Bride of Frankenstein is the 1935 sequel to the definitive Frankenstein movie released four years earlier. The story is taken from a subplot of Mary Shelley’s novel though bares only a passing resemblance to the author’s work. The film picks up in the moments after the climax of the first movie in which the monster was seemingly killed in a raging fire. Spoiler alert – he wasn’t. In this movie the monster’s personality grows, he makes friends and becomes restless. As with any man, he wants female companionship and with the help of scientist Doctor Pretorius, he kidnaps his creator’s fiancé, forcing Doctor, now Baron Frankenstein to create for him a Bride.
I thought that 1931’s Frankenstein was a masterful piece of cinema and rightly held a place in the minds of horror cinema fans over eighty years on from its release. Bride of Frankenstein holds a similar place in cinema history but overall I was disappointed by it. I felt that the plot was slow and clunky and the dialogue and acting was much worse than that of the original film. For fifty minutes I was teetering on the edge of boredom but a final twenty minute flourish, reminiscent of the first movie, helped to save the day.
Several potential sequels to Frankenstein came and went in the follow up to the movie’s critical and commercial success in 1931. Eventually an amalgamation of a number of submitted treatments and scripts went into producing the sequel. To me the script feels a bit weak, lacks the excitement and shock of Shelley’s original story and takes far too long to move those fingers and show signs of life. A mistake in my eyes was to have the monster speak. One of the great strengths of the Frankenstein character was that it wasn’t a man but a monster. It was capable of experiencing emotion but not able to convey them. This made the monster much scarier to the other characters than to the audience and also gave it a sort of anti-hero status. In the first film I felt bad for the monster when it was misunderstood but in this film he can’t be misunderstood because he can vocalise his thoughts, feelings and fears. Frankenstein himself, Boris Karloff was of this exact same opinion.
Another problem I had with the film is that it just wasn’t exciting enough. There was very little suspense until the final act and in reality very little happens for most of the film. One character in particular seemed to crop up in every scene and I found her very annoying. Minnie (Una O’Connor) plays the Baron’s housekeeper and is in place to produce the shrieks and other assorted reactions to the monster’s appearance that typify the non speaking roles around her. The problem is that she pops up everywhere from the Baron’s home to the streets outside to the creepy moors. She is overused and underwritten. I did enjoy the opening bookending of the story which features Mary Shelley and Lord Byron discussing the author’s original story. It is this discussion and in particular the ending of her book which leads neatly into this story. I thought it was a well formed opening to the film.
The final few scenes are by far the highlight of the movie. Here the Bride is animated and introduced to the audience. She is only on screen for a disappointing few moments and isn’t given many character traits but he look is mesmerising. It helps that Elsa Lanchester is a very beautiful woman but the design of her dress and now iconic hair aid the look. These final scenes are also shot with the same frenetic style as in Frankenstein and contain an array of interesting camera angles, swoops and movements. They are some fantastically choreographed shots and really helped to end the film on a high. The self-nihilistic ending is also quite sweet and dramatic and helped the movie to go out with a bang.
Overall I felt let down by Bride of Frankenstein. I thought the script was too dull for too long but it certainly picked up towards the end. I think that there were missteps made with the arc of the central character and other characters featured far too heavily. There were undoubtedly some fine moments, including the miniature people scene, but generally I felt underwhelmed by a film I had expected to be much better.
- The body count in the original cut was 21. This was trimmed to 10 after pressure from code-era censors.
- Director James Whale was reluctant to direct a sequel but after four years of badgering from the studio, he gave in when he found a script he thought worked. As part of the deal, the director demanded total artistic freedom.
- Elsa Lanchester was only 5' 4" but stilts made her seem 7' tall.