Skiffy Flix: Bride of Frankenstein

So Dracula begat Frankenstein, and Frankenstein begat Bride of Frankenstein (no ‘the’ in the title, note). Though actually it took nearly 3 ½ years, and there were intermediaries: Boris Karloff did The Mummy next after Frankenstein, and James Whale next directed The Invisible Man. More on those when I get to them.

Comments, more in the context of a plot summary than previous posts.

  • The structure of Bride roughly parallels the first Frankenstein film, with a further experiment to create life bringing on tragic and unexpected consequences. And again, the main character(s) die, apparently, at the end of the film.
  • Boris Karloff is back again as Frankenstein, and Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein, but not Edward Van Sloan, whose character Dr. Waldman was killed in the first film. James Whale follows up with his direction, and the result is regarded as an improvement on the first film, and one of the best sequels of all time.
  • The credits now show “Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley,” not “Mrs. Percy B. Shelley.” Maybe someone realized that wasn’t quite properly respectful to the author. Music is by Franz Waxman. And the monster is credited simply to “Karloff,” as if no first name was necessary.
  • The film begins with yet another castle amidst a stormy night. Inside are three elegantly dressed people in a drawing room with a fire. But, in a clever introductory device, these aren’t characters in our story, but rather an historical flashback showing Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron, three of the very people who, in reality, inspired Mary to write her novel Frankenstein. We see them discussing the savagery of nature (that storm outside), introduce each other for the sake of the audience, and hear that Mary has already written her tale, though not yet published it. She repeats the moral lesson of the first film: it’s about the punishment for a moral man who dared to emulate god. As flashbacks of the first film remind us of its story, Mary is ready to tell what happened after that…
  • And so we return to the mill fire from the end of the first film. The mill collapses; the crowds move out. A cackling woman – this is Minnie, later seen as a servant – talks as if there have been lots and lots of murders and drownings — though we only saw one murder and one drowning, in the first film, IIRC; or were some of the torch-bearing villagers at the end also killed? But this establishes the monster as a killer. Sure enough: Hans, the drowned girl’s father, lingers, anxious for proof the monster is dead. It’s not dead! Down in the stream beneath the mill, the monster lurks, and kills first Hans, and then his wife. Minnie sees the monster, and shrieks, and runs.
    • Back at the mansion, Henry, thought dead, is brought in on a stretcher. When he moves his hand, Minnie (now in her servant garb) shrieks “He’s alive! He’s alive!”, echoing the first film’s signature lines. Humor!
  • Henry recovers and the new story gets underway, after some conversation between Henry and Elizabeth about how “we’re not meant to know those things” about the power to create life. She worries about a dangerous apparition—
    • And sure enough, someone new shows up. We lost Dr. Waldman last film, so in this film we have a Dr. Pretorius to serve as a foil for Henry Frankenstein. Pretorius is an apparently disgraced professor of philosophy who urges Henry to resume his work.
  • Pretorius takes Henry by coach to his lab, serving him gin and toasting him “To a new world of gods and monsters.” He displays a row of glass cylinders containing tiny homunculi – tiny little people, fully dressed as a queen, a king, an archbishop, a devil, a ballerina.
    • These are remarkable special effects for the time! We see the tiny people moving around and talking, in tiny insect voices, in the same shots as the full-sized Pretorius in the background.
    • (At the same time, how does Pretorius keep these creatures fed and clean and clothed? One wonders.)
    • Henry is appalled; this isn’t science, it’s black magic. Pretorius explains that he grew these creatures from cultures, like nature does, from seed.
    • –and so here is creation of new life in a way Dr. Frankenstein in the first film did not, by merely reanimating patched up corpses.
    • (More comedy, as the king climbs out of his cylinder and pursues and queen and has to be returned to his jar by tweezers.)
    • Pretorius wants to collaborate with Henry, citing Biblical tales about being fruitful and multiplying: they must create a mate for the monster. A woman. (And, implying that Henry is indirectly responsible for the earlier deaths.)
  • Then follows a series of scenes in which the monster roams the hills, frightening people. Men from town pursue and capture him, but the monster easily pulls out his chains and escapes. It encounters a camp of gypsies.
    • In film’s most poignant scenes, the monster encounters a blind man in cottage playing Ave Maria on a violin. The man hears someone outside and invites him inside, giving him food, realizing he cannot speak. The man welcomes the visitor as a friend he thought he would never have. Later he teaches the monster words, and explains good and bad: cigar good, music good. But monster, once burned, considers fire bad.
    • But then two lost hunters come by, see the monster and shoot it, and set the cottage on fire.
    • Monster escapes, scares a group of children, rages through a graveyard, and takes refuge in an underground crypt… just as Pretorius and his assistants come through, looking for an appropriate brain for the creation of that bride. Pretorius explains to the monster what he is doing…
  • We return to the mansion, where Pretorius pressures Henry to cooperate by having the monster kidnap Elizabeth and carry her into a cave.
  • Final scenes, as in the first film, are in a hilltop tower, the tower experiment room, where a wrapped body lies on a pallet. The heart fails and Karl, the assistant, abducts a girl on the street to provide another.
    • The storm rises. Kites are sent up. (No mention of ray beyond the ultraviolet.) The body on the table is lifted up through the ceiling, as in the first film. They talk about the ‘cosmic diffuser.’
    • The table lowers, and the eyes move. “She’s alive! Alive!”
    • Unwrapped, the bride for Frankenstein – played by Elsa Lancaster, who played Mary Shelley in the intro scenes – has a huge mound of frizzy hair. (Where did that come from? A few moments ago she was wrapped in cloth.)
    • And then, in a tragic irony, the original monster enters, approaching his bride. Friend? Bride screams, screams again, runs. She’s just as terrified of the original monster as all the humans are.
  • And so the monster, telling Henry and Elizabeth to flee, but Pretorius to stay – they deserve to die — pulls a lever that causes the entire castle to explode and collapse. The end.

Summary comments:

  • The bride’s image is the most striking of the film.
  • The great irony is that she finds the original monster just as horrifying as everyone else did.
  • The center section with the blind man is the most poignant, and shows, again, that the monster is not inherently evil, but responds to kindness, and is able to learn.
  • Again, did the monster and wife actually survive? What’s the setup for the next film?
  • Note the trailer for this film confuses the monster with its creator: “Frankenstein returns…. In search of a bride!” Popular culture has always confused the name Frankenstein with both the monster with its creator.
  • The Wikipedia entry on this film is extensive, with much detail about the film’s production, issues of censorship, and interpretations of Christian imagery and Queer reading.
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