Monday, March 12, 2012

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

After four years of creative deliberation and discussion comes the much anticipated sequel to the 1931 smash hit horror picture Frankenstein. Inspired by events in the original Mary Shelly novel director James Whale returns as the creative center of the film that reunites Karloff and Colin Clive in a continuation of first picture in this, The Bride of Frankenstein. After taking liberties with the original work, which for the most part might be seen as an improvement, here too Whale goes beyond the realm of the Shelly novel, but still very much inspired by its material and tones, to produce a film that further augments the tale of the Henry Frankenstein and his misunderstood creation.

The Bride of Frankenstein is a sequel horror film that continues the from the ending of the previous 1931 picture Frankenstein as creator struggles with the morals of his creation, while the monster seeks desperately for companion that is sympathetic to his pain. The film starts with short scene featuring a fictional Mary Shelly (Elsa Lanchester, in one of her two roles in the film) explaining that there is more to the story of Frankenstein then she had shared. Picking up at the dramatic conclusion of its predecessor, as the monster in fact survives the fire that is thought to have killed him. The monster chased by villagers, who frightened by his unnaturalness, sets off in desperation to find a friend, while his creator Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) recovers from his injuries. Frankenstein sets a course to live in happiness with his lovely Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson), a positive future for the scientist until his former mentor Dr. Predorius (Ernest Theisger) comes to persuade his former pupil to create once again, this time a female, a companion for his failure of a previous creation. The monster is presented with his Bride (also Elsa Lanchester), but she too is disgusted by his disturbing appearance. In a moment of heartbreak the monster destroys himself, his unnatural bride, the mad Predorius, and the lab, sparing Frankenstein and Elizabeth, as the monster sees this scientific madness as only creating pain.

The picture makes for an admirable sequel for a horror picture of its day. In a time when (and if) there were to be sequels they were usually B picture material, riding the coattails of its previous film. For example Son of Kong by RKO, which was a hastily produced film meant to make money off the excitement of its original picture that released only six months prior. Bride of Frankenstein was a reluctant sequel, one which Universal very much wanted to get made for the money it will make on those that loved Frankenstein, and it would be director James Whale that would hold back the production of the sequel for the sake of his career and for making a quality picture. The film is of good value, many years later fusing in the minds of audiences with that of its predecessor, almost making it a singular picture. Certain aspects of the film are lacking, with elements of the story being a bit awkward, Karloff looking a little different from his original makeup, and the fact the monster talks in this picture (a fact that is actually taken from the novel). The film has its campiness, but still is made with a higher quality that most other horror films of its day would not normally receive.

Director James Whale who brought the original film to the scream would be brought back to create the follow-up to the legacy of Frankenstein. Whale was however very reluctant to produce the sequel which was presented to him as an opportunity from the onset the original’s success. He neither wanted to make a film that would be compared to the original, nor change what people thought of it. Also present was his fear of being pigeonholed as a horror film director. After Frankenstein Whale would go on to make another highly thought of horror The Invisible Man, but the work did not come flowing for the director, as many saw him as a peculiar man, mostly because Whale was openly homosexual. Eventually Whale would give into the idea of the sequel, producing a continuation of the original story, but not without changing the ending of the previous film just a little bit to aid the transition into The Bride of Frankenstein. Sadly Whale’s fears were in a way was realized as Universal would continue to present more horrors for him to make. Soon his career would decline, not completely because of pigeonholing, but partially because of his sexual orientation.

Reprising their roles from Frankenstein, were Boris Karloff (once again credited as simply “Karloff”) as the monster and Colin Clive as Frankenstein. Karloff returned to the role that made him famous, but was very against the monster speaking, thinking the creativity of him not speaking made for a more serious character and talking would just make him laughable. To speak Karloff had to keep his mouth plate (his teeth were not well kept) on which did not allow his cheeks to sink in as they did in the original film. It may not be a very noticeable fact, but the monsters face is less frightening with it being more filled in. Colin Clive was more of a challenge for the picture, as he had fallen into alcoholism in recent years, but Whale refused to recast this important role knowing how necessary Clive was to the continuity of the production. His hysterical Frankenstein at the time of bringing life to the Bride would be important to the picture.

One actress that would be recast was Mae Clarke in the role of Elizabeth, Henry’s love. Due to a car crash and ill health Clarke was replace by Valerie Hobson, an Irish born actress that had played a handful of role becoming a small actress in Universal’s stock of actors. The character plays a minor role in the overall scope of the film, being an anchor to Frankenstein’s wanting to live a normal life, but not much else. The change from Clarke to Hobson would go rather unnoticed as they are forgettable actresses, but characters that you known subconsciously from one film to the next be recognizable for who they are in the scope of the story.

The Monster (Karloff) and his Bride (Lanchester)
New to the franchise would be Ernest Thesiger as Henry’s old and mad mentor Pretorius. Thesiger was brought to Hollywood by Whale after a respect career on the British stage. His madness as Pretorius creates an uneasiness to the film and to Frankenstein being the catalyst that ultimately creates the Bride. In the dual role of the Bride and Mary Shelly for the prologue to the story is Elsa Lanchester. As a nod to the original Frankenstein the Bride was credited to “?” just as Karloff was in the previous film. An English born actress and wife to famed actor Charles Laughton, Lanchester too made the move to America with her husband after his success in such wonderful performances as The Private Life of Henry VIII. Her work on stage and small roles in British and American films would help land the actress the title role Bride of Frankenstein. She would create the hissing making its mark with the Bride’s demeanor, but gave her a sore throat after many takes. With that discomfort coupled with her extensive stay in the makeup and hairstyling chairs made for an unhappy experience for the actress. Despite the memorable role Lanchester would sparsely work in America in the immediate years to come, primarily staying in England.

Bride of Frankenstein was a critical and financial success for Universal. Despite some issue with censors, including issues such as the monster looking longingly at his yet to be animated Bride being seen in the eyes of some audiences as necrophilia, the number of murders by the monster needing to be cut back, usage of Christian imagery in such a film, and the homosexual undertones of the character Predorius to Frankenstein, the film was anticipated by many. Critics praised the film as a high quality horror picture, seeing horrors as lower pictures in a way, but still high praise. The film was even present at the Academy Awards that year, nominated for best sound recording. It would be considered a masterpiece in the library of James Whale. Box office numbers were the real barometer to how Universal saw the film, bring in over $2 million. It just goes to show that there was a possibility that a decent sequel could be made in the 1930s. The film overall seems to get swallowed up into the story of the previous film in the minds of audiences decades after its release, but that is proof that it was on par with the quality of Frankenstein in visual creativity, not to take away from the inspire original classic.

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