BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN— this revered, legendary horror classic made over $2,000,000 in 1935. It was the height of the Depression, but at least poor suckers could duck into a theater, as tickets cost two bits, twenty-five cents. Around eight million folks, roughly one out of every sixteen Americans, lined up that spring for Boris Karloff’s return to the tender mercies of science as practiced in the loonytoon Bavaria conjured from director James Whale’s amuck imagination.
Whale decided to go all-out in this sequel to the 1931 hit, stuffing the 75 minutes with wild camera angles and closeups, dreamlike sets, music score bombast, dippy comic relief, charming trick effects, an accelerated victim count, splashes of sentiment and gallons of c-a-m-p.
Count the tongue rolls in the dialog enunciation. Consider the likelihood of the monster knocking over a huge Gothic headstone in a graveyard, revealing steps to an underground lair where syllable-mincing ‘Dr. Septimus Pretorius’ (Ernest Thesiger) happens to be eating chicken and drinking wine. While we’re at it, it was considerate of those villagers to plant a grim reaper monument in their loved one’s resting place, but then these lederhose-wearing, pitchfork-bearing peasants can turn from jolly to vengeful on a dime (mark? pfennig?), such are the strong emotions raised by interrupting pastoral sheep-tending and stein-hoisting with the occasional brutal murder spree—someone who uses big words must have moved back into the castle…
“Get out the bloodhounds! Raise all the men you can. Lock the women indoors.”
Colin Clive returns as ‘Henry Frankenstein’, none the worse from his earlier windmill plummet. As Mae Clarke was ill, Valerie Hobson is the distraught fiancée this time–will this dedicated scientist ever tie the knot (she was 17, Clive 35, censors too busy looking at Elsa Lanchester’s cleavage to add it up). Dwight Frye returns as another scuzzy assistant (once ‘Fritz’, now ‘Karl’, still deranged).
Karloff’s monster has his strength quotient upped (knock down massive doors, rip chains out of stone floors, roll a boulder, bash irritating heads), yet he is given rudimentary speech this time round and is allowed classic, movingly done scenes of merciful kindness and brief happiness, thanks to the blind hermit (O.P. Heggie).
“Alone: bad. Friend: good!”
Thesiger?–well, who’s kidding whom: long live the Queen. He’s a riot. “You think I’m mad. Perhaps I am. But listen, Henry Frankenstein. While you were digging in your graves, piecing together dead tissues, I, my dear pupil, went for my material to the source of life. I grew my creatures, like cultures, grew them as nature does, from seed.”
Una O’Connor, as the eardrum-piercing shrieker who provides most of the less-subtle humor, wears out her welcome pretty quickly. If there was ever a character you wanted to see strangled….
Elsa Lanchester claims eternal fame as the Bride. First she starts off the film in a stagy scene where she plays Mary Shelley, setting up the continuation of her story, then she shows up at the tail end as the team-dream project of the title. Her makeup, bizarre shock of hair, storkish movements (wobbling on 30-inch stilts), sudden head jerks and hissing sounds are unforgettable, true Movie History Moments. The lightning-flash, beehive hairdo was a riff on ancient Egypt’s Nefertiti and the robotic lady from Metropolis. A coif not just historically referential but presciently trend-setting: ride a bus lately? She employed the hissing noises off her observations of swans: “They’re really very nasty creatures.”
Franz Waxman’s score (his first in America after fleeing the Nazis) began three decades of gifted soundtracks, including The Philadelphia Story, Objective Burma, Sunset Boulevard, Peyton Place and Taras Bulba.
Oscar nominated for Sound, it also gave acting jobs to E.E. Clive, John Carradine (busy drawing notice in one of 10 appearances in 1935) and Walter Brennan (also about to break out, in one of twenty-three bit parts that same year).
Production costs came to $397,000. Done today, it would cost—what? And how much fun would it be? Remake rumors abound. There was a lamentable go in 1985, The Bride, featuring Sting and Jennifer Beals. It tanked with reviewers and the public. Mel Brooks did a brilliant homage in 1974s Young Frankenstein, his best film. The excellent Gods And Monsters, from 1998, details the travails of director James Whale and has scenes devoted to the filming of Bride Of Frankenstein.