One doesn’t easily forget, Herr Baron, an arm torn out by the roots.– Inspector Krogh
For Day 17, I decided to give Son of Frankenstein (1939) another watch, mostly since I haven’t seen it in a few years. Of the three Karloff-led Frankenstein films, I prefer Bride of Frankenstein (1935) for various reasons – preeminent among them Ernest Thesiger’s performance as Dr. Pretorius – but I’ve always had a soft spot for the trilogy capper. It’s both where things begin to go off the rails for the series, but also the culmination of the monster’s evolution as a character in and of himself.
Throughout the first three films, the monster goes through a sort of apotheosis – growing from bewildered child, to man and finally to monster – a true monster. I’ve written about it before, in more detail, if you’re interested. But this is also the first film where the monster takes a backseat to other characters. He’s insensate for the first third of the film, leaving Bela Lugosi’s Ygor to act as the film’s primary antagonistic force. That said, it’s not all bad – as far as the Universal films go, Son… has some of the best supporting characters in the series. The aforementioned Ygor is probably one of Lugosi’s more restrained performances, alternating beautifully between bumptious innocence and malign cunning – a brutish Mephistopheles, luring Basil Rathbone’s Wolf von Frankenstein into damnation.
Contrasted against Ygor is the resolute Inspector Krogh, played with crisp precision by Lionel Atwill. Krogh is one of those characters I wish had appeared in more films; he’s the sort of antagonist that the later Universal monster pictures could’ve benefitted from. Too stiff to be really heroic, but still willing to go hand-to-hand with a rampaging monster. Imagine Krogh teaming up with Edward Van Sloan’s Von Helsing and Maria Ouspenskaya’s Maleva to hunt down some Dr. Pretorius as he attempts something nefarious.
Anyway, the film is a slicker production than its two predecessors. It lacks a lot of James Whale’s more esoteric touches, but keeps the expressionistic backdrop – everything feels off-kilter, exaggerated, even as the plot moves at a fair clip with only a few bumps to slow things down. It’s a fantastic film, and unfortunately, it’s all downhill for the poor monster after this.