A few years after Frankenstein's monstrous abomination graced American movie screens, director James Whale brought him back to find a mate. Though more comedic than its predecessor, Bride of Frankenstein (which to me, should really be something like "Bride of Frankenstein's Monster, but whatever) is still a beautiful film and was able to become just as iconic and popular as the original Frankenstein. My personal taste leads me more toward the original, though, just in case you were curious.
The opening credits start things off interesting for our movie. Boris Karloff of course headlines the piece, with only his last name on the first screenshot in all capitals - "KARLOFF." There is a short introduction scene at the beginning of the movie with Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and Percy, with Elsa Lanchester playing Shelley. Happily, Lanchester's character is actually credited with her full name - Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley - whereas in the previous film it was said that the author of the original work was "Mrs. Percy B. Shelley." Bleh. The Monster's Mate is unbilled, and appears only as a question mark.
Okay so, I like the movie, but it does bother me a little bit. The first few scenes are promising, despite the fact that they feature way too much of the most annoying woman in the world - whoever the hell that is that plays Minnie. She's really pretty wretched. Anyway, Bride starts right where Frankenstein left off at the burning mill where it was believed that both Dr. Frankenstein and the Monster perished. Turns out they didn't. Most amazing to me about this scene is something that nobody ever seems to talk about with this movie. The parents of the murdered girl Maria from the first movie are at the mill, with the father Hans being killed by the Monster by drowning (same as his daughter), and the mother being thrown into the wreckage, hitting one of those water wheel things.
Why does no one else see how horrible this is?! The Monster didn't know what he was doing when he killed Maria, but had learned all about killing by the time he got to her parents, and now this whole little family has been systematically wiped out and nobody cares. This act reflects the seriousness and horror of the original Frankenstein, but this tone is quickly dropped for something more campy, especially as the Monster explores his world a little bit more. After escaping capture and being injured in the woods, the Monster is drawn to the hut of a blind man after hearing him play the violin. The Monster is welcomed inside and treated like a real guest, which seems to both confuse and excite him. The blind man does not fear the Monster right away, obviously because he cannot see him, and this seems to teach the Monster something about trust and friendship.
The Monster is actually able to speak and communicate in this movie, although it's a little unclear about just how he learned so fast! No matter though. Supposedly he learned it from both Pretorious and the blind man, though his scenes with the latter are far more entertaining. Never has a murderous monster looked so adorable while saying the word "Bread!" or enjoying a delightful smoke. I almost wrote right here that the comedy was a bad idea because it made the Monster more lovable and made us forget how dangerous he is. But in the middle of the sentence, I suddenly realized that it is not the Monster we are supposed to think is evil in this story - duh. Pretorious, and what he represents as the arrogant scientist, is who and what we should fear. Mary Shelley's moral lesson about those that try to act as God stands true in Bride of Frankenstein - you may be able to accomplish the task of bringing life to a bunch of dead parts, but you will not be able to make those parts truly human, and therefore it will not be accepted by other humans.
Reprising his role as Dr. Henry Frankenstein, Colin Clive takes more of a back seat here, sadly. The Monster's lonely journey and Dr. Pretorious's quest to make a female monster are in the forefront. Clive is still beautiful in his role, reverting once again to his messy haired, crazed rambling that I loved so much when he starts to work on bringing the Bride to life. Pretorious, who has some pretty awesome hair that rivals the Bride's, is just as if not more crazy than Frankenstein in his determination to complete his wicked experiment. One thing I completely don't understand is the little people Pretorious has in the jars. Apparently they are called "homunculi," so at least now I know that. I only have to mention this because creating several human beings that are only two inches tall seems to be a much bigger feat to me than bringing the dead back to life. Frankenstein says that this is more like black magic, though, and not really science, so it obviously doesn't interest or impress him as much. I shall move on.
Elsa Lanchester's brief but highly memorable performance as the Bride is actually probably only about 10% because of her performance and 90% because of her looks. That hair... OMG, that hair. Whoever came up with the design for the Bride's hair is a damn genius because once you get that hair on Lanchester's head, have her turn her head just the right way, and get Whale to perfectly frame the shot like he does, you have pure cinematic gold. The way she twitches her head, the unnatural way she holds her arm out straight - Lanchester is equally as brilliant as Karloff in her portrayal of a monster made out of spare parts by doing the simplest things.
Sequels don't always suck, my friends. The Godfather II, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade... The Bride of Frankenstein. All the best stars were brought back (including Dwight Frye - still love him), the director was brought back, and they were able to create a sequel that gives the original a run for its money, as some people seem to prefer the sequel more. My fondness for the original Frankenstein will never change, but now the Bride has crept her way into my heart, I believe.