The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is early proof that Hollywood would rather not put a lot of effort into coming up with original content. Instead, if a title has any kind of recognizability, they will continue to make sequels of it. Actually, it is not solely the movie industry that is at fault. Let us call it human nature that spurs us to opt for the familiar rather than trying something new. I say this only to underscore the pale imitation of Frankenstein (1931) that is The Bride of Frankenstein. That is not to say it is a bad movie. This Catholic reviewer felt a certain degree of spiritual gratification in watching the film. This is also not the hipster in me feeding you the tired cliché that the original is always better. Put simply, the second is not as good.
The first sign that things are not quite up to snuff in The Bride of Frankenstein comes in the opening scene. You see, the first movie is set in the late nineteenth century. It is what introduces all the tropes we associate with the classic monster. The problem is that it does not match with the source material. I have not done any research on this, but it seems like someone in the early 1930s pointed out that Universal’s hit did not match the timeline of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s (Elsa Lanchester) novel. Hence, we start with her (on a dark and stormy night, of course), her husband, and Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) discussing the success of the book she had written . . . in the late eighteenth century. Okay, says I to myself, they are going to do things differently for the sequel. Nope! What unfolds in relating what next happens to the Monster (Boris Karloff) is apparently Shelley projecting over a century into the future. People always tell me I need to “suspend my disbelief,” and I guess that applies here. At any rate, the Monster, whom everyone assumed died in the mill fire at the end of the last movie, has survived. While his creator, Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), is carried away insensate, one of his maids, Minnie (Una O’Connor), narrowly escapes the Monster when he emerges from the mill’s rubble. Her hysterics go unheeded back in town as everyone is fawning over the unconscious form of Dr. Frankenstein, including his fiancée, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson). The Monster, left unchecked, goes on the same murderous rampage as before, and it is not long until the townspeople realize they have a problem. Their answer is to organize another search party, this time succeeding in overwhelming the Monster, binding him to a large timber, and carrying him off to prison. No chains can hold the Monster, though, and he breaks free to recommence his rampage. In the midst of this, while attempting to recuperate, Dr. Frankenstein is visited by a former colleague from the university, Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger). He claims that he is interested in continuing the work that had led to the creation of the Monster, and he wants Dr. Frankenstein’s help in completing it. Given all the trouble it has caused, Dr. Frankenstein wants no part of it. He is leveraged into at least seeing what Dr. Pretorius has done by being reminded of his responsibility for the deaths caused by the Monster. In traveling to Dr. Pretorius’ laboratory, Dr. Frankenstein finds that his former colleague has managed to create life not by reanimated dead tissue, but by growing it. Regardless, Dr. Frankenstein still avers, and we shift back to watching the Monster fumble through life. He gets a boost in this regard when he happens upon a blind hermit (O. P. Heggie). The kind old man takes the Monster for a simple mute who is wounded and in need of care. They appear to spend some time together, during which the Monster learns the rudiments of speech and the ability to somewhat distinguish between right and wrong. Their idyllic little nest is interrupted by two guys lost in the woods seeking directions, and who recognize the Monster. The travelers take the hermit away and the Monster escapes. What this interlude has done for him is to make him desire a friend, this time a female companion. While searching among the fresh corpses in the graveyard, he happens upon Dr. Pretorius seeking the same prize. The scientist behaves unconcerned towards the Monster, aided by the Monster’s halting speech. Instead, they form a partnership over brandy and cigars for which the Monster developed a taste while staying with the hermit. All Dr. Pretorius needs now is Dr. Frankenstein’s cooperation, and the Monster is willing to provide the muscle to get it. This involves the Monster kidnapping Elizabeth and holding her hostage while the scientists conduct their experiments. After obtaining the necessary, er, parts, the switch is thrown and the Bride (Elsa Lanchester) is “ALIVE!” Unfortunately, her strange new existence does not go as Dr. Pretorius hopes. When she sees the Monster, she shrieks. Believing she hates him like all the rest, the Monster turns on the scientists. This is when Elizabeth arrives, having freed herself from her captors. With the Monster’s hand on a lever that will blow the laboratory to smithereens, he allows Dr. Frankenstein to escape with Elizabeth and takes the rest out with him in an explosion that levels the tower. A horrified but relieved Dr. Frankenstein and Elizabeth survey the damage, safe.
Having the Monster in The Bride of Frankenstein drinking and smoking, not to mention talking, takes away from the menace that he was in the previous film. How scary can one be if the so-called “monster” is doing all the kinds of things that you and I may (or may not) do. These activities are shown because the Monster is not the villain. That is Dr. Pretorius. Bear in mind that this is meant to be a horror film, yet the scariest character is doing things that make him look ridiculous. In these kinds of movies, the creature is supposed to be the villain. Dr. Pretorius in this role comes off as a common lunatic. Or, perhaps not that common? The film may not come off as a horror flick, but the scientists’ philosophical ramblings are revealing for this Catholic reviewer. At the heart of this is the notion of whether man should be playing god by creating life. It was a theme in Frankenstein, which works better there because the Monster is clearly meant to be the awful price mankind might pay for meddling in such things. Instead, the true hero is the hermit. He is a great example of Christian conduct. Not only does he take in the Monster, but he feeds and tends to the wounds. An argument could be made that had he had use of his eyes, he would not have taken in the Monster. Still, that is countered by the moment when, after finding out who had been his guest, the hermit remained concerned for the Monster’s welfare. The best part, however, is how he earnestly prays in thanksgiving to have a friend. It is what gives the Monster the first glimmers of empathy, which will lead to him allowing Dr. Frankenstein and Elizabeth to escape. It would be great if there were more hermits in this world.
Whether you view The Bride of Frankenstein as a horror flick or something else, it is a bit puzzling to me that this classic character has not received a more modern reboot. There is probably something I am missing, but nothing comes to mind. Until they do, we have these charming, if odd, older pictures to tide us over.