Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Monster demands a mate! After surviving the wreckage at the windmill, Frankenstein's Monster takes refuge from the angry villagers at the home of a blind hermit. The two strike up a loving friendship, and the kindly old hermit teaches The Monster how to speak and act civilly. Meanwhile, Doctor Henry Frankenstein has also survived his fall. During his recovery, he is visited by the eccentric Doctor Pretorius, who has also developed a means for creating life on his own. Pretorius manipulates Dr. Frankenstein into aiding him in his experiments, and the two set out to create a female companion for the hulking Monster. Now, The Monster returns to claim his bride at the scorn of his creator!

James Whales improves on perfection in 1935's BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the followup to his Gothic masterpiece FRANKENSTEIN. With BRIDE, Whales brings back the same stunning set pieces and chilling atmospherics, but adds to them a number of multi-layered themes and a strict balance of horror and comedy that surpasses the original in its intelligence of design and strength of character.

Horror legend Boris Karloff returns to the role of The Monster, but this time, he is allowed a more sympathetic performance given his newfound ability to speak. Here, we find that The Monster is no monster at all, but a lonesome and weary creature that only longs for companionship. Karloff brings a warmth to the character that was missing from before as he sits and laughs while sharing a smoke with the old hermit. This transformation falls far closer to Shelley's original intent in the novel.

The Monster is joined by his mate as Dr. Pretorius unveils "The Bride of Frankenstein!" Elsa Lanchester would forever be immortalized on film for what is really only two-minutes of screen time as The Bride. Unlike the hulking Monster, The Bride is delicate and fragile, but Lanchester's twitchy performance makes her just as unnerving and memorable. Unfortunately for The Monster, his bride is none-too-keen on their arranged marriage, as she screams in fright at his mangled appearance.

The gift of life proves to be no gift at all, as The Monster recounts to Dr. Pretorius in their first encounter: "[Frankenstein] Made me from dead. I love dead... hate living." Whales, through Shelley, demonstrates that man has no right to play god, and that doing so can only lead to ruin. Where the broken Henry Frankenstein realized this after his failures in FRANKENSTEIN, his successor, Dr. Pretorius, blindly steps into "a new world of gods and monsters" with reckless abandon. In the climactic finale, The Monster punishes those that cross nature, destroying Pretorius, his bride, and himself as he exclaims "We belong dead!"

Colin Clive is far more reserved in his reprisal of Dr. Henry Frankenstein, which is entirely appropriate to the material. His new counterpart, the conniving Dr. Pretorius, is played perfectly by an outlandish Ernest Thesiger, who assumes the role of the mad doctor. Thesiger's selection for the role along with his queer portrayal of the character ties into the homosexual undertones that are inherent throughout the plot. James Whales made no attempt to hide his own sexuality, and his bold incorporation of homosexuality as an underlying theme is groundbreaking in the very least.

To touch on this is to touch on just one of the many complex themes that run throughout the film, but BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN cannot fully be discussed in anything short of a thesis of its own. What James Whales has accomplished in this film outstretches far beyond the genre, and serves as a defining historic landmark in film.

Rating: 10/10.

9 comments:

  1. Carl: A perfect 10 out of 10, I agree. I would put Thesiger's performance in this film up there with my all time favs. I loved that scene in the crypt, with mad pretorius drinking a toast. It is still one of the gratest depictions of true insanity ever captured on film.

    Good friggin post!

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  2. @ Mykal & Carl - if you guys like Ernest Thesiger in this, you should be sure to check out Whale's THE OLD DARK HOUSE, too - if you haven't already. Thesiger steals the show repeatedly in that one, too.

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  3. Inspiration finally struck, Mykal! J., I am hoping to get around to THE OLD DARK HOUSE soon, need to grab a copy! This is the only film I have seen with Thesiger in it, but he has always been a personal fav based on this performance alone. Shaun, I think BRIDE will pick up an underground following in the years to come once it gets more coverage online.

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  4. Totally my all time favorite. The only iconic female monster. So much subtext. Love love love all around. I've expounded my love in numerous seminar papers in graduate school as well as stuff at the Cavalcade. That, and I've inked her into my flesh for all eternity. What else can I say?

    :)

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  5. no commment, greatt movie, classic movie!
    okay so i made a comment.
    good call!

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  6. Agreed - This is husband and my favorite movie. You can kinda see the influence in our yard display.

    Cheers!

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  7. Jenn that is awesome, what better subject could there possibly be? We all need to set up a movie night sometime and put it on, iZ can bring the popcorn and we will screen it at Froggie's graveyard!

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  8. J. Astro: The Old Dark House Damn Right!

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