Bride of Frankenstein combines horror and comedy successfully
Bride of Frankenstein
Directed by James Whale.
Starring Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, and Elsa Lanchester.
Written by John L. Balderston and William Hurlbut.
LSC Friday Classic. Tonight in 10-250, 7:30 p.m.
By Stephen Brophy
LSC Classics takes a giant step from the ridiculous to the sublime this week. Last Friday they programmed what is generally acknowledged to be the most hilariously inept effort to make a monster movie that has ever reached the screen, Plan 9 from Outer Space. This evening they go to the opposite extreme with James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein, perhaps the most perfect blend of horror and comedy in film history.
Whale had made the phenomenally successful Frankenstein - only his second movie - for Universal Studios four years before and meanwhile created The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man as well as half a dozen other non-horror features for them. He resisted a sequel but eventually gave in, insisting that he be allowed to develop the project in his own way. The mordant humor of Bride is the delicious result.
Whale was one of the few people in that more repressive time who was able to live relatively openly as a homosexual. He attracted others from Hollywood's queer community to work with him, notably Ernest Thesiger, who plays Dr. Praetorius, the demented mentor of Dr. Frankenstein, and is given some of the best lines in the movie. Watch for his midnight meal with the monster in an underground crypt.
Elsa Lanchester, the bride of another notorious homosexual, Charles Laughton, was recruited to play both Mary Shelley in a prologue and then the Bride in the climax. One of the in-jokes in the film involves her husband, who had won great acclaim playing the randy king in The Private Life of Henry VIII; when Praetorius shows his pupil his collection of miniaturized humans, one of them is a tiny Henry desperately trying to get into the container which holds a tiny queen.
Whale had wanted to recruit Brigitte Helm, - who played the two Marias in Metropolis - and his conception of the Bride's movements in the climactic sequence replicate Helm's spasmodic portrayal of the robot Maria. The general influence of German impressionism on Whale, manifested in bizarrely angled sets and stark lighting, is apparent throughout this work.
Boris Karloff returns as the Monster, but was reportedly unhappy with the changes wrought in this new version. He did not approve of the humanizing of his character, nor of the fact that the creature learns to speak a few words, drink wine, and smoke cigars. Karloff was to do only one more stint in this role, in the underappreciated Son of Frankenstein, but his creation, with its brooding look designed by make-up genius Jack Pierce, has entered the pantheon of monster immortals.
Bride of Frankenstein is packed from beginning to end with droll bits of business and jokes, like the almost sacrilegious hint of crucifixion when the Monster is captured for the second time. But it is also genuinely scary. It's one of those movies that you can watch again and again, and enjoy a little more with each re-viewing. MIT audiences might particularly enjoy the opportunity to check out the mad scientist's laboratory - it sets a standard for all that were to come in this durable sub-genre.