Bride of Frankenstein is a horror film directed by James Whale, which serves as a direct sequel to his 1931 film, Frankenstein. The screenplay was adapted and written by William Hurlbut. It was released in the United States on April 19th, 1935.
The film begins on a dark, stormy night, reminiscent of both the night in Lake Geneva in 1816 where Mary Shelley began writing her first version of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) and of the classic scene in Frankenstein where Henry Frankenstein successfully gave life to his creature. This opening scene does not involve any of the characters from the prequel, but instead, in a moment of meta-authorial control, depicts author Mary Shelley discussing her work alongside her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and close family friend, Lord Byron. The movie switches from this frame narrative to pick up immediately where the 1931 film dropped off. Bride continues the story of the principal characters in Frankenstein, and centers on Henry Frankenstein and his mentor Doctor Pretorius, and their attempts, abandonment, and eventual success in the creation of a female companion for his creature.
From the very opening scene of the film, the theme of religion, and in particular, the moral lessons that the film imparts, are presented as paramount. The film inappropriately attributes these warnings as coming from author Mary Shelley herself, and disregards the true lesson that is pervading: of what happens when a man becomes too focused on his own desires and legacy that he neglects everything around him, including the creature that he has worked so long to create. It is also ironic to note that in the frame opening of Bride, Mary is discussing the importance of religion with her husband Percy Shelley, a staunch Atheist who was expelled from Oxford University due to his creation and circulation of an atheistic pamphlet.
This theme reappears in Henry's rehabilitation scene in his bedroom, where he admits that in his creating of life, he was not simply playing God, but discovering "the secret that God is so jealous of - the formula for life." This confession is meant to tie back in with Mary Shelley's purported intentions, but instead lead into the probable true intention noted before. Henry believes that with more time he may have been able to train the creature, but with more time, patience, and guidance, it is likely that the creature would not have become such a murderous "monster", had he a paternal influence to turn to. It can be seen in the lesson with the hermit that the creature is not necessarily violent or dangerous, as he enjoys meals and music with great calm, and even learns rudimentary speech at an astounding rate.
Bride of Frankenstein differs most notably from its predecessor in 1931 due to its inclusion of humor - bordering on camp - with the characters of Minnie and Doctor Pretorius.
Minnie, the oddly aware servant to Henry Frankenstein, is the obvious comic relief that stands juxtaposed against the horror meted out by the creature. Her high-pitched voice, cackling laugh, and peculiar dress accost the audience in the scene right after the creature has supposedly perished. She cheers on, urging the villagers to stay, and begins to argue with the Burgomaster when he attempts to send everyone home. Most of her lines act almost as asides to the audience, with lines like, "[He] thinks he's everybody, just because he's the burgomaster! Ha!" or moments of preternatural foreshadowing, where she tells Hans' wife to cross herself before the monster gets her (which he does moments later), "we're not all dead yet!", or, "mind me he don't get loose again. He might do some damage and hurt somebody!" When the creature emerges from underneath the mill, growling and murderous, Minnie stands by, shocked and unable to move until after she emits an absurd wail and scream, and runs away, with arms flailing affectedly. Minnie's scenes in the film are characteristically campy and artificial, but acted to perfection in a way that softens some of the heavier or more gruesome instances in the film.
Doctor Pretorius is introduced in a serious, dark tone - wearing all black with a long, dark cape, knocking on Henry's door during a storm in the dead of night, but he, too, quickly becomes the other comic - albeit more subdued - character in the film. The first person he meets at Henry's home is the servant Minnie, who effectively removes his foreboding appearance by her inability to pronounce his strange name. In scenes that seem to be of the utmost gravity, Pretorius looks as if he is hardly able to contain a smile. While Pretorius is attempting to recruit Henry to assemble a female out of the parts of corpses, he uses his homunculi to demonstrate his advancements in the science. However, these tiny creatures are comical - lusty kings and queens, a lazy archbishop, and a sophisticated devil that Pretorius remarks has "a certain resemblance to me, don't you think?" He also plays around with one-liners, stating twice that "[insert particular vice] is my only weakness".
Bride of Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Prod. Carl Laemmle. By William J. Hurlbut. Perf. Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, and Colin Clive. Universal Pictures Corp., 1935. Netflix.
Suggested Further Viewing
Gods and Monsters. Dir. Bill Condon. By Christopher Bram. Adapt. Bill Condon. Perf. Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave. New Yorker Films, 1998. DVD
Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Perf. Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clarke. Universal, 1931. DVD.
Contributed by Kelsey Berkel