Having watched Frankenstein (1931) already for this year’s Halloween celebrations, it goes without saying that I had to watch the equally famous follow up Bride of Frankenstein (1935) as well. This is the film you’ll always hear about when people mention sequels that are superior to the original film, and boy does Bride of Frankenstein fall into this category. It’s not that Frankenstein is a bad film (it isn’t), it’s just that Bride of Frankenstein improves on the original in so many areas that it makes the original film look primitive in comparison.
While a sequel to Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein is still based on plot concepts found in the Frankenstein novel. In fact, the entire concept of a “bride of Frankenstein” comes from the second half of the book when the Monster demands Victor Frankenstein build a mate for him, so that he can live the rest of his life apart from human society (which he has sworn off for rejecting him), but with the company of one of his own kind so he won’t be lonely. That attempt ends badly as Frankenstein rejects the idea, destroying the “bride” just as he’s about to give her life. In the film, of course, this doesn’t happen and we get to see the Bride of Frankenstei (Elsa Lanchester) n take her first steps on screen (though don’t expect too much, the Bride only gets about 3 minutes of screen time).
What makes the plot of Bride of Frankenstein really interesting is that Henry Frankenstein (played one last time by Colin Clive) isn’t the mad scientist villain of the story this time around. That dubious honor goes to Dr. Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), one of Frankenstein’s old professors, who has dabbled with the power of life in his own twisted way and now wants to use Frankenstein’s talents to build a female equivalent to the Monster (why is never made quite clear). Frankenstein, for his part, wants nothing to do with it, but Pretorius coerces him into it and the plot proceeds from there.
Unlike Frankenstein, which is pure horror and drama straight through, Bride of Frankenstein has a touch of comedy about it, mostly in the scenes with Minnie (Una O’Connor). I’ve never quite known how to feel about this, as I feel that it doesn’t always fit. Take, for example, the scene at the beginning of the film when Minnie comes face to face with the not-dead-after-all Monster and runs away gibbering down the mountainside. It’s funny, but it’s a complete 180 from what we just saw (the Monster killing Maria’s parents). However, the dry humor of Dr. Pretorius is most welcome, as it helps to highlight just how evil he is, especially when you compare it to Frankenstein’s manic joy (and despair) when he created his own monster in the first film. Frankenstein feels the consequences of his actions, Dr. Pretorius does not. In fact, sometimes I get the feeling the mad doctor views all of this as a colossal joke.
This film does have one of the most beautiful (and heartbreaking) moments in the story of Frankenstein’s monster, and that’s when the Monster comes across the blind hermit. Every time I see this sequence I think “if only there had been a way to leave these two in peace together.” It’s not only touching to see the two become friends, with the Monster learning to more or less talk in simple sentences, it’s also further proof that, given the opportunity, the Monster would prefer to live in peace and not engage in wanton destruction. In other words, he has the capacity for good somewhere inside him, but almost no one can see it because they’re distracted by his appearance. Of course it wouldn’t be much of a horror film if it ended that way, so the Monster is conveniently forced away from the hermit so the story can continue.
I find it interesting that Boris Karloff didn’t want the Monster to speak. It seems the actor felt the performance of the Monster was far more effective when it was all pantomime (like in the first film). I enjoyed that performance, but I don’t agree with Karloff’s thoughts on the matter. It seems to me the logical next step in the Monster’s development would be for him to develop speech. After all, the book version of the Monster could speak quite well, why not the film version also? Besides, without the Monster learning to talk, we wouldn’t have gotten one of the best lines in horror film history:
The Monster (to Frankenstein & Elizabeth): Yes! Go! You live!
(To Pretorius & The Bride): You stay. We belong dead.
More on the ending in a little bit…..
Considering she’s on screen for less than five minutes, I find the Bride of Frankenstein to be utterly fascinating. Given that she’s Frankenstein’s second creation, it makes sense that she’d be far more glamorous and beautiful than the first Monster. After all, the second time you do something is usually easier and you can fix any mistakes you might’ve made the first time. Hence the reason the Bride has perfect proportions, and except for some scars around her chin and neck looks completely human. I love that after her reveal, the camera cuts around to different angles highlighting how beautiful the Bride is.
I’ve also long thought that the Bride’s reaction to the Monster isn’t what you think. Remember in the first film how the Monster reacted badly to the fire and he ended up chained up because of it? Well, I think the Bride is only reacting to Frankenstein in fear because she was a) just created a matter of moments ago and b) doesn’t know how to talk or express her feelings yet. If there had been more time, maybe the Bride could have been made to understand but the problem is that Pretorius clearly promised the Monster that the Bride would love him. Once the Monster feels he’s been rejected, that brings out the end of the story.
Now back to the ending that I referenced before. I love how, in just a few sentences, the Monster is able to sum up how Frankenstein deserves to live while the rest (including himself) deserve to die. Frankenstein deserves life because he has Elizabeth who needs him and, I’m pretty sure the Monster has observed that Frankenstein was only involved in the Bride’s creation because Pretorius forced him too. For that alone, the Monster is willing to let his creator go. Pretorius, on the other hand, has no excuse. He dragged the Monster into this, and the Monster has already admitted before now that he “hates living.”
I also need to stop and mention Franz Waxman’s gorgeous score for Bride of Frankenstein, the biggest difference between this film and the original Frankenstein. If you’ll remember, the 1931 film, apart from some opening and closing music, has no score at all. The music in Bride of Frankenstein is practically wall to wall and I love every minute of it. Each of the major characters has their own leitmotif, and it just helps to propel Bride of Frankenstein to even greater heights. Honestly, the music is so good it deserves a blog post of its own, so I’ll pause on the discussion of the music for now.
One interesting final detail I want to mention: if you watch the ending when the laboratory explodes very closely, you’ll notice that Frankenstein is still in there (he’s pressed against the wall on the left hand side of the room). This is because originally Frankenstein was supposed to die with the rest of them. But Universal insisted on a “happy ending” so the scene was hastily rewritten for Frankenstein to escape with Elizabeth just before the building exploded. But there was no money in the budget to reshoot the destruction scene, so the error remains.
Bride of Frankenstein is, in my opinion, the best Frankenstein film ever made, and one of the enduring highlights of Universal’s Classic Monsters era. 85 years later, they haven’t come close to topping this film (and I hope they never do).
Let me know what you think about Bride of Frankenstein in the comments below and have a great day!
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