14 Things About The Bride of Frankenstein

  1. Anyone wondering where the monster became known as Frankenstein, look at the title. The thing LOOKS like something called a Frankenstein, doesn’t it? It’s not like he was made by Dr. Heine-Krautz or Dr. Millbilly. Now stop talking about it, it’s not that big a deal.002-bride-of-frankenstein-theredlist
  2. James Whale’s directorial style is different from the one he used for Frankenstein. The hard-edged style of the first was Gothic by way of German Expressionism, mostly, I think, due to the sets. Not that it was an exercise in stark realism, but the first movie used more straightforward camera angles and cleaner sets.  The cell in the tower, for example, is not nearly so claustrophobic as many of the sets in Bride.  The more cluttered set dressing of Bride evokes a more shadowy, crammed Gothic atmosphere which makes for the perfect setting for the campy humor (which would have just seemed weird in the first movie).  There’s a sense of the bizarre pouring freely, as if Whale felt fine risking people thinking he’s a weirdo for not being solemn about such gruesome material.  Even with the comic elements, it is true to the first in that its thrust is very much about the breaking of taboos and being its wacky self.  Were it a contemporary tale done in straightforward manner I imagine the villagers would have burned down the theater instead of the windmill.1935_bride_of_012
  3. After being a lunatic creator who almost immediately regrets doing the thing he’s been trying to do all his adult life, Henry Frankenstein is clearly the hero here, with none of the ambiguity that was present before. It’s as if the monster is a burden placed on him, making him the victim instead of the perpetrator; rarely is he blamed for the monster, and the villagers who would hate his guts and ruin his online media presence sure seem to like the guy who caused the death of Little Maria. Enter the prissy and thus not to be trusted Ernest Thessinger’s Dr. Pretorius and the Baron fully becomes our protagonist.  Baron Frank thus kind of assumes the hero position because someone has to do it; thus his past history (and since this movie begins, after the drawing room opening, minutes after the climax of the first) is forgotten, along with Baron Frankie’s fez-wearing old pappy.  Too bad, pops, but with Dr. P and the cigar-smoking dude (who reminds me of Gene Hackman for some reason) we already got two old dudes along this time.150805BrideofFrankenstein-e1438706915848
  4. The audience is with the monster this time around, much more so than in the first. We’re approaching King Kong levels of audience identification, and as with the big hairy guy there is a blend of compassion and fear. I think it’s a mistake to remove the ambiguity of the monster by basically laughing at his killing two innocent people in the first minutes and then leaning so hard on his ‘innocence,’ but it’s not a huge deal.  The mix of the evil done to others and his own point of view is tough to get right.  But too much of the ambiguity is gone from the first one.  Now he runs around, hands outstretched, smiling, looking for…what?  Like his creator, the monster doesn’t have a lot of foresight; like a kid he wants what he wants and he wants it now.  That’s all good and powerful stuff that is by and large lost in subsequent Frankenstein movies.  His actions and encounters are secondary to the main plot, which is Pretorius using the monster as a tool for getting the Baron’s secret recipe, and his amorality is skimmed over.729-180
  5. The observation about one’s response to the death of Little Nell applies to the scene where Frankenstein is put to bed by his cigar-smoking violin-playing buddy: If you don’t laugh when Gene Hackman’s grandpa is going on like a space-cadet while the monster’s crying and the Ave Maria is playing, you have no soul. If the first one had been this comic it would not have been such a landmark, I suspect, but here the viewer is on solid ground, knowing this is a horror movie, so the movie makers could start riffing and playing variations, especially comic ones. And then when he stumbles out calling “Friend!” were back feeling sorry for him.3976985u
  6. This movie’s full of wacky stuff. Why does one of the gypsies have a Southern accent? Maybe some members of the Joad family got really, really lost.  Pretorius boozing, smoking and laughing away down in a tomb around skeletons and corpses was one of the first truly perverse moments I’d ever seen in a movie.  Pretorius is the first person who, knowing who the monster is, meets him with a smile and a hello.  His lack of fear is startling, seeing how everyone else in the movie reacts, and it’s easy to see how lonely kids allow themselves to be drawn to strangers who mean them harm.  I think even as a boy I knew something was up with this guy, because only other villains aren’t afraid of villains.  The movie’s core idea of making a woman friend for the monster is bizarre–Pretorius could learn plenty from examining the living monster, why make a MATE for him when he is completely uncontrollable on his own?  Now you’re adding sex to the things getting him nuts?  While Mary Shelley’s book sets this up, the monster there is much closer to being just a man.  Here, he’s a clumsy boy, just like many fans of today:  Why would the monster want a girlfriend? What could this big galloot do with one when he wasn’t pulling a scaring-and-fleeing shift?  His experience with the fairer sex so far has been less than successful. 20140130_232001
  7. The scientist being responsible for the results of his work is addressed. It’s one of the most important ethical issues in science, yet it has fallen from favor in the post-moon landing world—can you imagine a scientist being brought to trial for creating something which harms humanity today, and getting off on a Need To Try and Fail defense?  Scientists were the ones who unleashed the nuclear terror on us, and were blamed for all the mutations that sprouted up in the movies because of the nuclear age.  Here, the monster’s existence and crimes are clearly Frankenstein’s fault, because the monster has no control over his actions, and is probably the only person who can ever claim “I didn’t ask to be born!” without being smacked across the behind by a cranky parent.  No, the monster didn’t ask to be born…and wasn’t “born” but reanimated after a severe case of broken neckism.  Thus, he is a machine made of flesh and blood, and like a pit bull owner the Baron is responsible for all hospital bills incurred by his property.  Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!  Yet, Frankenstein IS the hero and Mincing Gay Scientist Guy the villain because Pretorius KNOWS what the results of such experimentation will be.  Frankenstein was naïve; Pretorius can’t claim “But I didn’t know what would happen!” when things go wrong.  201305092amagictrick.2981b
  8. The science is borderline fantasy. Other than lightning, the special ingredient in the process is saline solution, used in abortions, but we aren’t interested in a textbook-ready explanation, the way some current fans demand from their genre entertainments.  We know it’s bunk and only need to be convinced that the scientists have it all figured out in the way we foolishly take the word of the guy remodeling the bathroom, who’s also full of it.  Accuracy isn’t the point here, but believability.  701cc4043a9f6a68d99cd22106bed6a0
  9. The movie builds to the creation of the female monster, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the thing we bought a ticket to see–and it does not disappoint.  This is obvious, since it is the standard for mad scientist creation scenes. Everything works here, from the final revelation to Dr. Henry of Pretorious’s murderous nature (when the assistant who looks like the dead Fritz cuz it’s the same actor), to Karloff’s acting, Franz Waxman’s score (which deserved an Oscar)  and the photography and sets.  The good-enough miniature work fits perfectly well in context; the operating table and “cosmic infuser” models are not lingered over.   Bride-of-Frankwo1_500
  10. There is one weird process shot in which the monster and Fritz are see-through phantoms, running around on the roof, but it works with the campy goings-on. Can’t these people at least wait till the monster does something threatening before they start up with the torches?  Fritz is killed because the monster simply wanders topside to see what’s going on, and Mr. Big Important Assistant has to flex his authori-tie, for which he gets tossed off a roof—good! elsa_lanchester__bride_of_frankenstein__colorized_by_micahcarey-d8ertdp
  11. Elsa Lanchester’s brief performance isn’t just adequate to the task: It’s so startling, odd and emotional it makes me want to see more of her. In the space of just a few minutes, she goes from being a shocked newborn adult, a clumsy infant trying to walk, an adolescent having her first crush on an older dude, to bitter post-divorce single gal repulsed by the touch of a man who doesn’t have abs and cash.  For some reason I bet Pretorius was the one who took time during the operation to do her hair, unless Fritz is the movie’s secret hero.  The visible stitches and her screams of fear, and that hairball-hack Lanchester based on geese screeching make more of an impression than most actors in films do in long careers. By the way, notice that where the male monster had a brain problem, stereotypically the docs have trouble with the woman’s heart.  “Man Thinks, Woman Feels.” [It’s even there with that ninny Elizabeth, going on about imaginary dark figures and how Henry should just put all that mess behind him and let the villagers sort it out.  What a wet blanket.]a8f401fe63ce770e19891c4a077ada4d
  12. The monster wants his creator to escape, while his friend Pretorius dies, just because they’re a couple? Men!  The quick cut to a tear on Frankie’s face as he pulls the convenient self-destruct lever seems like an offhand method of reminding the audience that even though he’s about to destroy a lot of property and kill himself, Pretorius and the Bride, he’s still just a crazy, misunderstood kid.  “The LEEver!”  “You’ll blow us all to atoms!”  Good idea, the monster seems to think.4c5c3acf4304c41fbde302783c105f35
  13. Those of us who were born years after this flick came out know this was not the end of the monster. The Frankenstein resurrections are an example of one reason why SF gets little respect—it doesn’t deal with tough life issues fairly, but offers childish Get Out Of Feels Jail Free cars.  When characters in non-escapist works get killed they stay killed, and dealing with that is part of the reason the stories were created.  Imagine Tale of Two Cities 2: The Return, and the ending of TOTC loses some impact.  SF puts characters in inescapable situations, has them buy the farm, and then says, “Oh, it’s just playin’, he’s not REALLY dead!”  If you can’t even bear to kill off a fictional character, you are in no position to lecture about the ramifications of such important issues as life and death and science, as so many SF movies do.  Which is why they get given cab fare and a coupon for an Egg McMuffin in the morning.People Watching TV (11)
  14. I fear kids are too sophisticated to watch these movies now; so many of these ‘scary’ classics slip between the cracks of “That’s too scary for my Caleb!” and “That’s silly old junk in black and white, let’s watch my dad’s R-rated DVDs.” That’s too bad.