Boris Karloff - The Monster
Colin Clive - Dr. Henry Frankenstein
Ernest Thesiger - Dr. Septimus Pretorius
Valerie Hobson - Elizabeth Frankenstein
Una O'Connor - Minnie
O.P. Heggie - Blind Hermit
Elsa Lanchester - Mary Shelley/The Bride
Genre - Horror/Science Fiction
Running Time - 74 Minutes
At the birth of horror cinema, Universal Studios was king. Sure, other studios crafted their own horror films as well, but Universal had all the attention with their classic monsters that still resonate all these years later. 1931's DRACULA with Bela Lugosi started the trend, becoming quite the success and making Lugosi an icon. However, FRANKENSTEIN months later would top it, becoming one of the most beloved horror films of all time and considered one of the best Universal Monster films out there.
Due to the success of FRANKENSTEIN, Universal quickly decided on the idea of a sequel. This was very evident when the studio requested the ending to be changed so that Dr. Henry Frankenstein would survive his ordeal with the Monster. Being smart, Universal realized that director James Whale was a huge part of why FRANKENSTEIN was so successful. However feeling that the well had dried up for the story and character, Whale passed on the idea - instead, working on 1933's THE INVISIBLE MAN, which also happened to be hugely successful for Universal. Realizing that Universal would not pursue the sequel without his input, Whale reconsidered - only if he got to make 1934's ONE MORE RIVER [which marked the film debut of Jane Wyatt of Father Knows Best fame]. Seeing how Universal was catering to his every need, Whale was happy to be given creative control over the project. Feeling that he wouldn't be able to scare people again with The Monster, and believing the film wouldn't be as good as the original, Whale decided to make the sequel more of a fun affair that would elicit more laughs than screams. With playwrights William J. Hurlbut and Edmund Pearson writing the screenplay and some of the principal actors reprising their roles, Whale directed 1935's BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.
Although the film was shortened by 15 minutes and had to go through series of Hays Code censorship at the time, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was released to massive success. In fact, many consider this sequel superior to the original film. And it's easy to see why. With its immaculate direction, fantastic acting, and quick paced storytelling, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN may be one of the best sequels ever made - even close to 80 years later.
In the prologue of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, we see author Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) telling her friends that there's more to the Frankenstein saga. The actual film takes place right after the end of 1931's FRANKENSTEIN, with The Monster (Boris Karloff) not dying in that fire set up by the town mob. Also not dead is Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), who recovers to marry his love Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) and denounce playing God ever again.
After being befriended by a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) who teaches him how to speak, The Monster encounters the creepy Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger). Pretorius plans to blackmail Frankenstein in helping him create a mate for The Monster, using the body parts of grave robbed corpses. Once the Bride (Elsa Lanchester, again) is created, her lack of enthusiasm for The Monster sets off a chain of deadly events for everyone involved.
BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN has been parodied, studied, and loved by so many, that it's one of those films people know about even if they haven't watched the film in its entirety. This sequel is a film that has so much going for it in front and behind the camera, that it deserves all the respect and adulation it receives. In fact, not only is it a better made movie than the first FRANKENSTEIN, but BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN may be the best horror film in the genre's Classic Era.
The story in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is fairly simple, using certain moments from the novel that weren't incorporated in the first film. Probably the most poignant scene is where The Monster encounters a blind hermit who is playing music. Not able to see The Monster's appearance, the hermit quickly befriends him - giving him a place to stay and eat, as well as teaching him speech. Even though Boris Karloff was hugely against The Monster saying a word, the speech aspect is something that The Monster is known for in Shelley's novel. But the short friendship between The Monster and this hermit is such a joy to watch onscreen, as this hermit is the only one in the film that treats The Monster like a human being in a touching scene. It's this scene where BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN reaffirms that The Monster is not the ugliest and scariest person in the film. The mob of people who freak out everytime they see him and try to kill him are more vicious than The Monster is. Tragically, the friendship is short-lived due to the locals who try to kill The Monster. But this scene just makes us sympathize with The Monster more.
Honestly, the main villain of the film is the mad scientist, Dr. Pretorius. He drinks. He smokes. He seduces The Monster in telling him that he'll be his best friend by making The Monster a female "friend" to play with. And when The Monster gets angry, Pretorius drugs him so his plans aren't ruined. Hell, Pretorius even makes us sympathetic towards Dr. Henry Frankenstein, the man who created this whole mess to begin with because he thought he could play God. Frankenstein has moved on, but Pretorius threatens Frankenstein's wife, Elizabeth - goading him into helping him create The Bride. The man is a snake, manipulating the world around him to feed his ego and power.
Speaking of snakes, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN uses a lot of Christian imagery throughout. The main ones are definitely The Monster getting "crucified" by the townspeople, and a cross of Jesus Christ nearby a grave that The Monster hides into to escape a mob of people. There's also a cross during the scene where The Monster and the hermit befriend each other, symbolizing the love Christ had for all people regardless of their appearance. Obviously, the idea of playing God with nature is definitely at play, this time with Pretorius. And ironically, there seems to be some subtext involving homosexuality between Pretorius [actor Ernest Thesiger was gay] and Henry Frankenstein - mainly for Pretorius stealing Frankenstein away on his honeymoon to create life together. There's also the friendship between the hermit and The Monster that's destroyed because it's not considered accepted by those around them. I'm not sure if that was anyone's intention [although James Whale was gay], but I can see why many consider the homosexual aspect to be in the film.
The character of the Bride herself is interesting. There's not really much to say about her, which is ironic since she's the title character. But she only appears during the last five minutes of the film, and reacts like the majority of people who encounter The Monster - screaming her lungs out. I'm really amazed how popular this character has become with such a short presence. Sure, she has an interesting look [with the big tall hair and that white streak going through it], but there's not much to her other than that.
The only other character worth mentioning is Minnie, the annoying woman who pops in whenever the film wants to lighten the tone. If there's any misstep with BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, it's probably this character. She's not terribly written and is quite humorous. But compared to the rest of the film, which is pretty dark and serious in tone, she severely sticks out. I get that Whale realized that BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN wouldn't be as scary as the first. But adding this character is just rubbing it in to audiences. She doesn't hurt the film all that much really, since she's not a serious constant within the story. But she sort of distracts from the focus rather than genuinely add anything that will be remembered fondly.
The screenplay is quite strong overall, with great dialogue, nice plot twists, and continuing the idea of tolerance and "man as God" that were introduced in the first film. It's a sequel that probably doesn't need to exist, but at least it's one that's well told and follows up the first film in a logical, if not campier, manner.
The special effects and make up in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN are quite great. Of course, Jack R. Pierce's iconic Monster make up returns for the sequel. This time though, the dental plates that lowered The Monster's jaw in the first film had to be removed due to Karloff needing to speak during the second half of the film. Pierce also added scars to show the trouble The Monster had been through. The Bride make up and look are great as well, although Lanchester hated working with Pierce due to his ego.
The scene that really impressed me was the one where Pretorius shows Henry Frankenstein his jars of living things. Thanks to John P. Fulton, actors were shot in full-sized jars that eventually became matted and rotoscoped onto the film so they would look miniature compared to Colin Clive and Ernest Thesiger. I had forgotten this scene was in the film, so I was awestruck by how advanced this technique was for its time. It's sad when I'm more amazed by techniques like this over CGI. But Fulton was ahead of his time here.
The direction by James Whale is just as good, if not better, than it was in FRANKENSTEIN. I think just the use of mise en scene is just more powerful in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN than it was in the first film. Like I mentioned before, the religious imagery is aggressive, yet subtle, at the same time. There are also moments where The Monster sheds a tear, and we clearly see it run down his cheek - first when the hermit befriends him, and the last when the Bride rejects him. It's a nice touch that makes The Monster the most human character in the film. Whale is also great when it comes to pacing [a lot of action moves the film along really fast], as well as dissolves that go from establishing shots to close ups. The cinematography [very much German expressionism by John Mescall] is quite stunning as well, as the picture quality looks strikingly beautiful even after all these years. Whale may not had wanted to direct this sequel, but he took his visual presentation seriously. It's a very confident and professionally made film that carries a specific tone and a much darker, edgier look.
The acting is just as good here as it was in the original. Boris Karloff is still the star as The Monster, giving the creature life through his facial expressions, body language, grunts, broken English, and emotions. No one has played Frankenstein's Monster better than Karloff since. The man is iconic in the role because he's that good. Colin Clive returns as Henry Frankenstein, getting less to do. But he does it well. Apparently he was in some sort of accident prior to shooting, which is why he's mostly in scenes where he sits down. But Clive gives a more sympathetic turn this time around, which I thought fit his character arc well. Ernest Thesiger is over-the-top as Dr. Pretorius, but in a good way. He's evil in a campy sort of way, but you still feel a bit threatened by him. He pretty much steals the scene anytime he appears. Valerie Hobson, replacing the then-ill Mae Clarke, is decent as Elizabeth. She plays the damsel-in-distress well. Una O'Connor is kind of annoying as Minnie, but she did manage to get me to chuckle with her melodramatic acting. O.P. Heggie is cool as the blind hermit, sharing a really touching scene with Karloff. Dwight Frye returns in a different role - Karl, Pretorius' assistant. He's good in the role. And Elsa Lanchester, as both Mary Shelley and the Bride, is very memorable. I love her bird-like mannerisms as The Bride. And she can definitely scream. A very cool cast that helped make BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN a classic many still go back and watch even today.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE REALIZING THAT BLOGGING IS MY WEAKNESS
- Mary Shelley enjoyed the company of two young men. I guess ol' Frankenstein's Monster wasn't the only stiff she was familiar with.
- The Monster drowned Hans. It's safe to say the guy wasn't a Pisces...
- Drinking Gin is Dr. Pretorius' weakness. I've always been a slave to Go Fish myself.
- The Monster hates his own reflection. I'm sure Mickey Rourke feels the same way.
- Around a campfire, a gypsy complained about a lack of salt and pepper. She needs to push this issue. Push it real good!
- The Monster got excited about the prospect of a female friend. For an undead guy, there still seems to be a part of him that has a life of its own...
- To distract the Monster, Dr. Pretorius drugs his alcohol so the Monster can sleep. Frankenstein's Monster is the Lindsay Lohan of horror icons.
THE FINAL HOWL
What's there to say about BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN? It's an absolute classic, with a memorable story, great acting [especially by Boris Karloff], and impressive direction by James Whale. Sure, the title character doesn't make her appearance until the very end. And not everything works within the story. But I can overlook those things since this sequel is entertaining and creates a logical continuation to where the last film left off. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is definitely a step-above its 1931 predecessor, displaying more confidence and more subtext that maintains its rewatchability. I believe BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN may be the best horror film of the Classic Age and will continue to leave an impression for years to come.