Friday, 25 May 2018

Bride of Frankenstein

Taking some elements of the book that were originally left out of Frankenstein (1931), the 1935 sequel continues directly from the conclusion of the first film extending the story into something a little more complex.  Clearly the major omission from the 1931 adaptation was the creation of a mate for the abomination that had become a burden to its creator - a ploy on the part of Victor (here called Henry) to dispense of the creature once and for all from his life whilst simultaneously making amends, if such as thing were possible.  After the believed-dead Henry has been dragged back to his home and wife Elizabeth, his revival comes as a shock to all.  An old acquaintance visits the recovering man (bedridden partly because actor Colin Clive had actually broken a leg in real life at the time) with the intention of teaming up to continue experimenting with the creation of life, much to Elizabeth’s disapproval.  It seems the man, announced as Dr. Pretorius, has been developing in his laboratory a few miniature automatons of his own, something that seems borne out of a morally devoid mindset of obsessive, sadistic tinkering akin more so to that of a child than a scientist attempting to evolve mankind’s knowledge.  Initially defiant, Henry’s involvement is egged along by Pretorius bringing in the now obedient monster, something Henry thought to be dead after the windmill fire.  Elizabeth is kidnapped by the monster and Henry is forced to work with Pretorius to build a female, granting it life by similar means to the birth of his first ‘child’.  The monster himself is quite aroused at the prospect of a new friend after his first and only one, a wood-dwelling blind man, was taken from him by strangers.  Of course, the results of the female’s awakening are not predictable and her arrival is destined to bring doom to those around her.
Apart from filling in some literary gaps in Universal’s Frankenstein franchise the studio put together what some have since deemed to be the greatest horror movie ever made.  Yet this label often came from those who rarely watch genre products, and it can never live up to such heights.  Aside from that the film was certainly ahead of its era in many ways.  Englishman James Whale was nothing like the usual director employed to shoot mainstream films back in the golden age; he brought personality and style to his projects and was one of cinema’s earliest auteurs.  Look at any of his genre films and they stand out from the crowd: Frankenstein and the sequel reviewed here, The Invisible Man, and The Old Dark House.  In contrast to most directors of the period, Whale was not simply another employee on the film set.  One thing he brought to these darker outings, including Bride…, was a grimly humorous edge, something that was probably lost to the comprehension of studio executives in the thirties.  Much more pronounced here than in the first film it can take a while to get accustomed to nowadays (the squawking old woman who seems omnipresent still grates a little with me after many viewings), but it’s at least memorable, for example the monster puffing on cigarettes and acquiring a taste for wine is something that embeds itself in memory.  And then there’s that inexplicable laboratory lever…

Continuity is maintained with the first film quite well, bringing Colin Clive back as Henry, removing the monster’s burnt eyebrows as a result of the fire it had survived, the watchtower production design, etc.  Unfortunately, Mae Clarke would not return as Henry’s wife, however, she was replaced by the overly dramatic but innately beautiful Valerie Hobson.  Dwight Frye also returned despite his character being killed in the first film, this time in a role as a different person with almost identical functionality (that of an assistant). The increased budget (nearly half a million dollars) is reflected in an amazing laboratory sequence, the film’s pinnacle - a lovely marathon of drama, great shots and editing, culminating in the eponymous woman’s birth (or rebirth).  The combined motivations of Henry, Pretorius, and the monster itself all direct to this one event, their actions throughout propelled towards a singularity.  The monster simply desires a friend (though is innocently unaware of any reproductive urge that probably survives in his blood), Pretorius has a morbid, amoral fascination with experimentation in life engineering, while Henry wants his wife back, although it’s clear his own scientific intrigue is piqued once work begins on the bride.  Like the monster, the bride herself is a gorgeous, iconic piece of design, thanks to Jack Pierce once again I believe.  She doesn’t speak but clearly displays disgust as she first sees her predetermined mate, this in turn fuelling the monster’s anger that seals fate.  It was a small masterstroke to cast Elsa Lanchester as both the bride, and Mary Shelley herself in the film’s prologue (almost suggesting that Shelley identified with the bride when she wrote the story).  There was a similar epilogue shot eventually removed along with quite a few other scenes after test screenings; these are probably lost forever.

Certainly not the ‘greatest’ but a standout entry from Universal’s monster cycle and the genre as a whole when considering the thirties and forties.  James Whale did not return to the Frankenstein series again but Boris Karloff was to make one more appearance as the monster, several years later in Son of Frankenstein

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