Monday, June 14, 2010

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Starring Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger, Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester
Directed by James Whale

*Spoilers Ahead*

After a brief introduction involving the retelling of the events of “Frankenstein”, Mary Shelly (Elsa Lanchester) begins to tell her captive audience what happens next to the monster and his creator. From there the film continues straight from the previous left off (or where it should have), at the foot of the burned out wreck of the windmill. The villagers discover Doctor Frankenstein’s frail body and race him back to his manor for help. Once the crowds have left, the monster emerges from the rubble and roams the countryside once more. Frankenstein arrives at his manor were he is nursed back to health by his fiancĂ©e Elizabeth, who is played by Valerie Hobson, who is a brunette rather than the blonde Mae Clark from the original. I’ve heard of hair turning white from shock, but this is the first instance I’ve seen were someone’s hair has darkened after a fright. Also, the servants refer to Henry as the new Baron Frankenstein, which leads me to wonder what happened to Henry’s father, the original Baron, who we saw was just fine at the end of the first film. I guess they weren’t too concerned about sequel continuity back in those days.

Henry still suffering from shock, talking about whether or not he was destined to discover the secrets of life, but he is interrupted by the arrival of Doctor Septimus Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger). Pretorious’s entrance mirrors that of the monster from the previous, tall and looming in the doorway before cutting to a close up as the shadows literally cascade off of his sinister features. His face is astonishingly striking; a tasseled mop of pallid hair atop a brow of course creases with arched jet-black eyebrows matching up with his devilish pointed ears. His deeply cut crow’s feet lead like a creaky staircase from his hooded eyes to his bulging cheekbones. His hook of a nose seems to stretch his skin along his skull his thin mouth, which scowling appears to stretch out further than the dimensions of his face. Honestly, I cannot do his face justice through words; you must see it to believe it.

Doctor Pretorious talks to Doctor Frankenstein about his work and tempts and deceives Henry with the prospect of creating a race of monsters. Pretorious soon takes on the role of Mephistopheles, taking Frankenstein’s abomination of nature and taking it one step beyond, perverting the process for his own cause. It is interesting to see the two side by side. In the original Frankenstein was excited and captivated by his work, but with time saw the error of his ways, and while still fascinated by the results knew he had to stop the madness before it was too late. Pretorious conversely is wily and eccentric, but in his field of work remain cool and calculating, He has no one to act as a moral compass like Elizabeth was to Henry to prevent him from pushing certain boundaries, and openly mocks God for holding the powers of life and death. He shows utter contempt for human life altogether, going so far as to instruct his assistant to kill in order to retrieve the necessary body parts for their new monster rather than recycling parts from already dead bodies. So similar, and yet different, it reminds me of the two Terminators from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”.

Meanwhile we return to the monster running through the forest seeking shelter from the villagers who continue to hunt him. He eventually finds refuge with a blind hermit who offers him food, teaches him to speak and tells him that it is bad to be alone. During this scene is when we get a better look at the monster and how he has changed since the first movie. Karloff’s face is considerably wider, I imagine the money he received from the last film allowed him to eat more, making him seem more inviting The black greasepaint in his makeup has also been diminished, his skin consisting of lighter tones. His hair is also no longer concealing his forehead and as a result looks more open and expressive like the face of a sad clown, further solidifying the monster’s position as a tragic hero. This is emphasized with the use of religious symbols that establish the monster as a persecuted Christ-like figure; being tied on a stake similar to a cross by the angry villagers and later feasting on bread and wine with the hermit. Sadly, his joy is short lived when hunters discover the monster in the hermits lodge and chase him away.

From there the monster stumbles upon Pretorious in a crypt. Pretorious deceives the monster about Frankenstein and uses him as a bargaining chip to force Frankenstein to continue to help him build a new monster, going so far as to have the monster kidnap Elizabeth and hold her hostage unless he complies. This leads into the climax of the film were we return to Frankenstein’s lab from the first movie as the two begin to build a mate for the monster. The procedure is far more complex and elaborate than before, but than again they are making a woman, of course it’d be more complicated (Zing!) Eventually we reveal The Bride (Elsa Lanchester, again) Aside of her iconic hair, her face is devoid of expression. She looks around the lab in shock, turning in her head in short sudden spasms like an insect. The monster lays eyes on her, his face light up as he says “Friend?” The Bride screams and recoils in terror. The monster is enraged and decides he is too good for this awful world, and grips the level that Pretorious says “will blow us all to atoms!” Good thing you put it within arms reach of anybody, I’m not entirely sure this guy isn’t a James Bond Villian. All seems lost but Elizabeth (somehow escaping her captivity) is about to rush in and rescue Henry as the laboratory explodes, taking the bride, the monster and Pretorious with it.

A few plot holes aside the film far surpasses its predecessor by miles. It has a greatly improved visual quality as technology has caught up so that there is better clarity in the picture allowing us to view subtler expressions. The sets are greater in number and in scale. The characters have been built up since the first film, we now care about them and can see them develop in ways that there wasn’t time for in the original, making us root for both Doctor Frankenstein and the monster against opposition, creating tension by pitting them against to an actual antagonist.

Final Score:

Five out of Five. Golden.

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