When friends and I got together yesterday for a night of ‘30s films, The Bride of Frankenstein was one of those that we watched, but I fell asleep for a while in the middle. I hate missing even a second of a movie, and so watched the whole film again today.
The opening scenes of The Bride of Frankenstein make it seem like a sequel that was quickly dashed off to capitalize on the success of the first film and the unexpected popularity of Boris Karloff in the role of the monster. Karloff’s name not only precedes those of all the other performers of the film, but also the title itself. “KARLOFF in The Bride of Frankenstein” proclaims the opening title. The opening scene has Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and his wife Mary talking about the tale of horror she has created. “It will be published, I think,” coos Mary. “But the publishers will not see that my purpose was to write a moral lesson, they punishment that befell a mortal moral man who dared to emulate God.” Lord Byron then briefly recaps the story, illustrated by clips from the first film. “I do think it a shame to end your story quite so suddenly,” says Shelley. “That wasn’t the end at all,” explains Mary, sitting down to explain that Dr. Frankenstein and his creation didn’t actually die in the fire, and we finally get to the present movie nearly 6 minutes into the running time.
Because of this not so clever framing device, it seems like this film was put into production directly after the release of the first. In truth, four full years passed between the two films, during which James Whale directed several other films, including The Invisible Man (1933). Evidentially the delay was caused by problems with the script. While the first film was based on a classic novel, the follow up was an original story that no fewer than 11 different writers were called in to work over.
Sequels are almost never a good idea, and the Universal horror film sequels were especially pale imitations of earlier films that were often based on literary classics. But in many ways, The Bride of Frankenstein is a richer film than its predecessor. There is a lot more of Karloff as the Monster, which Universal had figured out was the most popular aspect of the first film. Dr. Pretorius, the former mentor of Henry Frankenstein, who shows up uninvited one dark and stormy night and forces his former pupil to create the Bride, adds new dramatic tension. He is obsessed with creating unnatural forms of life but needs the help of Frankenstein, who only wants to get married and leave his monster making days behind him. There are dark comic moments courtesy of Pretorius, and broad comic moments from Una O’Connor, playing Frankenstein’s maid who screams, flails about, and faints whenever anything happens. Although she only appears for a scant few minutes, Elsa Lanchester will always be remembered for her turn as the Bride. The scene in which Frankenstein and Pretorius bring her to life is a masterpiece of Dutch angles, lighting, music and montage.