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Bride of Frankenstein(1935)

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teaser Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Only a handful of sequels have the distinction of being as good as or better than the originals. Bride of Frankenstein is one of them. At first reluctant to take on a follow-up to his highly successful Frankenstein (1931), director James Whale finally gave in to the demands of Universal, the studio that gave birth to a distinctive series of horror films, beginning with The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and reaching its heights in the 1930s with Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932), and a handful of pictures based to varying degrees on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Whale made two of the most significant contributions to the genre, The Old Dark House (1932) and The Invisible Man (1933), as well as the pair of films based on Mary Shelley's man-made monster. Even among such an impressive line-up, Bride of Frankenstein shines as one of the most inventive, atmospheric, and slyly humorous movies in the Universal series. More notable is how well it stands up to some of the best films of the decade, bringing even those critics who looked down on the horror genre to begrudgingly admit its merits.

There is much to recommend it, and film scholars have written volumes on its expressionist lighting and camerawork, deft mixture of dark comedy and gruesome thrills, Franz Waxman's evocative score, the film's Christian symbolism and allegory (occasioning more than a few arguments), and the tenderness of human emotion exhibited by the unfortunate creature reanimated from the dead. This last aspect owes a great deal not only to the script (worked over by at least ten writers) but to the performance of Boris Karloff. Credited only as "?" in the 1931 original, Karloff had established himself as such a major presence in the genre by mid-decade that he was afforded above-the-title billing with only his last name. Although consigned to the cinematic ghetto of horror movies for most of his Hollywood career, Karloff's obvious talent and gentle nature emerged from under the image created by make-up artist Jack P. Pierce (itself a film milestone) to bring startling life, sympathy, and pathos to what might have been just another standard movie monster.

One of the best descriptions of the achievement of Karloff, Whale, and company came from contemporary horror-fantasy master Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, 2004; Pan's Labyrinth, 2006). Speaking at an October 2012 screening of the film in Los Angeles, del Toro said, "If the first one was about the essential loneliness of man, a Miltonian episode about being thrust into a world that you didn't create and didn't understand, then the second one is the absolute compulsion for company, the need not to be alone." He went on to acknowledge how Pierce's work gave birth to modern film make-up artistry and how Whale's often cold and cynical nature was "palliated by the incredible talent of Boris Karloff, who understands, like Whale, what it is to be an outsider" (referring to Whale's homosexuality and Karloff, perhaps, as a British transplant to Hollywood without the typical leading man assets). For all its thrills and dark jokes, Bride of Frankenstein gets its heart from this understanding, the recognition of the pain of being a misfit or freak in the eyes of the world. "The films we love are emotional biographies and partial prophecies of who we are and who we can be," del Toro said. "The moment I discovered the creature I discovered in him a twin soul, and in his suffering and disenfranchisement I discovered a kindred spirit." He might well have added just how much fun this movie is to watch.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The film was remade, after a fashion, as The Bride (1985), although it veered wildly from the original, having the Bride (here called Eva) and the Monster (given the name Viktor) running off to Venice together at the end. There is reportedly a new version in development, scheduled for a 2015 release.

In Kenneth Branagh's take on the story, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), the Monster kills Dr. Frankenstein's bride, Elizabeth, and removes her still-beating heart. The doctor puts her back together and restores her to life, only to have the Monster try to steal her. Realizing what Frankenstein has done, she immolates herself.

Arguably the most famous reappearance of the Bride character was in Mel Brooks' spoof Young Frankenstein (1974), in which Madeline Kahn played Dr. Frankenstein's intended, Elizabeth, transformed into the Bride not by reanimation from the dead but from having sex with the Monster, whom she eventually marries. The comedy also satirizes the famous blind hermit scene from this movie, with Gene Hackman as the kindly soul. Reportedly, Brooks found the original props and set pieces from Frankenstein's lab in storage and used them in his movie.

Universal's Frankenstein series continued with six more movies after this, although Boris Karloff only played him once more, in Son of Frankenstein (1939), which featured Bela Lugosi as Ygor. The Monster role was then taken by Lon Chaney, Jr. (The Ghost of Frankenstein, 1942, again featuring Lugosi as Ygor), and Lugosi (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, 1943, with Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man). Glenn Strange stepped into the costume in House of Frankenstein (1944), with Karloff as Dr. Niemann, Chaney again as the Wolf Man, and John Carradine (the hunter in this movie) as Dracula; House of Dracula (1945), featuring Carradine again as Dracula and Chaney as the Wolf Man; and in the final, comic installment Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), which also had Chaney as the Wolf Man and the return of the original screen Dracula, Lugosi. House of Dracula also contained archive footage of Karloff as the monster in a dream sequence.

Footage of Colin Clive from this movie also turned up in The Ghost of Frankenstein, in the TV movie Silent Night, Deadly Night (1969), and in Cry Uncle! (1971).

Universal reused pieces of Franz Waxman's score for this movie in Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials and several B pictures.

The look of the Monster (and variations thereof), as created by Karloff and Universal's make-up and costume departments, has been the standard image of the character in cartoons, Halloween costumes, and products (e.g., Frankenberry cereal). Interestingly, many cartoons and some costumes depict the Monster with a green face. Karloff did, in fact, wear green-tinted make-up but only to enhance the effect of deadness. It was never intended that the character actually be green.

The Bride's characteristic look-gowned, bandaged, and electro-shocked hair with lightning-bolt streaks of white at the sides-is also the standard for costumes and other likenesses. The white streaks may have also inspired the looks of other actors playing roles in horror films, including Rafaela Ottiano in The Devil-Doll (1936), Boris Karloff in The Walking Dead (1936), Humphrey Bogart in The Return of Doctor X (1939), and Ramsay Ames in The Mummy's Ghost (1944). Towards the end of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Magenta has hair like the Bride's.

Mary Shelley's story has been adapted several times with varying degrees of faithfulness to the novel, notably an acclaimed television production written by Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, Frankenstein: The True Story (1973), with Leonard Whiting as Victor Frankenstein and Michael Sarrazin as his creation. That version also featured such acting heavyweights as James Mason, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Michael Wilding, and Agnes Moorehead. Most significantly for Bride of Frankenstein, the TV movie depicted the creation of a female, called Prima, a beautiful but cold-hearted creature played by Jane Seymour.

A sinister character named Dr. Pretorius appears in the movie From Beyond (1986). The character name comes from the story by H.P. Lovecraft, not Mary Shelley's book, in which he did not appear.

It was noted years later that the first three notes of the Bride theme composed by Franz Waxman are the same as the opening notes of the song "Bali Hai" from the musical play and subsequent film and television adaptations of South Pacific. By the 1990s, the similarity had grown into an urban legend claiming Waxman had once sued Oscar Hammerstein for stealing the theme, a ridiculous twisting of facts since Hammerstein wrote the lyrics for South Pacific not the music. If any suit had happened-and it didn't-it would have been against composer Richard Rodgers.

Some modern film scholars have attempted a gay reading of the film, inspired in part by the knowledge that director James Whale was openly gay. Ernest Thesiger was also known for his campy impersonations, and his performance here was noted by gay film historian Vito Russo as "sissified." A 1936 novelization of the story in Great Britain emphasizes Pretorius' homosexuality, giving him the following line to explain his tiny creations: "'Be fruitful and multiply.' Let us obey the Biblical injunction: you of course, have the choice of natural means; but as for me, I am afraid that there is no course open to me but the scientific way." Both horror movie director Curtis Harrington, a friend of Whale, and producer David Lewis, Whale's life partner from 1930 to 1952, completely dismissed the notion that Whale created the film with any gay angle or hidden meanings.

Gods and Monsters (1998), a film based on the last years of James Whale (played by Sir Ian McKellen) takes its title from Dr. Pretorius' line "To a new world of gods and monsters!" At the end of the movie, Clayton Boone, a fictitious character played by Brendan Fraser, proves to his son that Whale had been a friend of his by showing him a sketch the director had given him of the Frankenstein monster with the words "To Clayton, Friend? Friend?" scribbled on it, an echo of the Monster's query to the newly created Bride. Lanchester, Karloff, Clive, Thesiger, and Jack Pierce appear briefly as characters in the story.

The crypt set in Bride of Frankenstein was the same one used in Dracula and later in Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935).

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

There has been confusion over the correct name of the author of the original Frankenstein novel. Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of noted intellectuals William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Sometimes the author is credited as Mary Godwin Shelley but most often as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

There's also some confusion about the picture's title. Although print ads and posters often read "The Bride of Frankenstein," the picture's title on screen does not include the initial article.

There has been some discussion over the years among those who study and analyze Bride of Frankenstein about what exactly is the time period of this movie. Judging from the Frankenstein castle, the village and its citizens, it appears to be set well into the past, certainly no later than Mary Shelley's own era (1797-1851), yet from certain clothing and hairstyles, particularly Elizabeth's, it looks contemporary to the 1930s. Adding to this impression are such details as the telephonic device Elizabeth uses to communicate with Henry from captivity. It was Whale's intention to create something of an alternate but somewhat up-to-date world, as he stated in an interview around the time of the film's release: "The whole of the theater, both stage and screen, is unreal, and if for an hour and a half the audience can be transported into a strange atmosphere in which unnatural things happen but appear to happen naturally and believably, the object of the film producer is accomplished." Universal's press book accompanying the film's distribution also identified the time as the present. Yet the story is being told by Mary Shelley back in the early 1800s. That would have been explained by dialogue cut from the prologue in which she says she's taken the story far into the future, making use of developments that will eventually become commonplace to science.

The title character's name in Mary Shelley's book was Victor Frankenstein. For some reason, it was changed to Henry for the 1931 version, a name logically retained for the sequel.

The film opens with footage of a graveyard scene from the 1931 original. For many years, the scene has been cut from some prints, particularly those aired on television.

Much has been made of the film's Christian imagery, such as the crucifix prominent in the hermit's hut, the sacramental "last supper" of bread and wine shared by the Monster and the hermit, and the shots of the Monster bound by his captors in a crucifixion pose. Film historian Scott McQueen, in his commentary on the DVD of the film, dismisses any notion that the Monster is meant to be identified with Jesus, claiming instead the imagery is a "mockery of the divine." McQueen says the Monster, created by man and not God, inverts the Christian belief of death by crucifixion followed by resurrection because he is risen from the dead first, then crucified.

One of the most distinctive, talented, and successful filmmakers of the 1930s, British-born James Whale began his show business career in the oddest way, putting on plays in a World War I prisoner of war camp. His London stage career as an actor, set designer, and director led to his early association with playwright R.C. Sherriff and actor Colin Clive, who played Henry Frankenstein. Following the success of his film adaptation of Sherriff's Journey's End (1930), he was offered a contract at Universal, where he made Waterloo Bridge (1931). His real fame came with the two Frankenstein movies, as well as The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man. Although he expanded his range with the musical Show Boat (1936) and the romantic comedy The Great Garrick (1937), he was typed as a horror director and soon grew tired of working in Hollywood. He retired from feature directing in 1941 and made only two more shorts in that decade (plus an unreleased full-length film in 1949), preferring to spend his life painting. In the 1950s, he suffered a series of strokes and committed suicide by drowning in his pool in 1957 at the age of 67.

Boris Karloff is one of the great icons of horror films. Born William Henry Pratt in London in 1887, he began his film career relatively late, in 1919, but it wasn't until his turn as Frankenstein's Monster at the age of 44 that he achieved immortality. He worked steadily until his death in 1969. Karloff was by all accounts a gentle, refined man, quite the contrary of the frightening image he built up over the course of more than 150 films.

Elsa Lanchester (1902-1986) was born in London and started her career in British silents. She first came to the attention of American audiences as Anne of Cleves, the monarch's fourth wife in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), opposite Charles Laughton, to whom she was married from 1929 until his death in 1962. Other notable screen appearances include The Spiral Staircase (1945), Bell, Book, and Candle (1958), and Murder by Death (1976), as a spoof of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple character. She frequently played small parts in movies starring her husband.

Irish-born Una O'Connor (1880-1959) appears in the prologue as Lord Byron's servant and then in the story as the servant to Henry Frankenstein and his bride Elizabeth, both foreshadowing Elsa Lanchester's reappearance as the Bride after her role as Mary Shelley in the prologue and reinforcing the notion that the monster's story is all from Mary Shelley's imagination. She had a long career as a character actress providing comic relief in dramas, action-adventure pictures, and mystery-horror movies, often as a servant: The Invisible Man, The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Bells of St. Mary's (1945). Her final role was as a servant who provides damning testimony in Witness for the Prosecution (1957), which also featured Elsa Lanchester.

The roles played by E.E. Clive (Burgomaster) and Una O'Connor (Minnie, the servant) are very close to the ones they played in Whale's earlier film The Invisible Man. Their parts in Bride of Frankenstein were written specifically with them in mind.

James Whale's life partner, David Lewis, said he detested Ernest Thesiger, who was very nasty and "treated me like some kind of servant in my own home. He was a terrible snob, but he was related to aristocracy and that's what Jimmy [Whale] liked about him."

David Niven tested for the part of Percy Shelley.

The tiny mermaid in Dr. Pretorius' collection is played by Josephine McKim, a swimmer in the Olympics in 1928 and in 1932, where she was part of the gold-medal freestyle relay team. McKim appeared in a small handful of movies in the first half of the 1930s, including a turn as another mermaid in The King Steps Out (1936) and as Maureen O'Sullivan's nude body double in the underwater swimming scene from Tarzan and His Mate (1934).

The baby in Dr. Pretorius' collection is played by 11-year-old Billy Barty (1924-2000), who had one of the longest and most prolific careers of any Hollywood character actor despite, or because of, his diminutive size (3' 9" at his most developed). Barty appeared in such major productions as Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), and Nothing Sacred (1937). He worked steadily for the rest of his life and was an important advocate for raising awareness about people of short stature, including founding Little People of America, a non-profit that provides support and information for those with one of the more than 200 medical conditions known as dwarfism.

Hollywood's supreme character actor, Walter Brennan, appears very briefly as an angry villager. Brennan had been in movies several years at this point, playing small uncredited roles like this. The following year, he would get a more substantial part and win a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for Come and Get It (1936), his first of three.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Universal released two horror movies in 1931, Dracula and Frankenstein, both big successes, and the studio was eager to capitalize on their popularity. A sequel to Frankenstein was in the works as early as 1933, but the film's director, James Whale wasn't interested. In the face of his continued refusal to work on the project, the studio put director Kurt Neumann in charge.

The sequel was further delayed when Boris Karloff was loaned to Twentieth Century for The House of Rothschild (1934). At the time, anyone but Karloff as the creature was unthinkable.

Many different writers worked on the script, under the title "The Return of Frankenstein." Mystery writer Lawrence Blochman's December 1933 treatment seemed to be inspired by Tod Browning's Freaks (1932), with Henry and Elizabeth Frankenstein running off and joining a carnival incognito as puppeteers. The Monster catches up with them demanding a mate, and dies in the jaws of a lion. Another writer, Philip MacDonald (Rebecca, 1940), had Henry develop a death ray to sell to the League of Nations as war clouds gather over Europe. A demonstration of the machine inadvertently revives the monster, giving him superhuman strength. Playing with the device, the Monster wipes out whole cities, the mass destruction ending only when Henry uses his invention to vaporize himself and the creature. Whale's reaction to the initial script work? "They have a script prepared, and it stinks to heaven."

The excellent box office for Whale's screen version of H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man made him the obvious choice to direct the new picture. He was hoping instead to develop a story about a voyage to Mars, which was eventually abandoned. He finally relented, with the stipulation that he would have total creative freedom and that he could first make One More River (1934), based on the John Galsworthy novel and featuring his original Dr. Frankenstein, Colin Clive. The studio didn't care as long as he gave them a Karloff Frankenstein picture they could sell as well as or better than the first one.

Whale conceived the idea of the prologue featuring Mary Shelley, her husband, and Lord Byron. He felt this prologue was key to making more than a rehash of the first picture. By starting with Mary Shelley relating further details of her story to her two gentlemen companions, he knew he could take it into the realm of fantasy brewing in the author's mind.

Whale asked his recent collaborator, R.C. Sherriff, to write the script. The British playwright had contributed to three Whale films-The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man, One More River-but he refused this assignment, saying he didn't want to spend his summer writing "pulp."

Whale brought in John L. Balderston, co-author of a never-produced Frankenstein stage piece as well as the Dracula stage play on which that movie was based. Balderston supplied a script that was a good blueprint for the finished product, but Whale felt it lacked magic.

In November 1934, playwright William Hurlbut was brought in. He and Whale worked together to refashion the story with a more fanciful, witty approach, adding Dr. Pretorius, his miniature humans, and the comic characters of Minnie the servant and the Burgomaster. Pretorius was originally conceived as Henry's teacher and his inspiration for creating the monster in the first movie.

In addition to the given of Karloff and Clive in the cast, Whale had specific actors in mind, and created roles based on their particular skills and demeanor, including Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius and Una O'Connor as Minnie.

Some sources say Hurlbut wrote the earlier draft and that it was reworked by Whale and Balderston.

Some accounts of the picture's development claim Elizabeth's character was to have been killed and her heart harvested for the Bride, which would have motivated the Bride's instant attraction to Henry. Historian Scott McQueen, in the commentary on the DVD release, said that option was never on the table.

Joseph Breen, lead enforcer of the Motion Picture Production Code, reviewed the shooting script and balked at the number of killings: ten separate scenes of people being strangled or trampled by the Monster in addition to several murders carried out by secondary characters. Whale's response was, "Kill them all; let Breen sort it out." For the final outcome, see the Behind the Camera section for this film.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The picture was budgeted quite lavishly for its genre at $300,000.

The film was shot entirely in the studio. Principal photography began in early January 1935.

Many sources say Whale had a few women in mind to play the Bride, probably led to this conclusion by Universal publicity claiming there had been a big talent search. Among the names bandied about: Brigitte Helm, the robot woman of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), whose creation inspired the scene of the birth of the Bride in the lab; Louise Brooks, the American star who made a splash in Europe with Pandora's Box (1929); and Arletta Duncan, who played Elizabeth's bridesmaid in Frankenstein (1931). On the contrary, script drafts indicate Elsa Lanchester had long been considered for the role. Her name with a question mark appears on John Balderston's June 1934 draft, and six weeks later, she's indicated to appear as both the Bride and Mary Shelley.

Ill health prevented Mae Clarke from returning as Dr. Frankenstein's intended, Elizabeth. Whale cast 17-year-old British actress Valerie Hobson.

Various stories have Claude Rains as the first choice for the role of Pretorius, saying he was unable to do it because of other commitments or illness. Despite having directed Rains in The Invisible Man, Whale apparently always favored Ernest Thesiger for the part.

Karloff was against having the monster speak in this film, later saying he knew it would eventually destroy the character. The Monster's cheeks appear less hollow here because, in order to speak more clearly, the actor kept in the dental plate he removed in the first film.

Karloff was paid $2,500 per week, for a total of $12,500, a large sum in the mid-30s but perhaps not enough to compensate the 48-year-old for playing the role in the elaborate make-up and heavy costume, exacerbating his already severe arthritis. He lost 20 pounds during filming and had to lie down and rest between takes. While filming his first appearance on screen, in the flooded cellar, the rubber suit he wore under his costume to protect him from the damp and cold inflated, causing him to lose his footing and dislocate his hip. He had to undergo special infrared treatments throughout the remainder of the shoot.

Elsa Lanchester had to spend days trussed up tightly in bandages. She needed to be fed by her dresser since even her fingers were wrapped. According to one story, one of her stand-ins had a screaming attack of claustrophobia.

Jack Pierce re-imagined the Monster's make-up to reflect certain other aspects of the sequel as well. Because the Monster had been burned in the original, Pierce gave him a higher hair line (as though it had been seared away) revealing more of his scars, stitches, and clamps.

As in the first film, Karloff's make-up had a blue-green tint and the light projected on him came through blue filters to give the effect of deadness in black and white. When other characters appeared in scenes with him, their make-up was pink or reddish in tone with lights of a corresponding shade trained on them, while the Monster's blue lights were shielded from spilling onto them.

Lanchester said her Bride make-up took three hours for her face alone, and Karloff's took five.

According to editor Ted Kent, the Bride's look was Whale's conception, but Elsa Lanchester said Pierce behaved as though he really had created these characters, like a god who made human beings. She said whenever she went in to be made up, he would meet her in full doctor's lab coat and with a cold, superior attitude.

Kent said the back pages of Whale's script were filled with sketches of ideas for the art director or costumer. "In this area, I would say, at least in the pictures I worked on, he had complete control from beginning to end," Kent said. "I don't believe he could have worked any other way."

Lanchester said she thoroughly enjoyed working with James Whale and "admired both his method of directing and the pleasant atmosphere he created around him."

Special effects experts John Fulton and David S. Horsley spent two days shooting Dr. Pretorius' miniature beings. The actors were placed in full-sized bell jars set against black velvet. These shots were meticulously lined up to match them with shots of Ernest Thesiger, Colin Clive and the interior set.

James Whale was so set on having Australian-born actor O.P. Heggie play the blind hermit that he shut down production from February 19 to March 2, 1935 while waiting for Heggie to finish a production at RKO.

Elsa Lanchester said she got the Bride's famous hiss from observing the swans in London's Regent Park.

Just prior to production, Joseph Breen, lead enforcer of the Motion Picture Production Code, had balked at the number of killings in the shooting script, but Whale decided to leave most in and have Breen "sort it out" after the first cut, which ended up with 21 deaths either committed on screen or alluded to. Before release, the number dropped to ten.

Several scenes were cut after censor's objections. References to the scandalous sexual arrangements of Mary, Shelley, and Byron were eliminated, particularly the line of dialogue: "We are all three infidels, scoffers at all marriage ties, believing only in living freely and fully." Breen's office also objected to shots they considered too revealing of Elsa Lanchester's cleavage in the prologue. Also dropped were a scene in which the Monster pulls the Burgomaster through a window and thrashes him about and the sequence of Dwight Frye's character killing his uncle for money and blaming it on the Monster. To bridge the gap left by those cuts in the village scenes, the gypsy camp sequence was added in re-shoots.

Despite his brilliant camerawork, cinematographer John Mescall presented a problem with his drinking, so serious the studio had to provide a car to get him safely to and from the set. Nevertheless, he was very good at his job, even when drunk, and Whale liked that he worked fast and rarely wasted time fussing with incidental camera and lighting hardware.

Whale was delighted to have the services of Franz Waxman, whom he considered a wonderful composer after hearing his score for the Fritz Lang-directed Liliom (1934).

Principal photography took 46 days to complete. The picture eventually ran $100,000 over budget, coming in at $400,000.

The film was previewed on April 6 and reviewed by the Hollywood Reporter. At the last minute, Whale relented on his decision to have Henry and Elizabeth killed in the final destruction of the lab and shot a new ending in time for the opening. In at least one long shot, Henry can be seen still in the lab as it collapses on the Monster, Bride, and Pretorius.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

While the litany of sequels that Hollywood has commissioned for its most successful products seems almost boundless, the list of follow-ups to undisputed classics that manage to equal, or arguably surpass, their predecessors in quality is markedly shorter. Perhaps the first and best example of this phenomenon is The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Universal's worthy attempt to recreate the rampant success of its groundbreaking 1931 horror staple.

While chiefly remembered today for the horror classics that he helmed for Universal in the early '30s, James Whale had the respect of studio boss Carl Laemmle as the one talent on his lot with a touch comparable to any director working with the majors. It was Whale to whom Universal's most prestigious projects were always steered, and he was given carte blanche to frame his films as he saw fit. Whale didn't like being typed to the monster genre, and he resisted the studio's entreaties to sign on to a sequel to Frankenstein for as long as he could. Once it dawned on him how to inject elements of dark farce into the proceedings--rendering the project what he described as "a hoot"--Whale willingly threw his energies into The Bride of Frankenstein, and the results speak for themselves.

Drawing upon an aspect from Mary Shelley's gothic novel that was bypassed in the first film--the desire of the patchwork creature to have his creator forge him a mate--Whale and screenwriter John Balderston crafted an imaginative and elaborate opening scenario. The setting is a storm-struck British manse in 1816, where the young author (Elsa Lanchester) is being entreated by her husband (Douglas Walton) and Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) to continue with her nightmarish tale of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. Footage follows of the climactic windmill blaze from Frankenstein, where the monster (Boris Karloff) met his supposed end.

It soon becomes apparent that the creature managed to survive the inferno, as a village couple poking around the mill's embers fatally discovers. Concurrently, the locals return the prone body of Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) to his ancestral castle; he survives the trauma, to the great relief of his new bride Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson, replacing Mae Clarke in the role). The scientist has little time to recuperate before the unexpected arrival of one of his former professors, a fey eccentric answering to Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger).

It seems that Pretorius has surmised the connection between his old protege's theories and their unholy end-product, and sought him out for no other purpose than collaboration. In one of The Bride of Frankenstein's great set pieces, the old charlatan gleefully shows off tiny jars bearing the various homunculi that he had bred through science and sorcery. Henry vows no more to do with such goings-on, but Pretorius is determined to change his mind through whatever means necessary.

In the meantime, the monster continues to be shot at and chased by a repulsed citizenry. He stumbles upon the dwelling of a kindly blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) who, grateful for the companionship, offers food and shelter. The creature responds touchingly to the only kindness he has known since his resurrection, as his new friend teaches him rudimentary speech. The idyll is disrupted when hunters come upon the shack, and the monster must again go on the run.

While hiding in a crypt, the monster comes upon Pretorius, taking a respite from grave robbing. Having apprised the creature of his intent to create a woman, Pretorius gains an accomplice willing and able to spirit Elizabeth from Frankenstein's castle, and hold her hostage to ensure the compromised scientist's cooperation. With the next stormy night, the familiar Kenneth Strickfaden equipment crackles and hums, and The Bride of Frankenstein is driven to its unforgettable conclusion.

In returning to the role that made him a star, Karloff also grudgingly submitted to the discomfort of the heavy costume and Jack Pierce's laborious make-up. Beverley Bare Buehrer reported in Boris Karloff: A Bio-Bibliography that the actor had been fitted with a rubber undersuit to ward off the cold of the flooded windmill cellar of the opening sequence. On the first day of shooting, the garment inflated and caused Karloff to dislocate a hip. The actor regretted the creative decision to give the monster speech; he told Films and Filming in 1957 that "I knew that this was eventually going to destroy the character. It did for me anyway." Despite his reservations, his work as the semi-articulate creature stands amongst the best of his career.

One of Whale's initial choices to assay the title role was Brigitte Helm, best remembered as the automaton in Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), a performance that no doubt informed the birdlike motions undertaken by Lanchester in her second role. Swathed into near immobility by roughly two miles worth of linen bandage, Lanchester's own hair was blended into the wire crown supporting that famous Nefertiti upsweep. Uttering hisses inspired by the swans that she would feed in London, the petite British actress delivered a characterization that still stands as the queen of screen monsterdom.

Other virtues of The Bride of Frankenstein that deserve note are the operatic score delivered by Franz Waxman, the sure-handed cinematography of John Mescall and the impressionistic sets rendered by Charles D. Hall. Thesiger, an old collaborator of Whale's from the British stage, took on the role of Pretorius when the originally cast Claude Rains pursued other commitments, and gave a performance at once disquieting and witty. Though The Bride of Frankenstein became another popular success, Laemmle would lose family control of his studio within two years. The new regime would unwisely retire Universal's horror franchises (they would later revive them due to their huge profitability). Similarly, the new ownership lacked patience with Whale's excesses, and he would part company with Universal over undue interference with The Road Back (1937).

Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr., James Whale
Director: James Whale
Screenplay: John L. Balderston, William Hurlbut
Cinematography: John Mescall
Film Editing: Ted Kent
Art Direction: Charles D. Hall
Music: Franz Waxman
Principal Cast: Boris Karloff (The Monster), Colin Clive (Dr. Henry Frankenstein), Valerie Hobson (Elizabeth Frankenstein), Elsa Lanchester (Mary Shelley/The Monster's Mate), Ernest Thesiger (Dr. Pretorius), Gavin Gordon (Lord Byron).
BW-75m. Closed captioning.

by Jay Steinberg

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teaser Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The film opened in San Francisco on April 19, 1935, Good Friday, ironic (perhaps not so coincidental?) considering the Christian and crucifixion imagery that remained in the film. It was quickly a commercial and critical success, although some reviewers qualified their praise with a somewhat dismissive attitude about its being in the horror genre. According to a 1943 box office report, the film had by that point made about $2 million, returning a substantial profit.

Bride of Frankenstein was publicized in the British film trade as "for adults only and quite unsuitable for children or for nervous people of any age." British censors also objected to a shot of the Monster gazing longingly at the not-yet reanimated Bride, saying it smacked of necrophilia.

Sound director Gilbert Kurland received the film's only Academy Award nomination, for Best Sound Recording.

Director James Whale arranged a preview screening at Universal for Elsa Lanchester and her husband Charles Laughton, whose only comment after the screening was, "Doesn't Elsa have the most beautiful shell-like ears?"

In 1998, Bride of Frankenstein was added to the U.S. National Film Registry, having been deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."

Time magazine named the movie to its list of All-Time 100 Movies released between March 3, 1923 (when the magazine's first issue was published) and early 2005 (when the list was compiled).

"Karloff is so moving, like one of the great clowns who make you cry." - co-star Valerie Hobson (Elizabeth)

"One of those rare instances where none can review it, or talk about it, without mentioning the cameraman, art director, and score composer in the same breath as the actors and director. ... Karloff manages to invest the character with some subtleties of emotion that are surprisingly real and touching. ... Thesiger as Dr Pretorius [is] a diabolic characterization if ever there was one. ... Lanchester handles two assignments, being first in a preamble as author Mary Shelley and then the created woman. In latter assignment she impresses quite highly." - Variety, 1935

"The 'big moment' when the synthetic woman begins to breathe is duly spellbinding. ... Miss Lanchester, though her part is small, manages to make the Mate worthy of Karloff's gruesome Monster, and she is indeed a strange-looking 'new woman' with hair that stands out a foot from her head and movements as staccato as modern music." - New York Herald Tribune, 1935

"[The film has] a vitality that makes their efforts fully the equal of the original picture. ... Screenwriters Hurlbut & Balderston and Director James Whale have given it the macabre intensity proper to all good horror pieces, but have substituted a queer kind of mechanistic pathos for the sheer evil that was Frankenstein." - Time, April 29, 1935

"A fantasy produced on a rather magnificent scale, with excellent stagecraft and fine photographic effects." - Wood Soanes, Oakland Tribune, May 25, 1935

"Mr. Karloff is so splendid in the role that all one can say is 'he is the Monster.' Mr. Clive, Valerie Hobson, Elsa Lanchester, O. P. Heggie, Ernest Thesiger, E. E. Clive, and Una O'Connor fit snugly into the human background before which Karloff moves." - Frank S. Nugent, New York Times, May 11, 1935

"James Whale's The Bride of Frankenstein has an in-your-face audacity that hasn't dimmed all that much after 63 years. ... Bride is often cited as Whale's masterpiece, and one of the reasons surely is his intentional lacing of humor throughout that never completely undercuts the horror or pathos. ... Lanchester's twitchy Bride is one of the unforgettable screen presences, with her big birdlike movements and squawks and hisses, and perhaps the biggest joke of all comes when she lays eyes on her intended monster of a mate." - Bob Graham, San Francisco Chronicle, October 9, 1998

"The best of the Frankenstein movies-a sly, subversive work that smuggled shocking material past the censors by disguising it in the trappings of horror. Some movies age; others ripen. Seen today, Whale's masterpiece is more surprising than when it was made because today's audiences are more alert to its buried hints of homosexuality, necrophilia and sacrilege. But you don't have to deconstruct it to enjoy it; it's satirical, exciting, funny, and an influential masterpiece of art direction." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, January 3, 1999

"What distinguishes the film is less its horror content, which is admittedly low, than the macabre humour and sense of parody. Strong on atmosphere, Gothic sets and expressionist camerawork, it is, along with The Old Dark House [1935], Whale's most perfectly realised movie, a delight from start to finish." - Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide, 2000

by Rob Nixon

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