The Bride of Frankenstein
Director: James Whale
Written by: William Hurlbut
Threat: Mad Scientist
Weapon of Choice: Fire
Based upon: novel - Frankenstein - Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Other movies in this series:
Son of Frankenstein
The Ghost of Frankenstein
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
House of Frankenstein
House of Dracula
Rish Outfield's reviews
Happy 400th review, folks. I'm happy to mark this occasion by saying a few words about one of the most revered and influential horror movies of all time. It's hard to believe that a horror fan like myself had never seen the "Frankenstein" films. It may be that they were unavailable for a great many years, and they never aired on Thriller Theater when I was a kid (we got the Hammer versions, though), or that I avoided them when I reached adolescence in favour of more explicit offerings. But better late than never, as this film, despite a couple of tiny things, was absolutely wonderful. It is unanimously considered the greatest of Universal Monster movies, and by many to be the greatest horror film ever.
The story should be familiar: Right after the events of the first picture, the recovering Doctor Frankenstein (again played by Colin Clive) is coerced into creating a female as a mate for his original undead creation, which survives, burned and scarred; constantly fleeing the angry mob.
Made four years after the original, but with many of the same filmmakers (including the director) and cast (even bit parts, now in new roles), it started on the wrong foot, but once it got on its feet, it ran like Secretariat on crystal meth. It did begin with a really lame prologue, as Mary Shelley talks with her future husband Percy, and friend Lord Byron about her famous story--"And it was these fragile white fingers that penned the nightmare"--but it was a clever way to retell the first film and introduce the second.
There were a couple of annoying bits, but they were all early on. The first twenty minutes were really comical, but I wasn't sure if that was intentional. I couldn't stop laughing--every character was more hysterical than the last. But these comic relief characters don't appear in the second half of the film. My one big complaint was the character of Minnie the screaming harpy. She provided ear-damaging commentary and ulcer-inducing shrieks throughout the early scenes. I wrote in my notes: "the scenery chewing gypsy woman needs to die. She annoys the SHIT out of everyone, especially me." She did provide a nice retort however, to when a villager told her, "Ah shut up, you old fool:" "Nobody believes me. Well, alright, let all of 'em be murdered in their beds for all of me." Oddly, she is played by Una O'Connor, the same actress I so despised in The Invisible Man. She is phased out as the film progresses, so I won't complain further.
As Frankenstein was Universal's biggest hit, and made Boris Karloff an instant movie icon, the billing was very different in the sequel--for as the original began with only a question mark credit for the Monster, this proudly announced, "Karloff in 'Bride of Frankenstein.'" This time around, it boasts ? as The Monster's Mate. Dr. Frankenstein, who was mad and a villain in the first film, is now repentant and honorable. I found him somewhat likeable the first time, though, so he is fully redeemed here. Hmm, Elizabeth's hair has grown long and dark all of a sudden--no comment there. Doctor Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) is the new villain--another, even more unscrupulous scientist who wishes a partner in Henry Frankenstein. He is crafty and fey, both beguiling and repellant, comparing himself to the Devil, just as Clive did himself to God in the original. Dwight Frye appears again, now playing Karl, Pretorius's assistant. Elsa Lancaster, without monster makeup, appears at the beginning as Mary Shelley. As the titular and memorable Bride, she doesn't have much to do, but she looks great. Again, though, this is Karloff's film. He maintains the mystery and imposing presence he had in the first film, and adds levels of complexity to it. He is not a growling, rampaging beast in this picture--he is a lonely child-man, just misjudged and hated because he's so ugly (the abnormal brain detail was either forgotten or deemed unimportant). This is the film where the Monster talks, which was sadly abandoned in all the other sequels. It was Karloff's performance in this film that Phil Hartman based his "Saturday Night Live" Frankenstein on.
Of all the Universal monsters--Dracula, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, the Gill-Man, even my favourite, the Wolf Man--none are as human as Karloff's Monster in Bride of Frankenstein. He lives--he eats and drinks, he sleeps, he laughs, he cries. When he says, "I love dead . . . hate living," we feel for him, perhaps recognizing ourselves in his tortured persona. Who has never been lonely? Who has never been misunderstood, or felt like an outsider, or made youthful mistakes that came back to haunt them? Hiding in an underground crypt, a dead woman does not shriek when she sees him, nor cower away when he tries to touch her. His response is wholly understandable--he calls her "friend."
I can plainly see why people like this one better than the first film. It was not nearly as talky and slow as its predecessor, the budget is obviously higher than the original's, the body count is much higher too. It makes use of large, impressive sets, advanced camera moves and moody lighting, and a musical score playing throughout, where the original was silent except for the titles. It featured some amazing special effects (the big explosion at the finale was impressive and the tiny people in Pretorius's collection--while utterly useless in every way--were way ahead of their time) and Jack Pierce's monster makeup actually has burns that heal and hair that grows as time passes in the film. The story was great, with a couple of nice subplots, nice makeup, nice pace, and much more heart. The scene with the blind man and the Monster is AWESOME. It stopped me dead in my tracks--my mouth agape--completely obliterating all the petty annoyances and dumbness that came before. This scene was literally one of the best things I have ever seen in a motion picture. It had a great last half, ending in a much more satisfying way than most Thirties Universal monster films. Like the audience, the Monster recognizes its creator (the doctor) as good in the end. His last words are moving and incredible: "WE BELONG DEAD."
Bride of Frankenstein did what few sequels have done--it built on the base laid for it by its predecessor and improved on it in several areas. A lot of the weaknesses of Frankenstein would be corrected in the second visit. I wonder how many unsuccessful films would find that to be the case if they were sequelized.
I'd Recommend It To: Anyone. This film is an absolute must-see achieving a poetry and intelligence rival to any film today, Horror or otherwise.
Note: As I said in my Frankenstein review, it's hard to deign to give this Skulls, as most of the cliches we like to point out were either not invented yet or not allowed in cinema when this was made.
Note 2: One last negative thing: the title, Bride of Frankenstein, doesn't really work--she was the bride of the Monster, not the Doctor. It always bothered me when people would call Boris Karloff's character Frankenstein, even when I was a little kid. It's the same reaction I have to people who call Leonard Nimoy's "Star Trek" character "Doctor Spock." But as it's ingrained in the public's consciousness, it will probably never change.
Posted: April 13th, 2001
The tyranist's thoughts
I must first say that with a little insight and the removal of the Minnie character (or perhaps if they had replaced her with an actress less grating) this could be the perfect movie. Even with Minnie in place, it comes very close.
It took me years to get around to seeing this and I regret having ever postponed the experience despite the fact that I was kind of set up to hate the movie. With all of the praise that had been piled on, I was doomed to think it worse than it really was. Or course, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out just how delightful the movie was.
I admire Colin Clive's tortured performance as Henry Frankenstein and the way he was able to show us the demons that warred within him. Karloff's monster is sad, touching, and dignified beyond all of the hackneyed attempts that have come later. And to quote Norman Bates, we all go a little mad sometimes. I felt for both Elizabeth and for the monster's mate. I found Elsa Lanchester to be beautiful beyond what was necessary for the part and her portrayal of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley both naive and alluring. Forever in my dreams I will see her instead of Natasha Richardson (in that mediocre movie Gothic).
This truly is a classic and deserves to be seen by one and all. Never mind the shrill Minnie, all bets are paid and there is a sublimity that says more about man than many modern dramas.
Posted: July 18th, 2002
Total Skulls: 5
|Rips off earlier film|
|Horror film showing on TV/in theater in movie|
|Future celebrity appears|
|Former celebrity appears|
|Girl unnecessarily gets naked|
|Death associated with sex|
|Unfulfilled promise of nudity|
|Characters forget about threat|
|Power is cut|
|Phone lines are cut|
|Someone investigates a strange noise|
|Someone runs up stairs instead of going out front door|
|Camera is the killer|
|Victims cower in front of a window/door|
|Victim locks self in with killer|
|Victim running from killer inexplicably falls|
|Toilet stall scene|
|Car stalls or won't start|
|Cat jumps out|
|Stupid discovery of corpse|
|No one believes only witness|
|Crazy, drunk, old man knows the truth|
|Warning goes unheeded|
|Music detracts from scene|
|Death in first five minutes|
|x years before/later|
|Dark and stormy night|
|Killer doesn't stay dead|
|Killer wears a mask|
|Killer is in closet|
|Killer is in car with victim|
|Villain is more sympathetic than heroes|
|Blood hits camera|
|Poor death effect|
|No one dies at all|
|Little kid lamely survives|
|Dog/Pet miraculously survives|
|"It was all a dream" ending|
|Unbelievably happy ending|
|Unbelievably crappy ending|
|What the hell?|