Hello again, and welcome back as the countdown keeps going on, and we reach number ten. From the tropical locales of yesterdays selection, we turn now to a more Gothic setting, and one of the famous pictures to come out of the Universal monster movies. In 1931, Frankenstein had shocked the world and the studio heads with it’s box office success. The suits soon demanded a sequel to the creature feature and there were several rejected drafts including one where the monster became educated and carried on his creators research and one where Henry Frankenstein built a death ray to hold the world hostage. Luckily neither of these were used because the studio also wanted the man behind the camera, James Whale, to come back. He agreed to do so for complete creative control, and finally he approved a script by playwrights Edmund Pearson and William J. Hulburt. It contained many of the elements of earlier versions, and was based out of a lesser known story toward the end of Mary Shelley’s novel. In the novel, the monster demands a mate of his creator, but ultimately Henry destroys the woman before he brings her to life. Not so with the movie version and thus the world now knows of…..
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) starring Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger, and Valerie Hobson. Directed by James Whale.
As the movie opens we are greeted by the author herself, Mary Shelley (Lanchester), sitting around with Lord Byron and her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. It is a dark and stormy night, and soon the conversation steers to the demure Mary’s story of the monster and his mad creator. She reveals to the men that she has not yet told the whole story, and so begins our tale.
At the end of Frankenstein, Henry Frankenstein (Clive) and the monster (Karloff) were trapped in a burning mill, and the monster tosses his “father” from the peak of it. The villagers assume the monster has perished as well as his creator. Soon they learn that the monster lives, and somehow so has Henry. the scientist is grateful to still be alive and seems to have seen the error of his ways. He is eager to heal from his wounds and marry his beloved sweetheart Elizabeth (Hobson). However, Henry is visited by his old professor Dr Pretorius who wishes to form a partnership to continue Henry’s experiments with artificial life. Pretorius has created life of his own in the form of several small people that he keeps in jars which he shows to Henry after they drink a toast to “a new era of Gods and Monsters”. Henry however is reluctant and refuses to participate in the Doctor’s scheme.
The monster roams the countryside in desperate need for food, but perhaps more importantly a desperate need to communicate. He is misunderstood as he attempts to speak to a shepherd girl who he has to then save from drowning. The townsfolk form one of their ever popular angry torch carrying mobs and capture the monster. They take him to the local dungeon, but he is quickly free. Back into the countryside he meets up with a blind violin player whose music the monster finds soothing. They quickly form a bond, and the blind man even teaches the monster to talk as well as how to smoke a cigar. However some lost hunters come along and break up the monster’s relationship with his “friend”.
On the run again, the monster seeks refuge in a mausoleum where he encounters Dr. Pretorius. The scheming Doctor soon learns of the monster’s longing for a companion and uses the monster for leverage to make Henry agree to make a bride for the creature. With no other choice, Henry must fire up the Cosmic Diffuser one more time, and as lightning crashes the words “It’s alive” once more ring out in the night.
–Karloff broke his leg during the filming, but the metal struts used to give him the “monster walk” braced the leg until it could be properly set.
–The Bride of Frankenstein is the only one of the classic Universal monsters to have never killed anyone, and she has the shortest screen time of them all.
–The film had many problems securing it’s release due to the censorship of the Hays Office, but perhaps the most bizarre case of censorship comes from Japan where they demanded Pretorius’ tiny king in a bottle be cut as it “made a fool of a king”.
–Many people feel that James Whale, who was openly gay, injected the script with elements of homosexuality. People point to the relationship between the blind man and the monster and Pretorius’ “sissified” demeanor. Personally, I think they are reading too much into it.
Why Do I Love It?
As good as the original Frankenstein is, this movie marks James Whale’s strongest film making. The film is shot beautifully, and the camera moves smoothly which is something seldom seen in films of the era. The performances are very strong as well with Karloff turning in a very emotional portrayal of the monster. Karloff was against the monster speaking, but I feel that it adds an element of humanity to the monster that allows the audience to feel for him. It also allows the monster to utter one of the more famous lines in the Universal monster movies when he utters “We belong dead.” It has real emotional impact, and magnifies the stirring conclusion. Colin Clive does very well reprising his role as well, and always entertains. When he gets in the lab and turns on those crazy eyes, he is magnetic. Ernest Thesiger inhabits the role of Pretorius in a way that Bela Lugosi and Claude Raines, who were both considered for the part, could not have achieved. It is simply a wonderful movie and is the perfect example of when script, cast, and director achieve something that truly has a life of it’s own.