#325) The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

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#325) The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)         

OR “Something Old, Something New, Someone Buried, Dead Like You”

Directed by James Whale

Written by William Hurlbut. Adapted by Hurlbut and John L. Balderston. Based on the novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley.

Class of 1998

The Plot: Picking up immediately from where the first film left off, it turns out both Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his creation (Boris Karloff) survived their confrontation in that burning mill. The monster escapes a vengeful mob and wanders the countryside, being befriended by a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) who teaches him speech. Henry returns home and swears off playing God, but a visit from his mentor Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) convinces Henry to create a mate (Elsa Lanchester) for the creature. Will lightning literally strike twice for the doctor?

Why It Matters:The NFR praises the performances of Karloff and Thesiger (“captivatingly bizarre”), mentions the “surreal visuals” and the film’s standing as “superior to the original.” And hey, there’s that essay from film critic Richard T. Jameson again!

But Does It Really?: Like its predecessor, “Bride of Frankenstein” is unquestionably iconic enough for preservation. That being said, I don’t know if this film is better than the original. Despite sharing the same creative team, these are two surprisingly different films. “Bride” is somehow simultaneously more theatrical and more cinematic than the first film. In addition to actually having a score (from the legendary Franz Waxman) the technical leaps made in “Bride” are outstanding (it helps that the budget for “Bride” was 35% larger than “Frankenstein”). The two “Frankenstein” films are apples and oranges, but “Bride” stands next to the first as the horror film all others strive to be.

Everybody Gets One: Stage actor Ernest Thesiger was a colleague of James Whale’s during their theater days in England. Whale insisted on Thesiger for the role of Pretorius over Universal’s first choice: Claude Rains. Also featured is Universal contract player Valerie Hobson, replacing an unavailable Mae Clarke as Elizabeth.

Take a Shot: This is the first film in the series to explicitly refer to the monster as “Frankenstein”, and Thesiger does call the mate “the bride of Frankenstein” near the end of the film.

Seriously, Oscars?: This film outdid the original in at least one aspect: it got an Oscar nomination. “The Bride of Frankenstein” was up for Best Sound Recording, but lost to fellow NFR-entry “Naughty Marietta”.

Other notes

  • Plans for a “Frankenstein” sequel began immediately, but were delayed as James Whale rejected draft after draft. The final screenplay is a combination of two drafts: one by “Frankenstein” screenwriter John L. Balderson, and one by playwright William Hurlbut. Both use a subplot from the original novel of Dr. Frankenstein’s attempts at making a mate for the creature.
  • What a difference a few years make; Boris Karloff goes from a “?” credit at the bottom of the original film’s cast list to over-the-title billing (as simply “Karloff”). The “?” distinction goes to Elsa Lanchester as “The Monster’s Mate”. Speaking of credits, Mrs. Percy Shelley finally gets her due, being credited here as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
  • Elsa Lanchester also plays Mary Shelley in a prologue where she tells the story of “Bride of Frankenstein” to Percy Shelley and Lord Byron. There was no home video or streaming services in 1935, so the story begins with an extensive “Previously on ‘Frankenstein’” sequence.
  • Sadly, Reginald Kerr passed away in 1933, so Baron Frankenstein does not appear in the sequel, nor is it explained what happened to him.
  • In the interim between “Frankenstein” films, Whale directed “The Invisible Man”, where he first worked with Una O’Connor, whom he cast here as Minnie, one of filmdom’s most shrill second-bananas. And no, she’s not “Hold-Me, Touch-Me”.
  • When people refer to this film as “campier” than the original, they are definitely talking about Ernest Thesiger as Doctor Pretorious. There isn’t a piece of scenery left un-chewed.
  • And then Pretorious shows off his homunculi and things get real weird real fast. Very impressive effects, though.
  • Once again, Karloff makes you feel the tragedy of the creature. He’s just trying to make sense of the world. But then again, aren’t we all?
  • You may notice that the monster looks a little different in this film. Jack Pierce gave the monster scars and less hair, as befitting a burn victim. He also subtly changed the makeup throughout the film so that the monster’s wounds appeared to be healing. Where. Is. His. Oscar?
  • The scenes between the monster and the blind hermit are genuinely sincere, but I found myself laughing throughout, thinking of Gene Hackman and his espresso.
  • Dwight Frye, aka Fritz from the first “Frankenstein”, shows up here as Pretorius’ henchman Karl. I guess they liked having him around.
  • And then they get to Henry’s old laboratory and the camera angles become more slanted than a “Batman” episode.
  • Henry’s exclamation of “She’s alive!” just doesn’t pack the same punch as it did the first time. His heart’s not in it.
  • Kind of amazing how effective Elsa Lanchester is as the Bride. She has maybe three minutes of screentime.
  • “You stay. We belong dead.” Oof, that stings.
  • Okay, that is a very cut-and-dried ending; definitely no more sequels for the “Frankenstein” series.

Legacy

  • The next sequel in the “Frankenstein” series was 1939’s “Son of Frankenstein” with Basil Rathbone as Wolf von Frankenstein, Boris Karloff in his last performance as the Monster, and Bela Lugosi as an assistant named Ygor.
  • There isn’t an interpretation of the Bride out there that isn’t the frizzy-haired version created for this film. Look no further than Madeline Kahn’s riff on the bride in “Young Frankenstein”. Speaking of “Naughty Marietta”…
  • This is also the first film where the creature starts talking, so any impression out there that involves “friend good” or “fire bad” can trace its lineage back to “Bride of Frankenstein”.
  • “The Bride of Frankenstein” was remade in 1985 as “The Bride” with Sting as the doctor, Clancy Brown as the monster, and Jennifer Beals as the bride. She’s a welder by day and a monster by night.
  • And much like the Javier Bardem “Frankenstein” remake, the Angelina Jolie “Bride of Frankenstein” Dark Universe entry has been shelved.

Further Viewing: A line from “Bride of Frankenstein” served as the title for the 1998 James Whale biopic “Gods and Monsters”; starring Ian McKellen in his first Oscar-nominated performance. The film features a recreation of scenes from “Bride of Frankenstein”.

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