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Bride Of Frankenstein

Bride Of Frankenstein

By Kyle Barrett • February 26th, 2014
Static Mass Rating: 5/5

Original release: April 22nd, 1935
Running time: 75 minutes

Director: James Whale
Writer: William Hurlbut
Composer: Franz Waxman

Cast: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester

Bride Of Frankenstein

When I was young and started to watch films more frequently, my grandparents, my grandpa in particular, took it upon themselves to show me some classics as a way of showing me cinema history. One of the first films they screened for me was James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931). I became obsessed with it thereafter, watching it every time I visited and borrowing the tape several times. I was moved, shocked and enraptured by it. Then, after consuming many other classics, they screened the sequel, Bride Of Frankenstein, which I was sure would not be as good as its predecessor. At first I wasn’t as gripped by it. Then, I found I’d watched it more times than Frankenstein. It’s a brilliantly crafted, subversive film that was miles ahead of its time. Whale created pathos through monsters that we genuinely careD for. It’s exemplary filmmaking.

In a true post-modern fashion, we’re given a strange prologue where Mary Shelly (Elsa Lanchester), author of the novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus in which these films are based, is holed up in a mansion during a thunder storm with Lord Byron and Percy Shelly who ask her to continue her tale of Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and the creature (Boris Karloff) he created. Following on from the events of Frankenstein, despite the fact that the tact-on happy ending saw Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) safe in bed with his family, we return to the burning mill of the first film where villagers take the wounded, and thought-to-be dead, Frankenstein home. Some villagers stay behind to ensure the monster is in fact destroyed. Of course, the monster rises yet again and flees into the countryside.

After Frankenstein is revived at the hands of his fiancée Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson), he takes a step back from his experiments to focus on his family life. Things change, however, when an old acquaintance of his appears at his home. Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) asks that Frankenstein continues his experiments. The creature manages to elude dogged villagers on more than one occasion; he takes shelter in a crypt where he comes across Pretorius. Now able to speak, he teams-up with Pretorius to kidnap Elizabeth to force Frankenstein to create a mate.

Bride Of Frankenstein

One of the striking things about the film is how subversive it is despite being created at a time with strict censorship. Whale, from an English working-class family, had a tough upbringing and always considered himself to be an outsider. He was openly gay, despite being a very conservative era. He was a creative, talented individual who couldn’t fit in with his family. After success in the theatre, both acting and directing, Whale was brought to Hollywood to direct features because of his ability to handle dialogue at the time when sound films were booming.

When he received directing duties for Frankenstein he tried to make the scariest, emotionally unsettling film he could. Inspired by German Expressionism, particularly The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Whale decided to use shadows, tilted compositions and long tracking shots to create a gothic masterpiece that shocked and fascinated generations. For years, Universal pursued him to make a sequel in which he kept refusing, wanting to work in other genres. He finally accepted directing duties for complete and total creative control. What Whale injected into the film was sympathy with the monster who’s an outsider, rejected by normal, conservative society. The creature acts in self-defence and is pushed to his limits. In one blasphemous sequence, the creature wreaks havoc in a graveyard, knocking over a religious statue in protest of his treatment.

The performances are brilliant. Karloff. The actor who didn’t want to have the creature speak, finally relented and managed to create in short sentences the pain the creature is going through, desperately seeking a friend who can accept him. The Bride Of Frankensteinsequence where he comes across a blind hermit is one of the most beautiful and staggering sequences ever committed to film. Karloff’s movements and gestures were never better.

Colin Clive was able to create a sense of pity in Frankenstein. He was a man with blind ambition and suffered dearly. When forced to create a mate for the creature after Elizabeth is kidnapped by Pretorius, Frankenstein is condemned to repeat his experiments. Clive played him as a damaged, complex man. His eyes and body language reflect the tormented soul Frankenstein had become. Ernest Thesiger brings a sense of camp and genuine menace to Pretorius. He’s aware of his influence over Frankenstein and becomes the seducer leading him into darkness. Valerie Hobson, who was only 17 at the time, is given little to do and has very little screen time. She’s the symbol of Frankenstein’s redemption. Of course the knock-out is the creature’s bride, Elsa Lanchester. Gorgeous as the bride, Whale asked her to play Mary Shelly to reflect show that beautiful women have wicked thoughts. Lanchester’s swan hiss and bizarre appearance from make-up genius Jack Pierce create an unforgettable character that is legendary. Una O’Conner provides the comic relief as the high-pitched maid Minnie that no-one listens to.

With its subtle attacks on religion and traditional, conservative values, Bride Of Frankenstein was well-ahead of its time. It’s expertly crafted with strong performances. Its style and design remain influential today. The score by Franz Waxman was epic and gorgeous, particularly the Bride’s theme. Bill Condon’s biopic Gods And Monsters (1998) depicts James Whale, played by Ian McKellan, as his health slowly declines and eventually kills himself after many deliberating strokes. Films such as Small Soldiers (Joe Dante, 1998) even had a sequence in which Barbie dolls are animated to live a la the bride. It’s one of the most important films ever made and definitely one of the best.

Bride Of Frankenstein

Kyle Barrett

Kyle Barrett

Kyle Barrett is a PhD student at the University of the West of Scotland. His research focuses on digital film-making and current developments within national cinemas. He also writes and directs several short films and is currently working on the web series Ferocious Bloodaxe.

He also lectures and tutors on practical filmmaking classes.

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