Combustible Celluloid
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With: Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Colin Clive, Una O'Connor, Ernest Thesiger, Dwight Frye
Written by: John L. Balderston, William Hurlbut
Directed by: James Whale
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: English
Running Time: 75
Date: 04/21/1935

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

4 Stars (out of 4)

It's Alive

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director James Whale was approached four years after the enormous success of Frankenstein (1931) to do a sequel. His contract was such that he could refuse unless the project interested him. Whatever he saw in the script for Bride of Frankenstein, he was inspired, and he did it right. Now, Bride of Frankenstein is one of the greatest of all horror films. I recently got to see it in a beautiful new print as part of a new program of classic Universal horror films.

It's not a very scary movie, exactly, but it's crazy and funny, perfect for Halloween. The movie begins with a great scene, as Mary Shelly (Elsa Lanchester), Lord Byron, and Percy Shelly pass the time indoors during a thunderstorm. Mary pricks her finger, and is horrified at the sight of her own blood. Byron points out that her book Frankenstein, set his teeth on edge. She continues the story.

In the crumbling remains of the burned windmill, the Monster (Boris Karloff) is still alive, having fallen into an underground spring. Dr. Frankenstein's house servant, played by Una O'Connor discovers the monster. (Strangely, Ms. O'Connor is at the center of nearly every shot during the first 1/2 hour of the movie, even when it's physically impossible that she has moved from location to location so quickly.) The Monster is captured, and quickly escapes. In the meantime, Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), who is on his deathbed, receives a visit from Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger). O'Connor repeats the name "Pretorious" in disbelief three times. Pretorious shows Frankenstein his own experiments with creating life--little people kept in jars (the speicial effects are still amazing and haunting). He kidnaps Frankenstein's wife and convinces him to help build another monster; this time a bride.

The Frankenstein monster escapes and meets a blind hermit, who teaches him to smoke, drink, and talk. After the monster has been in his house for just a few minutes, he says, "we shall be great friends." Then some townspeople, led by John Carradine, find the monster and proceed to burn down the hermit's house.

Pretorious, who has been digging up body parts for the bride (and has stopped to have wine and bread on top of someone's coffin), finds the monster, and convinces him to come back to the lab. As Pretorious and Frankenstein put the final touches on their bride, the camera starts to go crazy, tilting and jumping all over the room. The room itself is gorgeously covered in buzzing gizmos and lights. (Whale was famous for the wonderful sets on his movies.) In the brilliant and famous twist climax, the Bride (also played by Elsa Lanchester) comes to life, takes one look at the Monster and screams.

As in the first movie, it's Karloff as the Monster who is the only "normal" soul in the movie. His rudimentary speech is quite touching ("love dead... hate living"), and his simple hand motions convey the greatest sorrows. Pretorious is very effeminate, which was Whale's way of becoming interested in the story, being gay himself. It also seems that Pretorious is interested in Frankenstein (why else would he kidnap his wife?). Dr. Frankenstein is also effeminate, and phsycially weak, apparently drained from his last experience with the monster. His own wife cannot bring him strength, but working on a new monster with Pretorious recharges him. (The two men are making a baby?) The hermit is not evil, but he makes audiences laugh today with his instant friendship with the monster. How horribly, pathetically lonely must the old man be in order to take in a grunting brute as a houseguest? It's as touching as it is creepy.

The dialogue, by John L. Balderston and William Hurlbut, is brilliant, in that it walks the line between being horror dialogue and comedy. There are quite a few great lines, one containing the phrase Gods and Monsters, which is the title of a wonderful new ficitional bio-pic on Whale, directed by Bill Condon. The music is by the legendary Franz Waxman. I noticed that this time around its use was a little overdone, adding to the campiness, but also calling attention to itself. But most of all, it is Whale who makes the film special. His affection for the bizarre, his wonderful sense of humor, and his appreciation for the feelings of the monster above all, make Bride of Frankenstein a classic, much better than the relatively straightforward original.

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