BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE(director: James Whale; screenwriters: John L. Balderston/William Hurlbut; cinematographer: John Mescall; editor: Ted Kent; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Boris Karloff (The Monster), Colin Clive (Dr. Henry Frankenstein), Valerie Hobson (Elizabeth Frankenstein), Elsa Lanchester (Mary Shelley/The Monster’s Mate), Ernest Thesiger (Dr. Septimus Pretorius), Gavin Gordon (Lord Byron), O.P. Heggie (Blind Hermit), Una O’Connor (Minnie), E. E. Clive (Burgomaster), Douglas Walton (Percy Bysshe Shelley), Dwight Frye (Karl, Pretorius’ assistant and village idiot), Walter Brennan (Neighbor), John Carradine (A hunter), Ann Darling (Shepherdess), Ted Billings (Ludwig); Runtime: 75; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Carl Laemmle Jr./James Whale; Universal; 1935)
“The greatest of all the Frankenstein films.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This sequel to James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) has become recognized as the greatest of all the Frankenstein films and one of the greatest horror films ever made. It’s better than the original mainly because it’s more witty yet keeps its same stylishly rough edges, presents the same terrific German expressionist camerawork (shot by John Mescall, who was reportedly drunk for much of the film), the acting remains first-class and the wonderful sense of Gothic atmosphere is retained (thanks to the impressionistic sets created by Charles D. Hall). The other Universal Frankenstein films are: Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).
James Whale (“The Old Dark House”/”The Invisible Man”) agreed to helm Bride of Frankenstein only when Universal agreed to let him have complete artistic freedom. It was shot entirely in the studio. John L. Balderston and William Hurlbut were signed on to work the treatment for the sequel, but Balderston supposedly grew dissatisfied with the amount of horror inserted into the narrative and as a result the final screenplay can be credited to Hurlbut alone. Most of the original cast remained and some Whale regulars were added. Playing Baron Frankenstein’s wife Elizabeth was the seventeen year old Valerie Hobson, a Universal contract player who replaced Mae Clarke–no longer with the studio. E. E. Clive took over the role of burgomaster, and gave the part more humor. The colorful Una O’Connor had her part expanded as Frankenstein’s Cockney housekeeper (in Germany, mind you) and village busybody. The key role of Dr. Septimus Pretorius was played by Ernest Thesiger, almost stealing the film with his delightful villain role; he replaced Claude Rains when he was unavailable. Franz Waxman created a brilliant march score and had one of the first Hollywood scores to use leitmotifs for the characters–in his “Bride’s Theme” there’s the peals of church bells when the Bride is presented, which suggests the beating of the Bride’s heart.
The sequel concerns itself mostly with the Monster (Boris Karloff) and his development; he’s viewed as a humanly created being craving the company of others but is usually rejected. That the Monster is made a sympathetic figure despite going on a killing spree, can be related to Whale’s own alienation. His homosexuality caused him to eventually be driven out of showbiz (the studio let him go in 1937 over artistic differences and he couldn’t get work due to the whispering campaign over his homosexuality). He became increasingly more despondent over not getting work, which led to his supposed suicide in 1957. Whale, like his Monster, took up arms (through use of a sharp acerbic humor) against a cold world that made no place for him despite his genius.
It opens with a brilliant prologue that features a wicked thunder storm, in 1816, hitting the British country residence where the young demure author Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) is being entreated by her famous poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Walton) and his counterpart Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) to continue with her nightmarish tale of Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster. And so the sequel begins, set in 19th-century Germany. We learn that the Monster survives the mill fire and is taken in by the eccentric philosopher-scientist Dr Pretorius, who was given the boot by his university. We also learn that Baron Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), the Monster’s creator, is in bed suffering from mental agony while comforted by his wife Elizabeth. Their quiet is interrupted by the visit of Henry’s former teacher, the demented Dr. Septimus Pretorius, who when the men are alone threatens to tell everyone that Henry created the Monster that killed some of the villagers unless Henry agrees to create a bride for the Monster and thereby begin an artificial race. Henry refuses but humorously responds “A woman, that should be really interesting.” The unscrupulous Pretorius, whose mentor could be the Marquis de Sade, is set upon eliminating the concept of good and evil thinking we would all get a good belly laugh if everyone did what they wanted to. Later on we discover that Pretorius is not such a libertarian, but instead wants everyone to do only what he wants them to do. This is basically the structure of the plot, as the remainder of the film concentrates on the Monster trying to find a place in the world to dwell with humans but can’t find a place to fit in. The Monster tries to rescue a young shepherdess from drowning, meets a kindly blind hermit (O.P. Heggie, Australian actor) in the woods who befriends him and teaches him to say a few words and about music and drink, as the lonely man is glad to have company and his kindness brings tears to the Monster. When Pretorius abducts Henry’s wife, he forces him to create the Monster’s female mate or else he threatens to harm Elizabeth. Pretorius supplies Henry with corpses through his loopy assistant Karl (Dwight Frye), who reasons it’s convenient to have the Monster around to blame for his murders. It leads to the memorable creation scene for the “Bride.” The assistants Karl and Ludwig release kites that catch the life-giving lightning that gets transferred to the Bride, who when Henry is finished operating on resembles a mummy from whom he unwraps the bandages. Elsa Lanchester played the Bride by making quick, darting swan-like movements, just as she observed the swans do in the London parks, while Whale designed for her the unforgettable Nefertiti hairstyle which stood up and hinted that the electricity had shocked her to life. When the Monster sees his new mate for the first time she rejects him for Henry, even though the Monster tries to be tender. She cries out with revulsion when the Monster touches her and he regretfully moans “She hate me, Just like others!” With that the Monster decides to kill himself, his Bride and Pretorius by pulling down on the lab lever that will detonate the tower building, while exhibiting his new humanity by letting Henry and Elizabeth go free.
REVIEWED ON 10/25/2006 GRADE: A+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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