The Bride of Frankenstein Reviews
Still very enjoyable, Karloff is hands down the best on-screen monster of all time, and the general quality is high making a solid horror classic. The tragic element of the monster is well realised adding more interest and bite. An unmissable classic.
Possible better than its predecessor, The Bride of Frankenstein advances upon its themes while being all the better frightening.
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.
NOTE: it seems silly to post a spoiler alert for a film that was made in 1935 and has been this widely-discussed, but this review does contain spoilers. Proceed with caution if you have not seen it.
I have been hearing about The Bride of Frankenstein for nigh on forty years now, since the first mass-market monster movie paperbacks I picked up in the mid-seventies. And yet, somehow, I had never gotten around to actually seeing the movie until earlier this week. Given that the film's iconic image is that of Elsa Lanchester just awakened and gazing upon her prospective groom for the first time, I have to say I rather expected Lanchester's role here to be a great deal meatier than it actually is. Paradoxically, however, it is her minuscule amount of screen time that lends the film much of the enduring power it has obviously had over critics; as of this writing, the canonical 1000 Best Movies list at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? ("canonical" because it is, likely, compiled from a larger number of professional critics than any other list, three hundred forty-seven)'s most recent update, in February 2013, has The Bride of Frankenstein at #308. Over the years I have read any number of times that it is better than the original; the blurb at TSPDT as I write this, from Roger Ebert, even kicks off with his assessment that Bride is "...the best of the Frankenstein films...". (Frankenstein itself, on that same list, resides at #471.) I am guessing that, if you follow my reviews at all, me uttering the phrase "I do not agree" will be as much of a surprise to you as, say, the fact that the sun rises in the east.
Plot: If you'll recall the original Frankenstein, or at least James Whale's filmed version, the monster is trapped in a mill and burned alive, or as alive as Frankenstein's monster can actually be. In the opening of the film, we have a flashback to the party that started it all, and Mary Wollestonecraft Shelley (Lanchester) and that gang coming up with ways that the story might be continued. And so there we are in the fantasy world again, where a worried member of the mob-the father of the young girl the monster accidentally drowned in the first film-heads into the burning wreckage and plummets through the floor into an underground lake where, he discovers, the monster (Boris Karloff, reprising his role) has not perished at all. Mad at humanity, and with pretty good reason, the monster becomes what people thought him to be in the first film-a truly nasty piece of work forced to take to the woods to avoid being killed on sight. Meanwhile, Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive, also reprising his role from the original), has sworn off crazy experiments and wants nothing more than to live in obscurity with his bride-to-be Elizabeth (Kind Hearts and Coronets' Valerie Hobson), but is approached by sinister Dr. Pretorius (The Man in the White Suit's Ernest Thesiger), whose own research dovetails with Frankenstein's, and attempts to convince him that the two should collaborate. When Frankenstein refuses, Pretorius resorts to extortion, and the two set about building a mate for the monster.
Good stuff indeed, and I certainly didn't mean to imply in that first paragraph-as I read it over, I think I might have-that this isn't a bang-up film and a worthy sequel to Whale's original. But, let's be kind, Whale has all the light touch of a mallet to the head; it's not exactly subtle, especially with the country in the throes of Prohibition, to draw the parallel between the monster deciding that he has a liking for potent potables and his degeneration into, well, a monster. (That the end of the film comes in what is, by that time, a rare moment of sobriety for the beast is even less so.) Frankenstein himself is an interesting character study here; he starts out cardboard, the archetypal white knight, about as interesting as he is colorful now that he's given up his experiments, and his "degeneration" into a man of science (this parallel is not, I think, unintentional) makes him more interesting as the film goes along-especially in relation to Pretorius, whose aura never moves one centimeter from black, black, black.
A good film? Yes. A great film? Arguably. As good a film as its predecessor? In my humble opinion... not on your life. *** 1/2
It's a horror movie, but Bride hardly is scary. It's funny, and quirky, and sexual in ways that maybe most of the censors at Universal didn't pick up when they released this film.
Bride was successful when it released and it still is today. James Whale really made a gem here.
- Yes! We'll create... a woman! That should be ... interesting!