The Bride of Frankenstein

The Bride of Frankenstein, 1935. Directed by James Whale. Written by William Hurlbut, suggested by Mary Shelley’s novel. Starring Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger, Valerie Hobson.

This film is far more of a comedy than the first. As beautiful and visually striking as the original, the characters are drawn even broader than the first. The story proper begins as the first one ends, with the windmill burning (the film begins, not as the first one with a tuxedoed gentleman warning the crowd of the horrors they were about to see, but rather a “depiction” of a conversation of Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron about the novel). As the villagers begin to depart, the father of the drown girl plunges into the charred husk of the building so that he might see the blackened bones of the Monster and sleep well at night. He immediately falls through a floor and into water, where he is confronted and killed by the Monster. His wife is soon pulled in after him (violently bouncing against structures as she falls to her death). The third woman screeches and runs off to tell someone in the village, who immediately disbelieves her, so she shrugs, basically say “fuck’em, I tried”, and goes home. We get further evidence of comedic performances as the movie progresses (though Colin Clive’s performance is largely credited to his suffering the effects of alcoholism).

Ernest Thesiger is a delight in his role as the madder mad scientist, Dr. Pretorious. He shows up as Henry is recovering, promising to show the excited Frankenstein his experiments creating life. They immediately rush to Pretorious’s lab, where Pretorious shows Frankenstein the tiny people that he grew (the Queen, the King, the Bishop, the Devil, and the Mermaid) and who he keeps in jars with only enough room for them to sit on large chairs and then stand up to pantomime whatever action their title seems to dictate (the Queen waves, the King eats and acts lasciviously toward the Queen, the Bishop addresses, the Devil conspires). This scene seems to be more about playing with forced perspective and adding a magical component to the science in this film. Pretorious wants Frankenstein to work with him to create another creature, Frankenstein refuses. Soon, Pretorious will ally himself with the Monster, kidnap Elizabeth (played in the first film by Mae Clarke and now by Valerie Hobson), and compel Frankenstein to assist.

The mad science is more incredible; now we have all the hallmarks that we associate with the animation of the creature, a greater lightening storm (with the addition of kites), larger electrical machines than the original, and a slab that brings the creature up to the storm to be animated. Colin Clive gets a second opportunity to scream, “It’s alive” and then we’re introduced to the Bride (played by Lanchester, who also played Mary Shelley in the prologue to the film). She hisses and she screams and she is led around by the men. Rejected, Frankenstein decides to destroy them all, but upon the appearance of Elizabeth, allows her and Henry to escape before blowing up the building.

Again, there is a lot to recommend with this movie visually. Both the Monster and the Bride are compelling creations (the Monster gets to share his scene with the blind man, the only thing that was brought in from the original novel, though the context is changed completely, save for the female creature, which again, utterly changes context and circumstances from the novel). Pretorious is a gloriously over the top mad scientist, who is always claiming that the thing he is indulging in is his only vice (gin, cigars, animating dead flesh). The Monster gets a great final line: to Henry, “Go! You live!” to Pretorious, “You, stay. We belong dead!” Although, earlier in the film, Pretorious gets to be the first to utter the line: “To a new world, of gods and monsters!”

More later …

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