365 Days, 100 Films #62 – Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride of Frankenstein, 1935.

Directed by James Whale.
Starring Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester and Una O’Connor.


SYNOPSIS:

Both the Monster and Frankenstein have survived the events of the previous film, but a new, darker Doctor has arrived. He wishes to create another life. A Bride for Frankenstein’s monster.


“KARLOFF IN… ”

Bride of Frankenstein doesn’t open well. There’s an awful segment between Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelly. This prologue is tacked onto the beginning of the film as crudely as Frankenstein’s head is onto his own neck.

They all sit around a fireplace in period dress. Mary narrates a brief montage explaining the story of the previous film, Frankenstein. “Oh, but the story doesn’t end there,” she explains conveniently to the other two, as the image dissolves into the burning windmill from the preceding film’s conclusion.

The townsfolk believe they have killed the Monster (Boris Karloff) that ‘terrorised’ them before. But the Monster had fallen through the windmill into a cavern below. He makes his way to the surface, not without killing someone first, and begins to seek a life of peace and solitude in the nearby woods, as far away from the fire as he can. The Monster doesn’t much like fire. Fire, for him, is persecution.

In the meantime, Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is recovering from the burning windmill battle in his father’s mansion. His leg is in a cast for most of the film as he had broken it in real life, too.

This makes way for a new creator – Doctor Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger). He has a nose that is permanently snooted; his shadow always precedes him, arching over the walls in the background. Dr. Pretorius grows his monsters, cultivates them, rather than vulgarly piecing them together from the deceased. Frankenstein recoils in disgust as Pretorius excitedly shows him his work: a miniature queen, king, archbishop, devil, ballerina and mermaid all standing trapped in their separate jars. “This isn’t science…” stammers Frankenstein, in his trademark hysteria, “…it’s more like black magic!”

While Pretorius attempts to recreate Frankenstein’s original experiment, augmented with techniques of his own, the Monster continues to stumble through the woods. There’s one moment where he stops by a lake. He sees in it his reflection, but this angers him. The only time he’s ever been happy was by a lake, throwing flower heads like boats into the water. But then, when he had run out of petals to cast off, he threw in the young girl with whom he was playing instead. She drowned. His murderous reflection stares back at him, which he splashes away through anger and guilt.

But then he hears some sweet music through the trees, and follows its sound to the house of a hermit; a blind violinist. The man takes the Monster in, and treats him like a human. “Put your hand on my shoulder if you understand,” says the blind violinist, having only been replied to with grunts and moans. The Monster does, and a tear rolls down the old man’s cheek. He has a friend with him now. Can you say friend, Monster?

They sit there for a time, learning words and listening to the violin. But then two men from the town arrive. They’re lost and seek respite. Instead they burn the old man’s house down upon seeing the Monster. The old man perishes, but the Monster escapes into the woods yet again.

These recurring incidents of persecution are given a deeper meaning by the director’s sexuality. James Whale lived an openly homosexual life in 1920s and 30s Hollywood, which was quite rare for the time. Not that it was a conscious agenda on Whale’s behalf, as he was apparently more ashamed of his working class roots, but it provides an extra perspective.

The final 20 minutes are devoted to the preparation of the Bride. Pretorius has convinced both Frankenstein and his Monster to be in attendance for this new creation. Pretorius’ crony had murdered a woman to steal her ‘ticking’ heart for the grand experiment. The musical score isn’t of horror, but of the fantastical and awe. The camera begins to tilt to near 90 degree angles. The bandaged doll is hoisted up to the sky, where the stormy night will give her life. Slowly lowered back down, and bandages delicately removed, she rests her eyes on her new husband.

But the Bride hates the Monster. She screams like everyone else. In fury, the Monster sets the laboratory aflame. Dr. Frankenstein is allowed to escape, but the Monster forces Pretorius to stay. A tear rolls down his cheek, just as the old man had done before. He so wants to return to death.

RATING ****

Oli Davis

365 Days, 100 Films

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