Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
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Background

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), a classic masterpiece of 1930s horror films, appeared as a superior sequel to the original prototype Frankenstein (1931). [There are so few sequels that are superior to their predecessors - another example would be The Godfather, Part II (1974).] While the film was in production, it was titled The Return of Frankenstein until it was released. The film's title is actually a misnomer - the 'bride' of Frankenstein was not the Monster's bride but Elizabeth (played by seventeen year old Valerie Hobson), Dr. Frankenstein's wife. [Mention of the film often drops the "The" from the film's title.]

The macabre, satirical film is generally considered one of the greatest horror films of all time - a spectacular, bizarre, high-camp, excessive, humorous, farcical and surrealistic film. Both Frankenstein films were produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr. (the head of Universal) and directed by horror master James Whale, at a time when monster films were diminishing. The film reunited Colin Clive (as Dr. Frankenstein) with Boris Karloff as the Monster, but brought two new characters to the forefront: Ernest Thesiger as a necromancer who has miniaturized and imprisoned various human beings in glass jars, and Elsa Lanchester as the Monster's Bride.

Whale anticipated all current and future horror parodies with his effective, insurmountable, over-the-top swan song to the genre. The next two films in the series were Universal's second sequel to the original 1931 film - director Rowland V. Lee's Son of Frankenstein (1939), featuring Karloff's third and final appearance as The Monster in a feature film. This was followed by the all-star The House of Frankenstein (1944), with Boris Karloff in the role of the evil scientist Dr. Niemann.

The Bride of Frankenstein was remade with rock singer Sting as Dr. Frankenstein, Clancy Brown as the Frankenstein Monster, and Jennifer Beals as the second recreated Bride-Monster in The Bride (1985). Many years later, one of director Mel Brooks' best satires, Young Frankenstein (1974) honored Whale's original film by recreating the set of The Bride of Frankenstein.

With cinematographer John Mescall, Whale expertly created a haunting mood in the film, bringing the influence of German Expressionism into its stylistic imagery and sets and into the performance of the Monster's Bride (Elsa Lanchester) with her jerky robotic movements. He also humanized the Monster by educating and civilizing him, extending his range of expressions and speaking of words, and making him more self-aware. The impressive musical score was composed by Franz Waxman. As in the original film, the screenplay (by John L. Balderston and William Hurlbut) was adapted from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's 1816 novel.

In the opening (and closing) credits, 'The Monster's Mate' is identified with only a question mark, although Elsa Lanchester is credited for playing Mary Shelley in the film's prologue. [Her dual role as the creator/author of the tale and as the created creature, the Monster Bride, is symbolic of how evil, monstrous forces lie within all of us.] The Monster himself, the biggest star of Universal Studios in the mid-30s, is billed above the film's title with his surname only in bold letters: KARLOFF. This was Karloff's second performance as the creature.

The Story


In the film's prologue, the camera pans toward a light shining in the window of Lord Byron's estate on a stormy dark night as thunder crackles. Inside the elegant drawing room of the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, in the early 1800s, three characters are lounging and talking together in an historical reconstruction: Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon), poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton) and his 19-year-old bride Mary Shelley. The memorable scene recreates a discussion the trio may have had. Before a roaring fire, Mary expresses her unusual fear of thunder and the dark:

Lord Byron: The crudest, savage exhibition of Nature at her worst without, and we three, we elegant three within. I should like to think that an irate Jehovah was pointing those arrows of lightning directly at my head, the unbowed head of George Gordon Lord Byron, England's greatest sinner. But I cannot flatter myself to that extent. Possibly those thunders are for dear Shelley - heaven's applause for England's greatest poet.
Shelley: What of my Mary?
Lord Byron: She is an angel.
Mary: You think so?
Lord Byron: Do you hear? Come, Mary. Come and watch the storm.
Mary: You know how lightning alarms me. Shelley darling, will you please light these candles for me?
Shelley: (laughing) Mary, darling.
Lord Byron: Astonishing creature.
Mary: I, Lord Byron?
Lord Byron: Frightened of thunder, fearful of the dark. And yet you have written a tale that sent my blood into icy creeps.
Mary: (giggling) Ha, ha, ha.
Lord Byron: Look at her Shelley. Can you believe that bland and lovely brow conceived of Frankenstein, a Monster created from cadavers out of rifled graves? Isn't it astonishing?
Mary: I don't know why you should think so. What do you expect? Such an audience needs something stronger than a pretty little love story. So why shouldn't I write of monsters?
Lord Byron: No wonder Murray's refused to publish the book. He says his reading public would be too shocked.
Mary: It will be published, I think.
Shelley: Then, darling, you will have much to answer for.

Mary defends her Frankenstein novel to her admirer, arguing that it was more than a story about a mad scientist and a monster. It was a philosophical consideration of a man who defied God's natural laws and sovereignty by daring to create life:

Mary: The publishers did not see that my purpose was to write a moral lesson. The punishment that befell a mortal man who dared to emulate God.
Lord Byron: Well, whatever your purpose may have been, my dear, I take great relish in savoring each separate horror. I roll them over on my tongue.
Mary: Don't, Lord Byron. Don't remind me of it tonight.

The film dissolves and flashes back to moments from the first film, in order to summarize what happened, and includes a few additional shots created for the flashback. [In several respects, however, Bride of Frankenstein contradicts the ending of Frankenstein.] Bryon recalls:

What a setting in that churchyard to begin with. The sobbing women, the first plod of earth on the coffin. That was a pretty chill. Frankenstein and the dwarf stealing the body out of its new-made grave, cutting the hanged man down from the gallows where he swung creaking in the wind. The cunning of Frankenstein in his mountain laboratory, picking dead men apart and building up a human Monster, so fearful - so horrible that only a half-crazed brain could have devised. And then the murder! The little child drowned. Henry Frankenstein himself thrown from the top of the burning mill by the very Monster he had created. And it was these fragile white fingers that penned the nightmare.

Mary pricks herself while sewing, drawing blood and becoming squeamish at the sight. Percy questions why Mary ended her story prematurely: "I do think it a shame, Mary, to end your story quite so suddenly." Mary contends that she has told only part of her story, and then explains that Frankenstein's Monster (Boris Karloff) did not perish, but actually survived the fire that destroyed the blazing old windmill in the first film:

Mary: That wasn't the end at all. Would you like to hear what happened after that? I feel like telling it. It's a perfect night for mystery and horror. The air itself is filled with monsters.
Lord Byron: I'm all ears. While heaven blasts the night without, open up your pits of hell.

Mary weaves her new tale of horror, providing a lead-in to the visualization of the film's story. The camera pulls back from the trio and dissolves into the sequel: "Well then, imagine yourselves standing by the wreckage of the mill. The fire is dying down. Soon, the bare skeleton of the building will be dissolved. The gaunt rafters against the sky."

The mill burns to the ground while peasants from the village cheer and endorse its destruction. Minnie (Una O'Connor), Dr. Frankenstein's high-strung, screeching housekeeper/chambermaid, exults: "I'm glad to see the Monster roasted to death before my very eyes." To restore order, the village's burgomaster (E. E. Clive) declares the Monster dead and encouragingly sends the mob home. Believed to be mortally wounded after being thrown from the burning mill (his fall only partially cushioned by one of the mill blades), Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) lies on a stretcher. [In the original Frankenstein film, Henry is recovering from the ordeal and getting ready for marriage when the film ends.] Fed up with Minnie's noisy contentiousness about everything, the burgomaster finally tells her: "Oh, shut up!"

Hans (Reginald Barlow), the peasant father of the little girl the monster accidentally drowned, and his wife (Mary Gordon) linger at the site. [With bizarre irony, these two villagers are the first to be killed by the Monster.] Unsatisfied and vengeful, Hans is determined to view the Monster's remains: "I want to see with my own eyes...If I can see his blackened bones, I can sleep at night." His wife pleads with him that nothing can bring back their murdered daughter: "Oh Hans, he must be dead. And dead or alive, nothing can bring our little Maria back to us."

When Hans walks over the unstable beams from the wreckage of the fire, he falls through the collapsed floor and splashes into an underground millpond/cistern below. With emphasis from the musical score for a dramatic entrance, the creature's hand and arm first appear from behind a wooden beam, and then the Monster steps fully into view from the shadows - with grotesque electrodes at the neck and a flat, square head (and a face scarred by the fire). Hans is held under the waist-deep water and drowned by the Monster. A sleepy-looking owl witnesses the murder. In one of the many scenes displaying macabre humor, Han's wife reaches into the wreckage for her husband's extended hand, not realizing that she is pulling the Monster from the debris. The resurrected Monster kills the silly farm wife by heaving her down into the mill (again watched by the owl), and stalks off into the countryside. Soon, he comes up behind Minnie who turns, sees him and becomes panicked, hysterical and crazed at the sight of the Monster. Screeching, she turns and runs off in fright, leaving the bewildered Monster standing there.

News of Henry Frankenstein's demise is brought to Henry's fiancee Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson, who has been substituted for Mae Clarke from the earlier Frankenstein film) at Castle Frankenstein. After his seemingly-lifeless form is carried in a procession into the gothic castle on a stretcher (with background music of a slow, rhythmic dirge), Minnie rushes in and wails to a co-worker that the Monster still lives: "It's alive! The Monster! It's alive!" She is not believed, denounced as an "old fool," and told: "We don't believe in ghosts." Spiteful of everyone's disbelief, Minnie introspects to herself, refusing to take any responsibility for the dire consequences:

Nobody will believe me. What? I'll wash my hands of it. Let them all be murdered in the beds.

After Henry's "corpse" is brought into a spacious castle chamber, the worst is feared until Minnie shrieks when the "corpse" moves: "Look, milady, he's alive." [Her ear-piercing scream counter-points the Monster's revival with Henry's rejuvenation, and parodies Henry's famous exclamation from the first film.]

Later in the evening, Henry recuperates in his candelabra-lit bedroom chamber in the castle, tenderly cared for by Elizabeth. The ordeal of the "horrible experience" has made it difficult for him to put the past behind him, and he "raves" with a delirious, "insane desire" to create living men again:

Henry: Forget? If only I could forget but it's never out of my mind. I've been cursed for delving into the mysteries of Life. Perhaps death is sacred and I profaned it. For what a wonderful vision it was. I dreamed of being the first to give to the world the secret that God is so jealous of - the formula for life. Think of the power to create a man - and I did it. I did it! I created a man, and who knows, in time, I could have trained him to do my will. I could have bred a race. I might even have found the secret of eternal life.
Elizabeth: Henry, don't say those things. Don't think them! It's blasphemous and wicked. We are not meant to know those things.
Henry: It may be that I'm intended to know the secret of life. It may be part of the Divine Plan.
Elizabeth: No, no! It's the Devil that prompts you. It's death, not life, that is in it all and at the end of it all.

During Elizabeth's admonishments about meddling in God's affairs, she experiences a bizarre fit (she imagines an apparition that has come to claim Henry) that reduces her to hysterical tears:

Elizabeth: Listen Henry, while you've been lying here, tossing in your delirium, I couldn't sleep. And when you rave of your insane desire to create living men from the dust of the dead, a strange apparition has seemed to appear in the room. It comes, a figure like Death, and each time it comes more clearly - nearer. It seems to be reaching out for you, as if it would take you away from me. There it is. Look! (pointing into the room)There!
Henry: I see nothing, Elizabeth. Where? There's nothing there.
Elizabeth: There! There! It's coming for you! Nearer! Henry! Henry! Henry! Henry! Henry!


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