Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bride of Frankenstein - Unique in Every Way

                                                    TIL DEATH DO US PART

The Bride of Frankenstein is such a staple for classic film lovers and horror movie lovers that it is difficult to add anything to the many reviews and articles written over the years. From the time that director James Whale designed the look for the monster in 1931’s original Frankenstein and directed it to perfection, all the way up to the present day, Mary Shelley’s novel has been a favorite for each generation of movie-makers. Everyone wants to put their own personal stamp on this exciting story, some quite good, others just plain awful.

Bride of Frankenstein is different. There has only been 1 attempt of which I am aware at re-making it, a really dreadful movie called The Bride, with Sting and Jennifer Beals. (Remember Mystery Science Theatre 3000? They would have had a hey-day with that one!) As far as other serious attempts, I know of only two that are worth mentioning. These were movies about the entire Frankenstein story, a made-for-TV movie with Jane Seymour as the bride, and Kenneth Branagh’s version featuring Helena Bonham Carter. However, those two can’t really be considered re-makes, as they were trying to film the entire novel.

I think it would be impossible to re-capture the wonderful dark humor infused into the original bride story that was mostly responsible, in my opinion, for its unique nature. Bride of Frankenstein was born in the mind of director James Whale and his brand of side-glancing, off-beat humor which was his personal stamp. When I was a kid, I thought the story was deadly serious, and believed I should see it that way. After I had a few years under my belt, I realized how really funny this movie is. It still has the pathos of the poor monster’s loneliness and solitude, it has the wonderful eerie atmosphere of light and shadow, that fabulous laboratory, and lots of lightning. But it also has Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Praetorious with his little human menagerie, the violin-playing blind hermit, and of course Elsa Lanchester with the hair!

As for the storyline, the monster is back on the rampage, frightening people everywhere, being misunderstood in his intentions, and longing for someone like himself to be his friend. He comes upon a hut in the woods and hears the music of a violin. The hut is inhabited by a blind man, who welcomes the monster without fear since he can’t see him. The monster has learned to talk in rudimentary language, and the two men sit down together to eat dinner. When the blind man strikes a match to light a cigar, the monster screams because of his fear of fire. The blind man explains to him that fire is good, and offers him a cigar. “Smoke is good!” the blind man says, and the monster inhales and says “Smoke….good.” (In these days of political correctness, we may yet see this scene cut out, although the rampaging and killing will of course be left in.) The two are happy to be friends, but of course the villagers that populate every Frankenstein movie break up the friendship.  Some men stop by the hut and since they are not blind, they panic and attack the monster.  To the hermit's dismay, his new friend leaves and the villagers burn his house down accidentally.  Oh yes, they were a big help.

Meanwhile, Dr. Praetorius is insinuating himself into Dr. Frankenstein’s life (Colin Clive reprises his role, looking a bit the worse for wear since the original Frankenstein). Ernest Thresiger is wonderful as the mad Dr. Praetorius, with his long, skeletal face and clipped British accent. He plays Praetorious in a threatening but gleeful way, prancing at times and clapping his hands together. Frankenstein is not interested in trying to re-animate dead tissue anymore, but Praetorius piques his interest by showing him his new brand of re-animation, or rather, creation of life. Praetorius displays his collection of tiny people kept in glass jars, a king, a queen, a bishop, a ballerina, alive and well and playing pranks. When the tiny people speak, it is with tiny squeaks like cartoon mice. Frankenstein is horrified, but interested. At one point, the monster finds Praetorius sitting in what looks like an open-air crypt, drinking gin and relaxing. When the monster realizes that it would be possible for Dr. Frankenstein to create a female, he hounds and threatens, with the help of Praetorius, until the doctor agrees.

The female is created in the same laboratory (that’s pronounced laBORatory) where the monster was brought to life. Her shroud is much more stylish, though, well-fitted and displaying a fine figure. She opens her eyes – the next scene shows her standing, dressed in a widely-shaped, floor-length, long-sleeved white dress. Her hair is done up in a very chic updo, dark with lightning-shaped white hair on either side. She sees Dr. Frankenstein and likes him, sees the monster and hates him, and utters a few distinctive echoing cries. The monster sees that she refuses his overtures, and decides he has had enough rejection in his life. He grabs a lever. Dr. Praetorius cries “Don’t touch that lever. You’ll blow us all to atoms!” Why such a lever would be installed in the first place is never explained. The monster, in an unusual mood of love for his creator, tells him to leave – “You live! We belong dead!” Then of course, he pulls the lever, and Dr. Praetorius’ warning comes true.

I cannot write about Bride of Frankenstein without paying tribute to two movies where it plays major roles. The first is “Gods and Monsters” with Ian McKellan as James Whale. In a flashback for Whale, we see him shooting the bride's creation scene. The actor who plays Praetorius turns to Whale and says “Are Colin and I supposed to have done her hair?” Gods and Monsters is a tremendous movie and you shouldn’t miss it.


The second movie is, of course, Young Frankenstein. For any lover of the Frankenstein movies, this is a must. It takes elements from Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein. It is one of the greatest comedy films I have ever seen. The wonderful Madeline Kahn plays the woman who becomes the bride, and the scene where she comes out of the bathroom to her new husband, with her hair in that style, is not to be missed. Frankly, I can never watch any of the Frankenstein movies anymore without the hilarious Young Frankenstein always in my mind. Make a really fun weekend for yourself – watch Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein. Then watch Young Frankenstein and Gods and Monsters. It will be an experience you won’t forget.

1 comment:

  1. GREAT POST...BECKY!!!
    this is one of the few "sequels" that is better than the original..JAMES WHALE and his crew seemed to have "ironed out" some of the rough edges from FRANKENSTEIN..this is much more "tongue in cheek"..and the prologue with ELSA LANCASTER as MARY SHELLEY is brilliant!!!

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