Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 15 min.
Release Date: April 19th, 1935 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: James Whale Actors: Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester, Gavin Gordon, Douglas Walton, Una O’Connor
ord George Gordon Byron (Gavin Gordon) chats with writer Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) in a grand sitting room, in front of a large fireplace, while tumultuous rain and lightning outside strike the darkened windows. After Byron recounts the events of the original tale, ending in the death of Frankenstein’s monster, Mary discloses that the windmill fire didn’t entirely consume the lumbering creation. There’s more to the story…
The burgomaster instructs the townsfolk to disperse and cart away the body of Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) – and to inform his fiancee Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) of his death. This, of course, ignores the final scene of the 1931 classic, in which the baron toasts his recovering son-in-law. As Henry is brought to the castle, he miraculously revives, and immediately begins pondering new plans for mastering the reanimation of dead tissue. The wailing, elderly maid Minnie (Una O’Connor, delivering her usual comedic part, which has entirely too many lines of dialogue) is awoken by a pounding at the door at a late hour by the pushy Professor Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), insistent on meeting with Frankenstein. He reveals his intentions to work alongside Henry on grander projects, and shows him his own collection of cultured, miniature humans, trapped in glass bottles. It’s more black magic or wizardry than science, but Frankenstein is fascinated by the notion of constructing a full-sized mate for the towering monster he presumes to be destroyed.
Once again, scientists probe the mysteries of life and death by playing God. Frankenstein has experienced a terrible lesson, but Pretorius, who has conducted a two-decade-long series of secret experimentations, apparently needs his own personal instruction in chaotic failure. Again, the monster wanders too close to the town and is apprehended – and, like King Kong, he can’t be contained. Havoc is to be wreaked, bodies pile up, and Karloff (credited without his first name) delivers plenty of grunts and groans (and finally, famously, simple words, like a morbid version of Tarzan).
Damsels-in-distress can’t help but shriek in the monster’s presence, villagers attack it ruthlessly, and children are accidentally killed. It’s quite repetitive, but grants audiences more of the same violence and disorder that they demanded of Universal Pictures, ensuring the prompt designing of a theatrical sequel to the 1931 masterpiece. Frankenstein gets to scream, “It’s alive!” once more; Dwight Frye is Karl, again a creepy little grave robber and assistant; and a blind violinist takes the place of the lone little girl from before, unafraid of the monster’s appearance, going so far as to teach it basic communication skills – after which the fiend continues journeying unstoppably across the countryside. Pretorius, similarly, doesn’t seem dismayed by the brute’s return or its rapidly increasing intelligence. But he’s not much of a doctor, comically claiming that “the human heart is more complex than any other part of the body.”
Unfortunately, where “Frankenstein” was a serious venture in horror and science-fiction, “Bride of Frankenstein” is much more humorous, frequently bordering on downright silly. And the chief new element is the monster’s bride herself, uncredited but also played by Elsa Lanchester, who doesn’t appear in her entirety until approximately five minutes before the movie ends. She utters little more than a few shrill squalls, but her makeup (by Jack P. Pierce), costuming (by Vera West), and hairstyling (by Irma Kusely) is the stuff of cinematic genius.
– Mike Massie