"The Bride of Frankenstein" DVD, Movie Review (1935)

10/30/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Movie Review

"The Bride of Frankenstein"

Directed by James Whale, written by William Hurlburt, not rated.

By our guest blogger, Jonathan Walton

Near the start of Wes Craven’s playful slasher movie “Scream 2,” there’s an ironic film school debate, led by horror movie geek Randy Meeks, about sequels that surpass their predecessors. In Meeks’ opinion, sequels, “by definition alone, are inferior films.” As the group try to derail his argument, Randy knocks them down one by one, only giving recognition to “The Godfather Part II” as a possible exception to the rule. Given Meeks’ and director Wes Craven’s predilection for the horror genre, there is one glaring oversight in Randy’s theory--“The Bride of Frankenstein.” James Whale’s 1935 follow up to “Frankenstein” is that rare exception--a studio-produced sequel that surpasses its original in every way.

Whale himself was originally averse to the idea of directing a second film in the series, stating: “I squeezed the idea dry on the original picture and never want to work on it again.” However, he eventually gave in to studio pressure to direct the film, and the resulting movie was largely considered to be Whale’s masterpiece, popular amongst audiences, critics and filmmakers alike.

The film begins inauspiciously with an unnecessary prologue, featuring a discussion between Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, which provides the audience with a brief plot summary of the first film. The scene is ridiculously theatrical in tone, and is one of the film’s few weak elements, which even Whale’s editor, Ted Kent, argued against, stating, “it was a horror picture and I wanted to get on to The Monster.” It’s a momentary glitch, and the film proper soon hits the ground running, picking up at the exact point where the first instalment ended, with a baying mob burning down an old mill where The Monster has sought refuge. Our first glimpse of Boris Karloff as The Monster immediately establishes the menacing tone of the film. Hiding in the waters beneath the mill, he savagely drowns a villager and his wife before making his escape. The violence is fleeting but shocking in its spontaneity as The Monster hits out with malevolent force.

However, we soon learn that Karloff’s Monster is not the same lumbering hulk that grunted his way through the first film, killing anyone who got in his way. Whale developed the character of The Monster in the second film, giving him a human side that encouraged audiences to engage with him on an emotional level. There are several brief moments in the film where we get to see The Monster’s childlike innocence, such as when he wanders happily through an idyllic woodland setting. Later, we feel pity for him, as he can’t bear to look at the reflection that stares back at him as he drinks water from a lake. Despite the fact that The Monster kills women and children in moments of pure evil, Whale forces us to acknowledge that somewhere in this scientific perversion of God’s nature is a human soul.

One sequence that perfectly embodies the dual nature of The Monster is where he befriends a blind hermit in the woods. Attracted by the hermit’s violin playing, The Monster enters the old man’s house, and the two outsiders form an unlikely friendship. The Monster wants to be accepted and treated with kindness, not fear and hate, whilst the blind man simply wants a companion. The two men share a moment of friendship and tenderness, as the hermit teaches The Monster words like “bread,” “wine,” “smoke” and most importantly, “friend.” It’s a beautiful scene that forces us to empathise with The Monster and recognise his humanity--a heart-breaking moment of compassion that displays The Monster’s childlike yearning to be loved and accepted. It’s also the subject of one of the great parodies in cinema history, lovingly spoofed by Peter Boyle and Gene Hackman in Mel Brook’s brilliant “Young Frankenstein.”

“The Bride of Frankenstein” is no stranger to humour itself. Whale employed a blend of comedy and horror, constantly undercutting the terror with comic moments, as he had done in his previous films “The Invisible Man” and “The Old Dark House.” Key to this was the role of Minnie, Dr. Frankenstein’s housekeeper, played brilliantly by Una O’Connor, who repeatedly serves to break through the tension with her comical rantings. Prone to hysteria, she shrieks her way through the film, delivering some great one-liners in the process, such as her putdown of The Monster, “he’s a nightmare in the daylight.”

In addition to the black humor, there are elements of the fantastical which lift the film above generic horror pictures. In a film rich with the powers of Whale’s imagination, one scene of pure cinematic magic stands out above all the rest. The macabre Dr. Pretorious invites Frankenstein to his laboratory to show the doctor his own experiments in creating human life--“a new world of Gods and Monsters.” Pretorious, played with delightful relish by Ernest Thesiger, is a twisted megalomaniac whose goal is to join Dr. Frankenstein in creating a man-made race. He displays several jars, which once uncovered reveal a series a miniature human figures that he has created and cultivated from seed. There is a king, a queen, an archbishop, a devil, a ballerina and a mermaid. It’s an extraordinary sequence with some of the finest effects photography in cinema history--a moment of visual wonder that could only be achieved through the medium of film.

The film’s finale, during which Pretorius and Frankenstein combine forces to create a mate for The Monster, is another extraordinary sequence. Whale’s expert combination of music, editing and cinematography builds up the tension and anticipation to a crescendo that results in the coming to life of The Bride. Cinematographer John J. Mescall used tilted angles, distorted close-ups and expressionistic lighting to give a sense of the ghoulish world of Pretorius’ depraved experimentation.

The Bride herself is another testament to Whale’s powers of imagination, a character that has become almost as iconic as The Monster for whom she is created. She is a surreal incarnation--an unearthly cross between a Man Ray photograph and Marge Simpson, with two streaks of white lightening through her hair. The Bride’s grotesque beauty is embodied perfectly by Elsa Lanchester, who employed abrupt robotic mannerisms and an unnatural hissing sound to bring the character to life.

One of the most important elements of Whale’s film is Franz Waxman’s diverse score. The music acts to embody the contrast between the humor and horror, beautifully reflecting the film’s shades of light and dark. At times playful, romantic, innocent, foreboding and sinister, the music expresses the complex nature of Whale’s story, and heightens the emotion of the film.

It’s the combination of all these elements that distinguish “The Bride of Frankenstein” as more than just another monster movie from Universal’s conveyor belt of horror features in the 1930s. Whale’s serious approach, combined with his affinity for the subject and his compassion for the characters, ensure that the film has gone on to transcend the genre within which it was created. It’s a masterpiece of the imagination and one of the finest examples of how cinema can give life to the dreams and nightmares of the mind.

View the original trailer for "Bride of Frankenstein" below. Thoughts?

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Technorati
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis
  • MySpace
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • Google
  • Reddit
  • Sphinn
  • Propeller
  • Slashdot
  • Netvibes


  1. Anonymous said...

    It almost reminds me of the build up for "Anna Christie," when the screen prclaimed; "Garbo talks!"

    Fantastic stuff.