01 November 2005

100 films: Bride of Frankenstein


starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, and Elsa Lanchester
written by: William Hurlbut and John L. Balderston, based on the novel by Mary Shelley
directed by: James Whale
NR, 75 min, 1935, USA

The sequel to 1931's Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein is the story of how the Monster attempts to connect with society and ultimately find love. It celebrates a grand tradition of the Monster that is feared by people because he's different, a tradition that continued through Son of Frankenstein (1939), Young Frankenstein (1974), and the epic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Our story so far: Dr. Frankenstein, with the help of his assistant Igor, has cobbled together a monster out of various body parts taken from dead people. Thanks to a bit of electricity, he lives, only he doesn't exactly fit in, and therefore ends up going on a rampage. This, of course, does little to endear him to the townsfolk, who do their best to burn him alive. It doesn't work.

While an effective horror film (and clearly a good choice for a Halloween movie marathon), Bride of Frankenstein actually works best as social criticism and moral warning. Dr. Frankenstein has seen first-hand what happens when man attempts to play God, and has sworn off the experiments, but is persuaded and then blackmailed by his old mentor, Dr. Pretorius to construct another monster--a bride--and with it a monster race. The monster (Boris Karloff) is simply lonely and willing to help in any efforts to create a companion. The assumption around town is that the monster is a dangerous killing machine, hell-bent on destruction, but we see quickly that he is simply misunderstood. In a touching scene, he stumbles upon the cabin of a blind violin player. The monster cannot speak and the old man cannot see, but he is perceptive enough to realize the monster is injured, hungry, and inherently docile. Naturally, he has no idea the monster has been assembled from the body parts of other people; all that matters to him is that he has prayed for a companion and God has sent him one. They form a fast friendship. The old man teaches the monster how to speak basic words ("friend good") and plays the violin for him, once again showing us that even the most repulsive creatures can be captivated by beautiful music. The domestic bliss is interrupted, however, when a search party tries to take the monster away and in the ensuing struggle, the cabin catches fire.

It's a joy to see Boris Karloff lurch around the stage as Frankenstein's monster. He brings a range you wouldn't expect into the role and manages to fill this invention with a sense of humanity. The rest of the acting, however, is pretty bad.[1] Clearly the cast is made up primarily of Shakespearian-trained stage actors who seem to think they're in some odd production of Hamlet. Then again, at this point in time, film acting hadn't been really taught anywhere as an different discipline than stage acting. So the campiness of it, while laughable, is understandable, I guess.

Eh, but who cares about bad acting and moral lessons anyway? We're here to see Karloff's Monster lurch and grunt and beat people up, and that's what we get. And as an added bonus, he cries. What more can you ask for from a monster?

[1] The exception being the second monster, played by Elsa Lanchester in a dual role. She's great as the Monster's Mate. Supposedly, she based the character on ill-tempered swans she saw in a London park.


johanna said...


mattreed said...

One of the great crimes of contemporary cinema is that Sight and Sound didn't include Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in the Top Ten. Shame.

By the way, we should merge the S&S lists with the Time list.

lucas said...

it's not a bad idea, although i'll watch the time list first for various reasons.

did you get a chance to check out the archive thing i put together? should make things easier to keep straight.

mattreed said...

yes. looks good.

lucas said...

cool. start compiling a list of 'wild-card' additions, i guess.