Title: Bride of Frankenstein Release Date: April 20, 1935 Director: James Whale Production Company: Universal Pictures Summary/Review:
This sequel is widely-regarded as better than the original, and I agree with the assessment. Some of the iconic moments of Hollywood Frankenstein lore originate in this movie rather than its predecessor. This includes the absolutely brilliant sequence where the monster (Boris Karloff) befriends a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) which is full of humanity. Of course, we also get to see the monster’s “bride” (Elsa Lanchester) with the famous streaked hair, but not until the very end of the film.
The movie does have some surprises though. It begins with a delightfully campy prologue in which Mary Shelley (Lanchester, again) tells her husband and Lord Byron that there is more to the story. I’m also pleased that Shelley gets credited under her own name this time. With Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) having regained his sensibilities, a new and madder scientist appears in the form of his mentor Doctor Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger). In one of the weirdest and most unsettling moments of the movie, Pretorius shows off that he has created living humans, albeit tiny ones that live in jars. The movie also prominently features Una O’Connor as Minnie, because the one thing the Frankenstein franchise was lacking was a comical Irish maid.
The Bride of Frankenstein is a bit uneven, but better paced and more surprising than its predecessor. The pair of movies still make for an enjoyable evening of scary entertainment.
Title: Frankenstein Release Date: November 21, 1931 Director: James Whale Production Company: Universal Pictures Summary/Review:
I’d never watched Frankenstein before, but it’s so full of iconic moments that it feels like I have. Think of the scenes and ideas that have permeated culture for the past 90 years:
a hunchback assistant (named Fritz, not Igor)
brains in jars, one brilliant, one criminal (and all the pop psychology that goes along with that)
a stormy night, a laboratory in a creepy castle, and a pulley system to raise a gurney
the monster and a little girl (Marilyn Harris) throwing flowers in a lake
an angry mob bearing torches and pitchforks (this may be the first time I’ve seen this done non-ironically). I did wonder if the mill owner was upset that the mob just burned his mill down
The odd part is the non-iconic scenes that link this all together. Despite the prologue where the audience is given a trigger warning for the horror to come, the movie today is a bit slow and the acting is melodramatic and wooden (especially Mae Clarke as Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancée Elizabeth). Colin Clive is suitably manic as Dr. Henry Frankenstein. But the acting star of the film is Boris Karloff as the creature. He brings real emotion and nuance to his grunts and movements, especially in the scene when he is exposed to the sun for the first time and the scene with the girl by the lake.
One summer when I was a teenager I read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (who is rather offensively credited as “Mrs. Percy Bysshe Shelley” in this movie). I stayed up late to finish the book and then had to wait in the dark alone until sunrise because I was too spooked to go to sleep. The movie didn’t have that affect on me, but I can appreciate it for the incredible influence it’s had on film and the great acting of Karloff.