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Bride of Frankenstein

Bride of Frankenstein


Colin Clive - Henry Frankenstein
Ernest Thesiger - Dr. Pretorius
Valerie Hobson - Elizabeth
Boris Karloff - Monster
Elsa Lanchester - Mary Shelley/Bride
Dwight Frye - Karl
Una O'Connor - Minnie
James Whale - Director
Carl Laemmle Jr.- Producer
William Hurlbut - Screenwriter
John J. Mescall - Cinematographer
Jack P. Pierce - Make Up
Charles Hall - Art Direction
Franz Waxman - Film Score [Title]

Elsa Lanchester In 1931, English-born actor-turned-director James Whale took the helm of Universal's Frankenstein, partly because he had been typecast as a director of war movies and was anxious to branch out into other genres. (He once said that he accepted Frankenstein because it gave him "a chance to dabble in the macabre. I thought it would be an amusing thing to try and make what everybody knows to be a physical impossibility into the almost believable for 60 minutes.")

Frankenstein was a staggering box-office hit that landed on The New York Times' list of the year's Top Ten Films, and its success led Universal to assign Whale other eerie subjects--The Old Dark House (1932) and The Invisible Man (1933). By late 1933, the sequel had been definitely slated as a vehicle for Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi to follow The Black Cat (1934), with Lugosi in a mad-doctor role that eventually became Ernest Thesiger's Dr. Pretorius. But the technical difficulties involved in making horror films had engendered in Whale a dislike for them, and he wanted no part of the project. Whale eventually warmed up to the idea, approaching it as a "hoot"--and this new, rather irreverent attitude resulted in one of the quirkiest and best-loved horror films of all time.

In the original finale of Frankenstein, the Monster's creator Colin Clive was killed in a fall from the top of a windmill; fortunately for Bride's screenwriters, a happy ending (Clive survives and marries his fiancee Elizabeth) was written and filmed before release. This enabled Whale to rehire Clive as the obsessed Henry Frankenstein, still birning with the desire to create life. Another carry-over from the cast of the original was Boris Karloff, reprising his Monster role with one important change: In Bride, his character has the power of speech. In later years, Karloff called this modification "stupid: My argument was that if the Monster had any impact or charm, it was bedcause he was inarticulate . . . this great, lumbering inarticulate creature . . ."

Hobson & Karloff Boris Karloff sweated off 20 pounds laboring in the hot costume and makeup, but he received many excellent reviews for his work in Bride; many fans think this is his best performance, surpassing the job he did in Frankenstein. There's genuine pathos in the Monster's scenes with the blind hermit (O.P. Heggie), and also at the end, when he's rejected with a hate-filled hiss by his Bride (Elsa Lanchester)--so much, in fact, that it's easy to forget that much of the movie displays the Monster at his most bloodthirsty (killing an elderly couple at the windmill, a little girl, and even Frankenstein's lab assistant, with no provocation).

In addition to playing the Monster's Mate, Lanchester also appeared as Frankenstein authoress Mary Shelley in an elegant introductory scene. Lanchester told interviewer Greg Mank that, for her scenes as the Bride, makeup man Jack P. Pierce "took ages to make a scar that hardly shows under my chin. For a whole hour he would draw two lines of glue, put a red line down the middle, then start making up the white edges of the scar--meticulously done. Well, frankly, I'm sure he could have bought such a scar for ten cents in a joke shop. . . After the scar came the eyebrows, and the hair. It's my own hair. I had it lifted up from my face, all the way around; then they placed a cage on my head and combed my own hair over that cage. Then they put the gray-streak hairpieces in afterwards."

Interestingly, the screenplay of Bride falls back on Shelley's novel for many of its best scenes. The idea of the Monster demanding a mate came from Shelley, as did the Monster's visit with the blind hermit. Combining these set pieces with new material, Whale crafted his eccentric fairy tale with sharp wit and sophistication, and built to a crescendo (the Bride's creation scene) that's still an unqualified masterpiece of photography, lighting and editing.

Clive, Lanchester, Karloff & Thesiger The crowning touch in the film's artistry was the inspired musical score of Bride of Frankenstein by Franz Waxman. It is a tremendous musical score, one of the most important Hollywood scores of the mid '30s. And there is an awful lot of commentary through the music, sometimes impish, sometimes emotionally reinforcing, but like so much that's in this film, heightened. Waxman used motifs for each of the major characters or sequences. These are thematic building blocks wich can introduce or herald each character's entrance or imply their presence off-camera when they aren't present.

Fans not taken with Whale's eccentric brand of humor may prefer the original Frankenstein, but there's no denying Bride its status as one of horror's most stylish, outlandish and witty extravaganzas, rich with outrageous religious symbolism. The sardonic Whale meticulously masterminded and orchestrated nearly every facet of the elaborate production; Ted Kent, the film's editor, told Whale biographer James Curtis that "the back pages of [Whale's] script were full of sketches he would draw for the art director or costumer to illustrate what he wanted--the shape of arches, drapes, the style of dress, or type of uniform. In this area, I would say, at least in the pictures I worked on, he had complete control from beginning to end. I don't believe he could have worked any other way."

Shot in 46 days at a cost of approximately $4000,000, The Bride of Frankenstein is an undisputed high point of the 1930s horror cycle. It has rightfully taken its place not just alongside the great horror movies, but with the great American films of all time.

--from Bride of Frankenstein DVD
supplementary material, Universal, 1999

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