Bride of Frankenstein

Year: 1935

Production: Universal

Director: James Whale

Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester, Ernest Thesiger, Valerie Hobson, Dwight Frye

Screenwriter: John Balderston, William Hurlbut

80 minutes; B/W


This sequel to the 1931 Frankenstein, also directed by Whale, is the greatest of the many Frankenstein movies and one of the greatest sf movies. Some watchers feel that the horror and pathos of the story are a little overwhelmed by Whale's morbid sense of comedy, seen here particularly in the bizarre figure of the gin-drinking, vain Dr Praetorious, creator of homunculi, who blackmails Frankenstein into constructing an artificial bride for the Monster. We learn immediately from the prologue - in which Mary Shelley ("frightened of thunder, fearful of the dark"), played by Lanchester, talks to Percy Shelly and Byron - that the Monster was not killed at the end of the previous film after all; later we see the Monster floundering through the forest, captured by villagers, breaking free, and befriended by a blind hermit where, in a scene of justly celebrated pathos, he is taught to smoke a cigarette. But nothing prepares one for the extraordinary, protracted finale, the most stylized scene in a stylized film, choreographed to perfection. Here the Bride (Lanchester again, thus making a clear and interesting identification of Mary Shelly with her sad, monstrous creation) comes to life - as electrical equipment splutters and sparks - lurches not ungracefully across the room, a white streak in her wild coiffure, screams at her first sight of the Monster, shrinks from him, and finally with a hiss like a maddened cat pulls the lever that will destroy herself and all the rest. It is an unforgettable tableu.

Whale was too theatrical for tragedy and perhaps too skeptical for true horror, with as much of Oscar Wilde as Shakespeare in his sensibility. But nevertheless his conservatism, his sophisticated, deeply un-American sense of irony, and his bold sense of symbolism make this one of the strongest cinematic statements ever made about, paradoxically, both the potency and the impotence of science.

A rather different story, although with deliberate paralles, is told in the much later The Bride (1985), directed by Franc Roddam. Here the Bride is initially repelled by the Monster, who flees in dismay to wander afar in the company of a dwarf. Frankenstein becomes obsessed with the Bride to the point of attempted rape; she is saved by the returned Monster, whose love she now reciprocates. In one of the deliberately humorous scenes the fleeing Monster encounters a blind man, who fondly touches his face and then triumphantly yells "I've found him!" to the pursuing mob.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

The sequel to Whale's Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein is even more impishly perverse than the earlier film. Where before Whale had used irony as a distancing effect and means of keeping at bay the gothic excesses of Mary Shelley's novel, excesses that Terence Fisher would excite in his Frankenstein films for Hammer commencing with The Curse of Frankenstein [1957]) in Bride of Frankenstein he indulges in a peculiar mix of inorbidity and devastating black humor. Thus, for instance, the gown that Lanchester, in the title role, wears resembles both a burial shroud and a wedding dress, and the character of Thesiger's Dr Pretorious whose miniature homunculi include an amorous Henry VIII lookalike seem to come from a different film to the scene where Thesiger tells the monsier confidentially, "Gin is my only weakness", a line the actor also spoke in Whale's The Old Dark House (1932), and then offers Karloff a drop.

The movie has been widely praised as both Whale's best and the best of the 30s monster films. Certainly it is more stylishly mounted than the somewhat awkwardly constructed Frankenstein and the further sequels bear no comparison to it. However the cost of Whale's morbid playfulness is a further decrease in the primitive vigor of the material at his disposal. In short, what Bride represents is what can only be seen as the decisive step in the creation of the monster genre, as such, it marked a rctreat from the ferocious, analytic quality of films like Karl Freund's Mad Love (1935) which represented a tradition that only re-surfaced in Roger Corman's cycle of films derived from the works of Edgar Allan Poe in the 60s.

On its own terms, however, the film was an undoubted success. Far more fluently organized than Frankenstein, the film follows the tribulations of Karloff's monster (who didn't die in the fire that ended Frankenstein, Mary Shelley - Lanchester again in another morbid touch - tells us in the film's prologue) until he meets Thesiger who promises to make him a mate. This Thesiger does with the reluctant help of Clive's Frankenstein, only for Lanchester to reject him, whereupon Karloff in his rage once more brings about a conflagration in which Lancaster, Thesiger and he die.

A further scquel, Son of Frankenstein, followed in 1939.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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