Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)


To a new world of Gods and Monsters

I feel I’m starting to become a bit of a connoisseur of Frankenstein movies.  Though, as I’ve said before, I was spoiled early on by seeing Danny Boyle’s stage production starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller.  Both versions (the two leads swapped roles of Frankenstein and the monster) were fabulous and were closer to the source material than any of the movies I’ve seen yet.

The Bride of Frankenstein is the sequel to the original 1931 Frankenstein, again starring Boris Karloff as the monster and Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein.  The film begins with some rather unnecessary exposition involving Mary Shelly, her husband and a Lord Byron who is ridiculously pompous and overacts.  The point is to remind us of the events of the first film, but despite some nice camera transition zooms, it’s a rather clumsy way to start the movie.

When the story properly begins it follows on immediately from the first film and we discover that the monster isn’t dead.  There is a certain amount of knees bent running about involving some more rent-a-lynch-mob action; but crucially the victimisation of the monster is far more convincing than in the first film.  The introduction of speech increases this misunderstanding.  Apparently Karloff thought that if the monster spoke it would ruin its “charm”, but I feel that the introduction of the blind man that helps him begin to communicate helps create empathy with the creature as he becomes more self aware.  In this scene in particular I thought Karloff showed his skill and really managed to create a sense of sadness and generate sympathy with the monster.

Aside from Karloff, the other crucial characters are Henry Frankenstein (still don’t know why he was renamed) played by Colin Clive, and Ernst Thesiger as Dr Pretorius.  Colin Clive has a great manic energy that he continues from the first film and improves on; even when he is refusing to do the experiments his guilt is rather eccentric.  Dr Pretorius is a calm collected counterpoint to Frankenstein, and is the driving force behind the new experiments.  His introduction is a touch bizarre; he shows Henry several live homunculi he has created, complete with individual personalities and squeaky voices.  It sounds better than it actually is, but I can understand the reason behind introducing Pretorius’ skill, and at least the special effects are surprisingly good.  Clive and Thesiger work really well together, and it is their relationship that helps drive the film to its conclusion.

This conclusion is of course the creation of the monster’s bride, and is a wonderful blend of glorious sets, brilliant lighting and dynamic direction.  As in the first film, James Whale makes excellent use of light and shadow, and nowhere is this better seen than when lightning is striking the creation. Frankenstein and Pretorius are filmed from above (looking down at them from the gods?) in shadow and their excited faces are suddenly lit by flashes of lightning.  It is a far more dramatic creation scene than the first film, and indeed Hammer’s Curse of Frankenstein.  It then culminates in Colin Clive’s iconic “It’s alive!”.  After all this superbity (new word), the final scene is a bit of a let down, and a self-destruct lever in the lab seems like a quick fix end to the film.  Shame.

A vast improvement over the first film, apart from a clunky beginning and a quick fix end, The Bride of Frankenstein captures far more of the spirit of the novel; both Frankenstein and his monster are victims, and Karloff’s performance generates real sympathy with the misunderstood creature.  The story demands less leaps of faith than the original film, and James Whale’s direction is sharper and more creative than before.   But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.