Perhaps none of the original suite of Universal Monster films has such an enduring reputation as James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935). It is frequently highlighted as the high point in this series of iconic films.
Narratively Bride of Frankenstein plays almost like an early example of fanfic. It is a story “suggested by” Mary Shelley’s novel, functioning as an extension of it. The film opens with Mary Shelly and Lord Byron inserted into the film. This leads into a pretty incredible early example of structurally recapping the first film, as Shelley goes over the events of Frankenstein (1931) with cut scenes from that film playing onscreen. Unfortunately though, after this quite inspired beginning, the narrative is pretty unsatisfying, mainly because of where attention is focused. Namely, the focus is more on the human characters and elements of the story rather than the monsters. Frankenstein’s monster is denied agency throughout, which is generally not how these characters are treated in the Universal canon. The very basis of the plot – a bride for the monster – does not come from the monster. Some scientists just decide to make one for him, denying the character the agency to determine their own path. The story being driven by the humans, makes the plot drag badly, rather than the more kinetic progression that would have made the film stronger. On a much more simplistic level, this film needs way more bride of Frankenstein. She shows up with maybe six minutes to go. We’re are talking Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) levels of not giving the people what they want. It’s a bummer too because she is such a great character, both in terms of appearance and what she brings to the story.
The film is at its best when being unique and quirky, rather than the more stock horror elements. There is a wildly fantastical touch when some miniature people show up. Similarly fantastical are the scenes of the monster walking through the woods as a mythic feeling soundtrack plays. It appears James Whale was experimenting with the content and form of these films, and his boldest expressions work the best. The main joy that I took from the film came from these little touches. Boris Karloff is now billed simply as ‘Karloff’ whilst the iconic ‘?’ credit now goes to the monster’s mate. Also, like all these Universal films, it looks great. Such a creativity to the set design and the film always feels so atmospheric even when the story fails to deliver.
Boris Karloff is such a cerebral actor and this may be one of his best performances, even though the film is weaker. He has such a physical presence. And it is not just that he looks hulking, but also in the way that he acts with his whole body. The performance is even more impressive given the character is much more ill-defined than in the first film. At times he is tender, at others viciously murderous, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why he acts a certain way at each point. Perhaps the major misstep is having the monster talk. It is totally unnecessary as the character was already iconic without that ability. This choice amplifies a broader clumsiness in the film, that is the characters speak the themes, rather than the story embodying them in any coherent manner. In addition to Karloff, the other standout performance comes from Colin Clive as Dr Frankenstein. He is able to convincingly convey the experience of a beaten, battered man going through torment. A man torn apart that provides a solid emotional core to the film.
Verdict: I had high hopes going in, but I have to say Bride of Frankenstein is unfortunately one of the lesser Universal Monster flicks. The choice to deny the original monster of any real agency, and the bride of any real screentime, means we are stuck with less interesting human characters to accompany through the story. Schooner of Carlton Draught
Earlier today, I completed my first live tweet film review, of Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). I think it went well, but I am sure I will continue to refine my approach with these things. For example I decided to start hashtagging the tweets a reasonable amount into the film.
I thought I would share the tweet review here as well. Simply because a lot of you may not have twitter or have been online when I was reviewing the film. Plus I have been posting my reviews of all of the Universal Horror films on here, so didn’t want this one to miss out.
So I have a couple of pleasant days off work at the moment. Full of chilling out, watching movies and the occasional more ardous pursuit.
I thought I would use some of my spare time to do my first live tweet review that I have been talking about recently. I will kick off the live tweeting at 10:00 am tomorrow morning (that’s Canberra, Australia time), so hopefully you can follow along and engage with it. Or just check it out later on if you are all in bed/at the day job etc.
As I haven’t heard from Rorschach with his pick for the first film for me to review (I will try and contact him, I think he has been too busy schmoozing Joss Whedon and other famous folk), I thought I would let you folks choose. So you have a little over 24 hours to choose between the following three options (just let me know how your choice in the comments, I couldn’t work out how to insert a poll into this post):
Ace Attorney (2012) dir by Takashi Miike
Jaws 3 (1983) dir by Joe Alves
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) dir by Jack Arnold
Get voting folks, and be sure to check out tomorrow’s review on Twitter. Peace.