Saturday, October 29, 2022

Stubs - Bride of Frankenstein

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Starring: Boris Karloff (Karloff), Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Elsa Lanchester. Directed by James Whale. Screenplay by William Hurlbut. Suggested by the novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (London, 1818). Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr. Run time: 80 minutes. Black and White. USA. Horror

Following the success of Frankenstein (1931), Universal wanted to make a sequel. However, director James Whale wasn’t keen to return to the director’s chair. In 1933, Carl Laemmle, Jr. assigned Kurt Neumann to the task, with Boris Karloff as the monster and Bela Lugosi as the scientist. But this project got dropped. However, Whale changed his mind and the project was back on.

Originally called The Return of Frankenstein, the film is based, or suggested, on part of Mary Shelley’s book that was not included in the first film. In the book, Frankenstein promises to make a bride for his creation, but stops at the last moment, fearful of what he was about to create. This would be an issue in this film but there would be extenuating circumstances that he would have to overcome.

The film also adds a new character, Dr. Pretorius. Played by Ernest Thesiger in the film, the role might have gone instead to Claude Rains, who had starred in The Invisible Man (1933). He was, instead, reassigned to another film, Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935).

To play "The Monster's Mate.", Universal considered actresses Brigitte Helm, the star of Fritz Lang’s 1926 classic German film Metropolis, and Phyllis Brooks, a New York model. Some parts would be recast, most notably the role of Elizabeth. Mae Clarke, who played her in Frankenstein, became ill and wasn’t able to play the part. The role, instead, went to 17-year-old Valerie Hobson.

Budgeted at $293,750, production began on January 2, 1935. Karloff broke his hip on the first day of production, necessitating the use of a stunt double. Colin Clive had also broken his leg. The film was 10 days over schedule when production ended on March 7, but the delay was due to Whale shutting down production for 10 days waiting for actor O.P. Heggie to be available for his scenes. The final budget was $397,023. The film was released on April 22, 1935, and made $2 million during its first run.

Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton), Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), and Lord Byron
(Gavin Gordon) from the prologue that opens the film.

The film opens with Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon), Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton), and Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) sitting around on a dark and stormy night in their retreat. Mary has already written Frankenstein and Lord Byron talks about how scary the novel had been, but they talk as if she had not written the entire story. And Mary starts to tell him and us the rest.

There are some scenes from the first film telling the highlights of the story, in case you hadn’t seen Frankenstein. The catch-up ends with the fire at the windmill. Henry is hauled off to the family estate, where he is placed on a table and presumed dead.

After the mill burned to the ground and many people died, the Burgomaster (E. E. Clive) assumes that the Monster has died in the fire and sends everyone home to bed. However, the creature has not died. When one of the villagers who lost his daughter to the monster falls into the flooded cellar of the windmill, he is immediately killed by the creature, who has managed to survive the fire.

His wife, thinking he’s her husband climbing out of the hole, gives the Monster a helping hand and is then killed for her kindness. Minnie (Una O’Connor), who has also stayed behind, manages to run away and tries to warn the others in the village.

Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) and Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive).

Meanwhile, Frankenstein’s body is returned to the family castle, and even though everyone thinks he’s dead, he revives. Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) implores him to, when he’s well, get married to her and then move away. He agrees.

Elizabeth and Henry plan to get away, that is before Dr. Pretorius comes for a visit.

Several days later, Henry is visited by Dr. Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), an old college professor and a mentor. He refers to him as the Baron now, which means Frankenstein’s father is dead. Pretorius has heard about Frankenstein’s creature and he thinks they should work together.

Dr. Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) and his creations.

At first, Frankenstein is resistant to him, but Pretorius convinces him to follow him back to his lab, where he shows Henry how he has grown miniature people from seeds that he keeps in jars; a queen (Joan Woodbury), a king (A.S. 'Pop' Byron), an archbishop (Norman Ainsley), a ballerina (Marie DeForrest), and a mermaid (Josephine McKim).

The mad scientist then insists that the two combine forces to create a mate for Henry's creature, thus fulfilling Pretorius's dream of developing a race of man-made beings.

Meanwhile, the Monster is wandering through the woods. He manages to scare a shepherdess (Anne Darling) and then rescues her when she falls into a pond at the base of a waterfall. When he manages to revive her, she screams again. This brings two hunters, one of whom manages to wound the Monster.

The Monster (Karloff) is caught and chained down but he does escape.

He tries to escape but the villagers hunt him down in the woods. Captured by the townspeople, he is taken to a dungeon and chained down in a chair.

While the Burgomaster is trying to calm everyone down now that the Monster has been captured, he breaks his chains and escapes. He also kills a young girl.

Wandering at night, he finds gypsies (Maurice Black, Elspeth Dudgeon, Helen Jerome Eddy) around a campfire and terrorizes them, even stealing their food off the spit. But when he burns his hand in the flames, he becomes terrified and runs away.

A blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) welcomes the Monster into his home.

The sound of a violin playing draws him to a small cabin in the forest. The violinist is a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) who doesn’t know it is the Monster he is inviting into his home. He feeds the Monster and lets him sleep. He hopes that the Monster is the friend that he has prayed for.

Later, the hermit teaches the Monster how to speak and even gets the Monster to smoke. It appears the creature has calmed down and is being civilized. That is until two more hunters (John Carradine is one of them) lost in the woods happen on the cabin. Despite the hermit’s pleas, the two hunters try to kill the Monster. They also manage to help set the hermit's cabin on fire.

Chased again by villagers, the Monster escapes into a nearby cemetery. Entering a crypt, the Monster is there when Dr. Pretorius and his two murderous assistants, Karl (Dwight Frye) and Ludwig (Ted Billings), come looking for a specimen for the Monster's mate.

Off-screen, they debone the corpse of a seventeen-year-old villager. After Karl and Ludwig are dismissed, Pretorius befriends the creature and the Monster is encouraged by the idea of having a female companion.

Pretorius uses the Monster to abduct Elizabeth, causing Henry to capitulate.

By this time, Henry and Elizabeth have been married and are preparing to leave. But Pretorius has other plans and commands the Monster to abduct Elizabeth. He takes her to a cave high in the mountains. Pretorius uses her capture to force Henry into cooperating with him to make a mate for the Monster.

Pretorius and Frankenstein are having trouble with the heart they have.

Pretorius has already created an artificial brain, which thrives, but Henry has little luck in reviving the female corpse's heart that they have.

Needing a fresh heart, Pretorius sends Karl out to get one. He ends up killing a young girl who happens to cross his path. Henry is misinformed that the heart was from an accident victim.

Some of the equipment they use to bring the Bride to life.

With their newly acquired organ, Pretorius and Henry create a new creation, and using electricity from a passing lightning storm, the Mate (? [Elsa Lanchester]) comes alive.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth has escaped her capture and makes her way to the lab and urges Henry to leave with her.

The Bride (Elsa Lanchester) is terrified of the Monster.

Although the experiment is successful, the Mate is terrified of her intended. The Monster realizes that he has no place in this life, and after letting Henry and Elizabeth leave, pulls a lever that causes the tower to explode. The Monster, Pretorius, and the Mate are killed, freeing Henry and Elizabeth to pursue a normal life together.

The original version of the film was reportedly 90 minutes long. Sources indicate that several scenes were cut before it premiered, including a prologue, and various other scenes including a coroner's investigation, a speech by Pretorius, and several murders perpetrated by the Monster were among the scenes deleted. The original version also had Henry Frankenstein dying when the laboratory burned and he can actually be seen in sequence. The ending was changed but expenses were too high to justify reshooting the scene.

There are continuity issues between Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. As you may recall, at the end of Frankenstein, the monster (Boris Karloff) tosses Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) off of an old, abandoned windmill. Henry hits one of its blades, which breaks his fall, then hits the ground where the villagers gather him up to carry him home. The movie ends with his father, Baron Frankenstein (Frederick Kerr), leaving his son’s bedroom where you can see a very much alive Henry Frankenstein in the background.

In their review, Variety points out “Perhaps a bit too much time is taken up by the monster and too little by the woman created to be his bride.” As it is, the bride doesn’t appear until there are only about four minutes left in the movie.

Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein.

And, the actress, Elsa Lanchester, has very little to do with this part or as Mary Shelley in the Prologue. Interestingly, despite her short time on the screen, her role as the Monster’s Bride is one of her best-known roles. The English-born actress started out as a singer. Her appearances in cabaret and nightclubs led to more serious roles on stage. It was in one of these plays, Arnold Bennett’s Mr. Prohack (1927), that Lanchester first met another member of the cast, Charles Laughton. They were married two years later and acted together in many plays and later films.

She would appear in such films as The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), in which Laughton starred, before coming to America to appear in such films as David Copperfield (1935) and Naughty Marietta (1935) prior to her “title” role in Bride.

Other roles included Rembrandt (1936), Tales of Manhattan (1942), The Spiral Staircase (1946) and The Razor's Edge (1946), The Bishop's Wife (1947), and The Big Clock (1948). She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Come to the Stable (1949) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957), the last of twelve films in which she appeared with Laughton. After Laughton’s death in 1962, she would appear in such films as Mary Poppins (1964), That Darn Cat! (1965), Blackbeard's Ghost (1968), the horror film Willard (1971), and Murder by Death (1976).

A standout in the cast was Ernest Thesiger, a British stage and film actor. He began working with James Whale while both were still in England on the film The Merry Wives of Windsor (1919). He also cast him in one of his American films, The Old Dark House (1932). When Whale agreed to direct Bride of Frankenstein in 1935, he insisted on casting Thesiger as Dr. Septimus Pretorius.

Thesinger’s Pretorius is scary and insane, which is good for a movie like this. You get the idea that he would do anything to get what he wanted. If you’re looking for a model mad scientist, you can’t go wrong with Pretorius.

Other actors did not fare as well in their portrayals. As Lord Byron, Gavin Gordon certainly chews the scenery of the massive set their scene is shot on. Also, over the top, but in a different way is Una O’Connor. She hams it up a bit too much when she’s acting scared. It is almost like she’s trying to play it for laughs.

Valerie Hobson may have only been 17 when she made the film but she has a presence of an older woman. Like Lanchester, there isn’t a lot for Hobson to do, but she does her best in support of her husband, Henry Frankenstein. She would go on later that year to work on the first werewolf film made in Hollywood, Werewolves of London. She would go on to get better material in David Lean’s Great Expectations (1946), and later in the black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949).

Karloff, is well, Karloff, playing his signature character. There has never been a better Frankenstein Monster than him, at least for me. An actor with greater range, he would come back to the character again in Son of Frankenstein (1939).

The idea of a Mate for the Monster was in the original novel but there was no Dr. Pretorius and the Monster had already killed Elizabeth. In the book, Dr. Frankenstein makes a Bride but stops himself from bringing her to life for fear of what such a couple could wrought on the world and humankind.

In the end, the film is sort of uneven. It is worth watching and is iconic in its way but the overall effect is not as good as the original film. Perhaps Whale had been right about not wanting to do a sequel. But if you are watching it to be scared you probably won’t be. Sad to say but horror films from that era have lost some of their bite. Compared to their modern counterparts, films like Bride of Frankenstein come off as more atmospheric than truly scary.

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