THREE GUYS AND… UNIVERSAL CLASSIC MONSTERS
series created by Marvin Mercer and Nick Stephenson
“THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)”
written by Dominick Cappello
By all rights, this is a film that should be ranked with “Gone With the Wind” and “Casablanca” as an undisputed classic of the American cinema, but because it’s the horror genre, “The Bride of Frankenstein” sometimes gets overlooked. I say it would be hard to argue that this film is not a masterpiece.
James Whale returned to the director’s chair and this was at the height of his career, fresh off the success of the original “Frankenstein,” “The Old Dark House,” and “The Invisible Man.” Colin Clive also returned as Dr. Henry Frankenstein, but this time he would share top billing with Boris Karloff, who was actually billed as “?” in the first film to create a sense of mystery around The Monster. The role of Elizabeth was recast with Valerie Hobson, who would also appear in “Werewolf of London” that same year.
Ernest Thesiger joined the cast as Dr. Septimus Pretorious, a character not in Mary Shelley’s novel, but who steals just about every scene. Fritz the hunchback was murdered in the first film, but Dwight Frye still returned as Karl, an unkempt henchman who works for Dr. Pretorious. Elsa Lanchester plays the duel roles of Mary Shelley and The Bride. Una O’Connor, a favorite of James Whale’s from “The Invisible Man,” was featured as a chambermaid. Dr. Pretorious wasn’t a clichéd mad scientist. He was deranged in his own eccentric way, growing tiny people in glass jars. Dr. Frankenstein considers his work to be “black magic.” Dr. Pretorious laughs in the face of death and has great contempt for “bible stories.” He also becomes master to The Monster, who had earlier befriended an elderly blind hermit and learned some basic communication skills. John Carradine appears as one of the two hunters who accidentally burn down the hermit’s cabin.
If you watch both of James Whale’s Frankenstein films back to back, you get a decent adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel. That’s fine with me. I’m not one of those people who pout when a film differs from the source material. The big differences being that Henry (Victor in the novel) and Elizabeth are allowed to live, the additions of Fritz and Dr. Pretorious, The Monster learning to speak, but never becoming articulate, and the omission of the North Pole framing device. Instead, James Whale ingeniously has Mary Shelley as a character in the epilogue of the second film and has the actress, Elsa Lanchester, return in the finale act as The Bride.
The Bride of Frankenstein is the only classic female monster. Countess Zaleska, Dracula’s Daughter, never made the cut for whatever reason. The Bride doesn’t look much like a monster though. She has discreet scars around her jawline, courtesy of Jack Pierce, and a bizarre Egyptian hairdo with streaks reminiscent of lighting bolts. The most elegant of monsters. It is heartbreaking to watch The Bride reject The Monster while also terrifying for the doctors because they know that they are in some serious trouble.
Why is there a self-destruct lever in laboratory? Who knows, but The Monster decides it’s time to end the film with a bang. The Monster shows his humanity by allowing Henry and Elizabeth to escape while he, his reluctant Bride, and Dr. Pretorious perish in the explosion. Oh, and Karl had been killed by The Monster earlier in the film, so FYI for anyone who’s keeping track of how many times Dwight Frye was killed in these films.
James Whale had no further involvement in the “Frankenstein” franchise. “Son of Frankenstein” (1939) was the only other sequel which was better than a B-Movie. James Whale never fully recovered from a stroke suffered in 1956 and committed suicide in 1957. His cinematic legacy, however, lives on. The Frankenstein Monster and The Invisible Man are household names and that can be attributed just as much to his films as it can to the novels in which they were based. The same year James Whale died, Hammer Films released “The Curse of Frankenstein,” which was a more violent, but slightly less faithful adaptation of the novel. In spite of all the remakes, good and bad, it was James Whale, who along with Boris Karloff and Jack Pierce, created the enduring image that society has of The Frankenstein Monster.
– Dr. Jelly