933) were in certain lineups with Drac and Frank, but lesser-known B-Movies or compilations like Death Before Your Eyes often rounded out the trifecta.
The aforementioned rerelease in 1938 revitalized Universal’s horror movies after their champion Carl Laemmle Jr., and his father for that matter, both left the famous movie studio as a result of the Great Depression. Depending on where you lived in the country, audiences could see the Dracula and Frankenstein double-feature for 15 to 35 cents.
Olympic gold medalist and Native American athlete Jim Thorpe enjoyed a small cameo as one of the burghers in Son of Frankenstein. Thorpe became a mainstay, even if he was often uncredited, in Hollywood films from 1931’s Touchdown! to 1950’s Wagon Master. In 1951’s Jim Thorpe: All-American, the iconic actor Burt Lancaster portrayed Thorpe in the big screen’s retelling of the athlete’s life.
Composer Frank Skinner’s creepy musical score became a mainstay in future Universal horror films through the years as it was used over and over again – relentlessly recycled – particularly in The Mummy movie franchise.
You’ll need more than a GPS to find the town where the Frankenstein film series is set to take place. In Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), the locale is referred to as Goldstadt. The new name bestowed in Son is simply that of Frankenstein, and the town later becomes Vasaria in the follow-up features.
Peter Lorre won the role of Wolf Von Frankenstein, and was publicly announced to be the son of Frankenstein, but the well-known thespian turned the part down. Basil Rathbone – who came to be known worldwide as Sherlock Holmes – ended up playing the Baron in the film. Claude Rains (The Invisible Man) was also in the running for the role.
Son of Frankenstein is the third and final performance for actor Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster for Universal Studios on screen. While he doesn’t portray the Monster again for Universal, Karloff does appear in his fourth Frankenstein film: House of Frankenstein (1944). This time around Karloff plays Dr. Gustav Niemann rather than the Monster.
In Son of Frankenstein, Jack Pierce still doesn’t receive credit for his special effects make-up. Such a glaring omission is utterly ridiculous. Read the credits, and you’ll find his name nowhere to be found despite his immense contributions to horror films. It took Pierce four hours to work his make-up magic and transform Karloff into the creature which includes attaching the now famous electrodes to the Monster’s neck. Watch carefully, because this is the first Frankenstein venture to show wires being attached to those life-giving metal studs.
Comedic genius Mel Brooks was heavily influenced by Universal’s Frankenstein movies when it came to his horror/comedy Young Frankenstein in 1974. One of that film’s most memorable characters, Inspector Kemp (Kenneth Mars), was an homage to Son of Frankenstein’s Inspector Krogh who was played by the talented Lionel Atwill.
Filming on the Son of Frankenstein ran from late 1938 until January 1939, and the production wrapped a mere eight days before the movie hit theaters. The budget was approximately $400,000.
Actor Donnie Dunagan – who is the primary casts’ sole surviving member – portrayed the grandson of Frankenstein in the movie, but the thespian is best known as the voice of Young Bambi in Disney’s beloved, animated feature Bambi (1942). Ironically, Bambi was the actor’s final film, and it was Hardie Albright who handled the voice duties of Adolescent Bambi.
In a 2010 interview with Mark Gatiss, Dunagan revealed he wasn’t frightened by Boris Karloff.
“The first thing he did was buy me ice cream,” Dunagan said as he recalled meeting The Uncanny Karloff. “How can you possibly be afraid of someone who bought you ice cream.”
Dunagan also revealed the first thing he did when he saw Karloff in the Frankenstein make-up:
“I busted out laughing.”
Karloff’s daughter Sara was born during the making of Son of Frankenstein on November 23, 1938. According to reports, Karloff rushed from the set in full Frankenstein Monster make-up to be there for the birth of his first and only child.
Arguably one of Bela Lugosi’s finest performances, Ygor was a character who did not appear in screenwriter Wyllis Cooper’s original script. Since the screenplay was a work in progress, director Rowland V. Lee further developed the mysterious, grave-robbing Ygor during the production. As a result, Lugosi’s part grew by leaps and bounds, and it became one of his best Silver Screen appearances. Lugosi was eternally grateful to Cooper.
The Frankenstein Monster learned to speak in Bride of Frankenstein (1935), but Karloff’s creature is once again mute in Son of Frankenstein.
Boris Karloff gave a whole new meaning to the phrase: Take Me Out to the Ballgame. In a promotion following Son of Frankenstein, Karloff donned his famous Frankenstein make-up at a 1940’s celebrity baseball game in which Jack Pierce and Buster Keaton were also in attendance. In a surviving piece of newsreel celluloid, the broadcaster introduces the Monster to viewers.
“There’s the umpire coming out of the dugout,” the announcer said as Karloff lumbered onto the field. “I bet Leo Durocher wouldn’t argue with this guy.”
The last time Karloff appeared in The Monster’s make-up was in 1962. He performed in a Halloween special for the television show Route 66’s third season titled “Lizards Leg and Owlet Wing.” Horror movie icons Lon Cheney Jr. and Peter Lorre joined Karloff in the episode.
Donnie Dunagan also revealed in his interview with Mark Gatiss that Boris Karloff accidentally dropped him on the concrete floor while he was carrying the lad under his arm! As a result, four-year-old Dunagan was securely tied, wired and attached to Karloff to make sure it didn’t happen again.
Son of Frankenstein was Bela Lugosi’s first appearance in the Frankenstein franchise, and it’s not a secret he infamously turned down the chance to play The Monster in 1931. His decision drastically changed both his and fellow actor Boris Karloff’s professional careers. Lugosi returned in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) reprising his role as Ygor before finally playing the creature himself in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943).
*Originally published on January 14, 2019.