Saturday, November 16, 2013









No other film studio is so well-associated with monster movies as Universal, thanks to their legendary series of classic sci-fi/horror films that continue to define monsters for the world of cinema.In the midst of those many classics including THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925), DRACULA (1931), THE MUMMY (1932), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) and THE WOLF MAN (1941), the undisputed crown jewel of that era is still THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

It is also considered one of the best sequels ever made, alongside the likes of THE GODFATHER PART II (1974) and THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) (maybe?), and often regarded as the magnum opus of director James Whale, who returned after directing the original.Following the many deviations which the 1931 original made from the source material, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, THE BRIDE, while still a very different creature than the novel, restores more of the elements from its source.

In the film's prologue, Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester, who also played The Bride) shares a fire with her husband, Percy (Douglas Walton) and Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) on a stormy night, a tribute to the reportedly true-life origins of the story which was the result of a ghost story competition between friends, as they commend her on her horrific story (as told in the first film).But that is not the end, she counters, and the Monster did not die in the windmill fire as was supposed at the conclusion of the previous film.After a short recount of events from the original, the Monster (Boris Karloff) emerges from the watery wreckage beneath the destroyed windmill.Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has also survived and is being nursed back to health in his ancestral castle by his fiancee, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson).A sinister and flamboyant former mentor of Henry's, Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger), whose ungodly experiments have gotten him kicked out of the university, shows up at the Frankenstein castle with a proposition for Henry, after hearing about his "success."While Pretorious has been able to create fully-formed homunculi grown from petri dishes, but together with Frankenstein, he aspires to create a full-size person like the Monster, but beautiful like his own creations.Frankenstein is reluctant, but Pretorious hardly gives him any choice in the matter and is perfectly willing to resort to less scrupulous tactics.Meanwhile, the Monster stumbles along the countryside, constantly shunned and feared by the peasants, before he comes across the little forest cottage of a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie), who assumes the Monster is a dumb mute and befriends him, teaching him a rudimentary vocabulary.When two lost hunters come across the cottage though, they panic at seeing the Monster, and the mayhem that ensues results in the cottage burning down.Devastated, the Monster enters a graveyard and having resolved that he belongs dead, he descends in a crypt, where he meets Pretorious, who, coincidentally, is collecting a skeleton to be used for the Bride of the Monster, an effort which the Monster is all too willing to take part in.To ensure that Henry follows through on his part of the work, the Monster takes Frankenstein's fiancee captive, and helps drive the work.But when the work is completed, even the Bride is repulsed by the Monster, and after ushering out Henry and Elizabeth, the Monster destroys the lab with himself, Pretorious, and Pretorious' convict henchmen within.

Naturally, that would not be the last film in the Frankenstein series, next followed by SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, which would be final appearance by Karloff as the monster, but THE BRIDE was the last of the series directed by James Whale or starring Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein.[On a side note: Contrary to popular belief, there was no Igor in either of the original FRANKENSTEIN films; the hunchbacked assistant in the original was named Fritz (played by Dwight Frye, who plays Karl the henchman in THE BRIDE); the character "Ygor" first appeared in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, played by Dracula-actor Bela Lugosi.]

After making a couple more horror movies, THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) and THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), Universal and Carl Laemmle, Jr. (who produced most of the classic Universal Monsters movies) were very eager to get James Whale back to make a follow up to his hugely successful FRANKENSTEIN.At this, Whale bargained for the opportunity to make ONE MORE RIVER (1934), a much lesser known personal film, and would then make THE BRIDE.This time, Whale wielded much greater creative control, and because he was resolved that the sequel could not live up to the original, he decided to make a "hoot" of it.THE BRIDE is deliberately campy, heavy on humor and with a surprising level of special effects work for a film of the time.The "Homunculi" scene is great example of all three, being

a special effects showcase with miniature people inside jars, and some rather funny stuff involving the little "King" trying to get into the jar with the little "Queen," to the disapproval of the pious little "Archbishop."

The most common commentary in regards to THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN are the allegations of homosexual subtexts.James Whale was probably the most high-profile of the exceptionally few openly homosexual persons working in Hollywood, and what's more, Ernest Thesiger, in the role of Dr. Pretorious was also openly gay (despite a marriage to his friend's sister), while Colin Clive, playing Frankenstein, may have been gay, but such claims are disputed (Whale's lover of 22 years, David Lewis, claimed Clive was not gay).Whether or not any of these supposed subtexts were at all intentional is in dispute, but it's abundantly clear that Whale's sexuality is informing his work, consciously of unconsciously.Pretorious, the best character in the film, is a counter-cultural figure with a flamboyant personality and is frequently identified as gay, although in 1935, especially with the recent establishment of the Breen Office which enforced the Production Code with an iron grip, the character could never be explicitly identified as gay within the film.There are accounts however that indicate that Whale told Thesiger to play Pretorious as a "caricature of a bitchy and aging homosexual," which, however conflict with dismissals by some of Whale's colleagues that anything beyond camp humor identifies with Whale's sexuality in his films (personally, I'm very doubtful about the latter's seemingly defensive claims).Either way, this is a film about two men creating life together.

Ironically, there's also a lot of Christian imagery and subtext in THE BRIDE as well, although whether or not it is meant to be divine or "a mockery of the divine" is in dispute.The most redeemable character in the film is the blind hermit, upon whose wall is a crucifix, and is shown praying and professing God's goodness, but the Monster is also shown as an ironic Christ-figure, trussed to a cross-like shape when captured by the villagers, after having been raised from the dead, and eats bread and wine with the hermit in a sort of "last supper."It has been suggested that it is a mockery of the divine to show these Christian symbols in a creature made by man rather than God; blasphemous imagery has long been a an effectively discomforting staple of the horror genre.

The cast is a mixed bag, with the best by far being Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorious, as smooth and sarcastic drama queen who steals every scene he's in.On the other hand, I do not like Colin Clive's performance as Henry Frankenstein, who like in the original, switches back and forth between being pathetic and whiny about his situation without providing reason to sympathize with him, and being the maniacal "It's alive!" mad scientist.I have mixed feelings about the comic peasant woman Minnie played by Una O'Connor, who played a similar schtick in THE INVISIBLE MAN, which largely involves reacting with goofy, indignant expressions and squealing in over the top fear.In very small doses, she's pretty funny, but it becomes too shrill very fast.Boris Karloff protested to the introduction of speech to the Monster's character, believing it lessened the power of his presence and that it might as well have been played straight then, but the Monster is actually vastly more sympathetic in this film.More of a presence in the original, which, while having an aesthetic appeal, the addition of speech and more interactivity with the events of the plot exposes the Monster as childlike, even if menacing in the way a 10-year old can be (with the strength of a very big man).The women, unfortunately, have a minimal presence in this film, but Elsa Lanchester as the Bride is iconic in only a short amount of screen time, thanks largely in part to the makeup designed by Jack Pierce.

I find it incredibly hard to believe the honesty of claims that these old monster movies are still "scary," I think that has more to do with wishful thinking than anything else, but THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN doesn't really strive to be especially scary, except in a few moments anyway.Like Whale is reported to have been aiming for, it is a "memorable romp."It is the epitome of Universal horror.
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