Directed By: James Whale
Starring: Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Colin Clive
Tag line: "Warning! The Monster Demands a Mate!"
Trivia: Boris Karloff sweated off 20 lbs. in his heavy costume and make-up while shooting this film
Using the events of his 1931 classic, Frankenstein, as a starting point, director James Whale let his imagination run wild with its 1935 follow-up, The Bride of Frankenstein, taking what could have easily been a mindless sequel and transforming it into something much more significant.
Having barely escaped with his life following his run-in with the monster (Boris Karloff), Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is visited one evening by the strange Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), a former philosophy professor who's undertaking his own re-animation experiment, and is in need of assistance. When Frankenstein refuses to help him, Pretorius instructs the monster, who survived the fire at the windmill, to kidnap Frankenstein's new bride, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson). Left with no alternative, a nervous Frankenstein helps Pretorius construct a mate for the monster, but will its creation result in the shedding of even more innocent blood?
In its opening scene, The Bride of Frankenstein travels back to 1816, where Mary Godwin (Elsa Lanchester), the author of the original Frankenstein novel, is explaining to her two companions, Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton) and Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon), that her story did not end with the monster's death at the old windmill. It's a clever start, cluing us in on just how different this film will be from its predecessor. Those differences continue with the introduction of the crazed Dr. Pretorius. With Henry Frankenstein realizing the error of his ways early on, The Bride of Frankenstein found itself in dire need of a mad scientist, and Dr. Pretorius filled that role nicely. Flamboyantly portrayed by Ernest Thesinger, Pretorius is actually madder than Frankenstein ever was. “Let us probe the mysteries of life and death, to reach a goal undreamed of”, he says to Frankenstein upon their first meeting, and while Henry Frankenstein may have lost his desire to play God, Pretorius seems only too eager to do so. Even Karloff's Monster evolves beyond the silent brute he was in the original. After escaping from an angry mob, the creature flees into the woods, and is drawn to a small cottage by the sound of beautiful music. Here he meets a blind hermit (O.P Heggie), who, instead of cowering in fear like all the others, invites the creature inside. Over time, the Hermit will even teach his mute guest how to talk. Karloff shows excellent range in this sequence, bringing a humanity to his Monster that's sorely lacking in many of his so-called “human” counterparts. Then, of course, there's the Bride herself (Elsa Lanchester appearing for a second time), a character every bit as iconic as Karloff's. From the moment she opens her eyes, the Bride is more than a mindless being, and her initial reaction to her new “mate” kicks off the film's heartbreaking conclusion.
The Bride of Frankenstein isn't without its problems. Actress Una O'Connor, who I found annoying in Whale's The Invisible Man, is downright unbearable here as the servant, Minnie. Her over-the-top responses to every little situation got on my nerves in a big way. Also distracting was the scene where Pretorius shows Frankenstein the results of his initial "experiments”: a collection of miniature-sized people he keeps hidden away in glass jars. Dressed to resemble a King, a Queen, a ballerina, and so on, their inclusion was obviously intended to be humorous (the King, smitten with the Queen, tries to climb out of his jar to get into hers), yet the silliness of it all took me right out of the movie.
But still, I admire Whale for including this scene, and many others besides. The mere fact he brought so much originality, so much diversity to the sequel of a successful film was a gutsy move, and a gamble that definitely paid off. Deficiencies and all, The Bride of Frankenstein stands as one of the greatest horror films of the 1930s.