‘Bride Of Frankenstein’ – Hollywood’s First Great Sequel
Before The Empire struck back, before The Godfather made another offer we couldn't refuse, before Arnold was back to Terminate some more there was 'Bride Of Frankenstein'.
In 1931 Universal Pictures brought the story of 'Frankenstein' to the big screen and scared up huge numbers at the box office. In those days, however, the idea of a second movie on the same story was not the first thing on Hollywood's mind. But that would change in 1935 when director James Whale and Boris Karloff returned for a movie that many critics and fans say is even better than the original. Count me among that group. It stands as Whale's masterpiece and a must-watch for all fans of the horror genre.
While the original movie was based on Shelley's novel from 1818 this one picks up where that story left off. Dr. Frankenstein and his monster both turn out to be alive, not killed as previously believed. Dr. Frankenstein wants to get out of the evil experiment business, but when a mad scientist, Dr. Pretorius, kidnaps his wife, Dr. Frankenstein agrees to help him create a new creature, a woman, to be the companion of the monster. Well of course that's what happens. Don't you know that behind every great man monster is a great woman monster?
That's where Elsa Lanchester comes in. Lanchester is absolutely chilling in the role of the Frankenstein monster's potential mate. Those quick head movements, that cold stare. What a woman! Karloff is just as brilliant as The Monster in the sequel as he was in the original but when you add Lanchester as The Monster's Mate you're witnessing horror movie magic. Check out this classic scene where The Monster meets his mate:
One of the reasons why that scene is so powerful is composer Franz Waxman who adds something the original film didn't - music. The original had an opening theme song but that was pretty much it. By the mid-30s movie scores became more common and Waxman brings this monster movie to life with some serious lightning-powered musical pieces.
Along with the incredible music is the cinematography. This movie is a gothic fan's dream. The dark skies, the gloomily-lit graveyard scenes. Amazing. That's the work of cinematographer John J. Mescall who referred to his style of lighting as "Rembrandt lighting" as in the great visual artist Rembrandt. Mescall's idea was to provide illumination to the actors and put them up against a dark background. The results are visually astounding. It's really only something that can be pulled off during the classic black and white era.
The only part of this movie that is up for debate would be the character of Minnie played by Una O'Connor. She's the one who adds a bunch of one-liners and funny facial expressions intended to make the audience laugh their way through a horrifying film. I can live with her role but I could also certainly do without it. My guess is her character was put in there to sweeten up the movie a little as to not emotionally scar movie-goers too much. Whatever the case may be she has caused much debate over the years with classic horror movie fans.
That aside 1935s 'The Bride of Frankenstein' is a movie that's too good not to see and if you're a fan of horror films of all eras you really should own this one. I finally bought this and the 1931 original last year and I'm glad I did. They just don't make movies like this anymore.