"Bride of Frankenstein" was probably one of the first movie sequels ever made, although interestingly enough, it's more like the second half of an adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel, since certain aspects of both movies are present in the novel; today, they probably would've made just one long movie that combines them, a la 1994's "Mary Shelly's Frankenstein."
This movie actually begins with a scene where Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) is basically recapping what happened in "Frankenstein" as we see flashbacks. I'm not sure why they needed this whole opening scene; they just as easily could've had the clips of the first movie by themselves. But whatever; the movie officially begins immediately where the last movie ended. The villagers have destroyed the windmill, and the Monster (Karloff) has supposedly died. But the movie begins with Little Maria's father (Reginald Barlow) looking down into the pit where the windmill once was, because he wants to make sure the thing that killed his daughter has died. But he falls in, and finds the Monster still alive, where he strangles him.
So after that, the Monster escapes, and the majority of the movie is spent with him roaming around the countryside trying to escape and heal from his injuries. It's a different film than the first one; the characters are fleshed out a little more and put in different situations. This isn't just for the Monster but Dr. Frankenstein (Clive) as well. In this film, he wants to stop his experiments for good at the encouragement of his fiancée Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson). But in comes Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger), who wants to persuade Frankenstein to create another monster.
This is where the movie starts to get really good. Thesiger really envelopes this role as the new mad doctor; he's such a cocky jerk but at times darkly humorous, particularly in the scene where he first meets the Monster. Pretorious has also created life, but instead of stitching bodies together, he shows Frankenstein tiny people in bottles that he somehow created. It's a quirky little scene, not exactly funny but it's still worth admiring the effects. For 1935, it's quite impressive.
The Monster has much more to do this time. He doesn't just lumber around and grunt anymore; he takes part in scenes that give him the chance to portray numerous emotions. He gets shot at, chained up, burned, and we thoroughly sympathize with him. There's the famous scene where he wanders into a cottage and encounters a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie). He finds nothing frightening or dangerous about the Monster, because he doesn't know what he looks like; all he wants is a friend, as he teaches the Monster how to talk, eat, drink and even smoke. This whole sequence is half humorous, half heart-warming; it's one of my favorite movie scenes, period.
So eventually, the Monster comes across Pretorious, who promises the Monster a mate. Frankenstein refuses to cooperate, but the Monster captures Elizabeth, forcing him to comply. By the way, Pretorious has two assistants, with one of them played by Dwight Frye, who played Fritz in the first movie. It's a totally different role, since he's not hunchbacked, but I feel like they could've gotten someone else if they wanted. Believe it or not, this isn't the last time he inhabits a different role in a "Frankenstein" film. Whatever; they create the Bride (Elsa Lanchester), she rejects the Monster, and, grief-stricken, he brings the whole castle down with Pretorious, the Bride and himself inside. It's action-packed and epic, but I do question how all he had to do was pull a lever; why did Frankenstein build his own castle that could self-destruct so easily, maybe even by accident?
But it doesn't matter; they needed a way to end the film, and this was fine with me. A few minor notes. The Bride is played by Elsa Lanchester, who played Mary Shelley in the prologue. She has the crazy hairstyle and looks appropriately freaky, but I want to mention how in the beginning and end credits, the Bride is only credited with a question mark. In "Frankenstein," they did the same thing with the Monster in the beginning; however, at the end, they revealed Karloff's name. And why exactly is this film called "Bride of Frankenstein"? This isn't Frankenstein's bride; he does have a bride, but it isn't the monster bride. It should be called "Bride of Frankenstein's Monster" or something. But there's even a moment where Pretorious proclaims, "The bride of Frankenstein!" It only furthers the confusion of who Frankenstein is; it drives me nuts sometimes.
But what else is there to talk about? Well, I should mention that Elizabeth is played by Valerie Hobson this time, and I prefer her to Mae Clarke; she just seems more convincing and supportive in the role. I like her scenes with Frankenstein, and I also really like how even though he realizes how much trouble his experiments have caused, he's still tempted. There's also little old Minnie, played by Una O'Connor. Again, she does little more than scream like a crow, but this is an over-the-top performance that fits very well. She's hilarious in her reaction shots and some of her dialogue.
Everything about this movie is top-notch. While the first film had some unnecessary moments, everything about "Bride of Frankenstein" feels important. The characters all have either a large bearing on the story or are very entertaining, the story is strong and everything is further developed. It might be my personal favorite of the Universal monster movies. It also marked the end of Mary Shelley's source material. The following sequel, "Son of Frankenstein," had an entirely different story, but a very well-crafted one. Karloff then left the franchise, leaving the role of the Monster to several different actors, and would eventually return in a different role in 1944's "House of Frankenstein."
Regardless of all this history I'm giving you, the first two "Frankenstein" films are as tightly bound together in their continuity and quality as the first two "Terminator" films or the "Back to the Future" trilogy. In my opinion, though, the second film has the most to offer. It's a first-rate product all over the map; it's a tighter story and has better execution.