Bride of Frankenstein

Dullsville

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

     Over the next couple days I will be reviewing movies I saw last weekend at a horror movie marathon, which I am proud to say, I survived from beginning to end (with a several hour break for a trip home and nap in the middle). Nevertheless, a handful of older fright films were shown, including the splendid Cabinet of Dr. Caligari complete with keyboardist’s accompaniment. I will start with the oldest in the lot, Bride of Frankenstein, which despite Boris Karloff‘s magnificent image of the monster is full of flaws.

     The film opens with a dialogue among author Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), husband Percy Shelley and Lord Byron about Mary’s yet-published manuscript, “Frankenstein”, during which the writer explains the moral of that story –the hazards of playing god– and says the plot is not yet finished. Her next story, as she describes, begins where the prior one ended, with the burning down of a mill with the monster inside. Both Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and the monster survive this event and while the doctor and his wife-to-be Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) mull the moral lesson he has learned, the monster escapes into the woods.

     The monster is at one point captured by a mob of townsfolk who jail him only to have the beast easily escape and return to the wilderness. There he meets a blind man who is unafraid of his horrific facade and befriends him, teaching him of wine, smoking and the English language. Eventually some seeing people come along, however, and in the chaos that ensues, the blind man’s home is burned and the monster runs away.

     Meanwhile, a colleague of Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger), has shown the monster’s creator that he seeks to create a female version of the monster to allow for the beginning of a race derived from the reanimated creatures. Dr. Frankenstein sticks to his guns given the horrible tragedy that came from his original venture but is persuaded when, working in tandem with Pretorious, the monster kidnaps Elizabeth. The monster looks forward to his new “friend” but once brought to life, the woman merely hisses at her predetermined mate. The monster therefore pulls the self-destruct lever of the castle where the work is being done and ends the monsters’ lives, sparing Dr. Frankenstein and Elizabeth.

     Besides the notion that a castle would have a lever designed to blow up the premises (you know, the ancient version of today’s self-destruct button), most of the monster’s activities in the movie are cause for laughter rather than fright. His many utterances of “drink gooood” and “smoke gooood” are absurd and show how harmless alcohol and cigarettes were considered in this bygone era. The monster picks up the English language all too easily and moves from infantile assemblages of words to coherent sentences complete with verbs. Although it is fun to hear the monster more than grunt, such as with the word “friend”, his growing intelligence is less amusing. The mate, who is also played by Lanchester, also makes one laugh during her short duration on the screen. She jerks her head about like a bird and is more fascinating by her physical appearance than by anything she does or any noise she makes. The only thing Bride of Frankenstein has going for it is that makeup work on Lanchester and Karloff. Perhaps it is because he was first monster in a sound picture, but I hold Karloff’s image as Frankenstein’s beast as perfect.

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2 Responses

  1. But think of all the fodder it gave Mel Brooks!!! That alone makes it an important contribution.

    • You are so right. Tragically (or maybe not), my expertise on the story of Frankenstein is based more on many viewings of “Young Frankenstein” than any other movie or the book itself.

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