Director: James Whale
Writer: William Hurlbut
Cast: Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester, Gavin Gordon, Douglas Walton, Una O’Connor, E.E. Clive, Lucien Prival, O.P. Heggie, Dwight Frye, Reginald Barlow, Mary Gordon, Ann Darling, and Ted Billings
Composer: Franz Waxman
Release Date: 4/22/1935
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
After a chilling introduction from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), Bride of Frankenstein begins with the Monster surfacing from the ruins of a demolished windmill. Despite saving the life of an inattentive shepherdess (Ann Darling), the Monster is relentlessly hunted for past crimes; nevertheless, Frankenstein’s creation takes solace in the friendship of a kindly hermit (O.P. Heggie) from whose instruction he attains the power of speech. Having survived his ordeal from the previous film, Henry Frankenstein meanwhile attempts to lead a peaceful life with Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) at his side; however, when his former mentor Doctor Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) resorts to blackmail, Henry is forced to aid in the construction of a female being.
Often considered the most phenomenal entry in Universal Studios’ lineup of monster movies, Bride of Frankenstein forgoes the raw, primitive approach to horror employed by James Whale’s Frankenstein in favor of more tongue-in-cheek undertones. As a result, this offering contains a number of well-executed comedic devices while never losing focus of the Monster’s emotionally compelling but ultimately futile search for a soul mate.
By highlighting the antics of Doctor Pretorius, Minnie (Una O’Connor), and lab assistants Karl (Dwight Frye) and Ludwig (Ted Billings), Bride of Frankenstein adopts a decidedly more satirical tone than did its predecessor. That being said, a heavy reliance on black humor never detracts from the somber qualities exemplified by the Monster throughout his tragic quest for acceptance; nor does it hamper the poignant moments for which this film is so iconic.
Also worth mentioning is a beautifully haunting score composed by Franz Waxman, which further accentuates the dreamlike quality that permeates nearly every scene. The most notable example of such can be witnessed during the film’s climax, wherein Waxman’s composition generates an almost surreal atmosphere to characterize the “romance” shared by the Monster and his mate (the parallel sequence from Frankenstein serves only to terrify, much in contrast to the complex range of emotional states that the life-endowing scene in Bride of Frankenstein works to elicit).
Whereas the Monster’s humanity is merely implied in the first movie, Bride of Frankenstein’s more expansive character development allows the eponymous creature to undergo a transition not unlike that of his counterpart from Shelley’s novel. The famous blind man story arc in particular cannot be overstated with regard to its narrative significance, for without a genuine friend and moral compass to guide him, the Monster would have undoubtedly remained little more than a crude shadow of the human being that Henry Frankenstein intended for him to be.
While Dracula showcases Christian symbolism in order to make additionally powerful the battle between good and evil forces which underlies the central conflict of that film, Bride of Frankenstein emphasizes similar iconography to convey themes of a more sacrilegious nature. A perverted Christ figure, the Monster is “resurrected” in Frankenstein’s laboratory only to be “crucified” at a later time—an apparent reversal of Biblical events which is confirmed when the Monster consumes a “last supper” consisting of bread and wine before descending into the grave and, with the assistance of Doctor Pretorius, encountering his “maker” once again. Subtle though it may be, such an allegory ties directly into Frankenstein’s commentary on emulating god and the inherent danger in so doing, with the Monster and Henry assuming the respective roles of son (Christ) and father (God the Father).
One of the greatest horror movies ever made, Bride of Frankenstein should be viewed by Universal Monster buffs and casual fans alike. Exceptionally commendable is the performance of Ernest Thesiger, whose eccentric and macabre portrayal of Doctor Pretorius makes for a fine counter to the air of solemnness that seems to follow Frankenstein and his Monster wherever they happen to establish themselves.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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