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Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Hoardefest: The Bride of Frankenstein

Some movies speak for themselves, so I won't waste time blathering with a full synopsis of James Whale's 1935 Bride of Frankenstein. It simply might be the best sequel of all-time outside of The Empire Strikes Back, and Bride of Frankenstein does its business in nearly half the time!

I'm not sure what I find most outstanding about Bride, the fact Elsa Linchester effectively pulls off a dual role as a fictitious representation of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, plus the titular monster...the inherent sarcasm Whale sprinkles throughout his film, subtly swiping at both the horror and romance genres...the always-hilarious Irish character actress Una O'Connor, who brought comedy relief in every single film she appeared in...the elaborate Gothic infrastructure of Baron Frankenstein's (Colin Clive) home...or simply the fact Boris Karloff presents the most humanistic creature in this film the genre has ever seen.

I mean, take into consideration what honor the man had to have felt when he was billed simply as "Karloff" in this film. Not even Lon Chaney, the undisputed master of ghouls was largely heralded by his last name only. For today's audiences, it might come off slightly hokey that Frankenstein's monster learns how to speak in this film, but going by Mary Shelley's original source, it's accurate and do remember we're talking about reanimated human flesh including the brain. Karloff's vocal strains and grunts make Frankenstein come off like a toddler pushing out singular words with initial difficulty--accompanied by the expected frustrated rages--to the point when he speaks a bit more fluidly, you actually care!

Bride of Frankenstein is part comedy and part tragedy. Karloff's lumbering gesticulations and weepy facial expressions provoke immediate sympathy. The fact he just wants to pal around with someone who won't run like hell from him instigates the sorrowful finale when his newly-created "bride" ironically shrieks in terror at him, never mind she is one of his own breed. Frankenstein makes the last-minute decision to let the baron and his beloved Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) go free after kidnapping the latter, and then topple the castle down upon himself, the bride and the gin-tugging megalomaniac Dr. Pretorius (Ernst Thesiger, who really makes the most of his daffy role). Shelley, Shakespeare, Whale...cut from the same mold.

This film is ingenius with its timing, its settings, its deeply-plunged humor. It even makes use of early-on high tech in the lab of Dr. Pretorius, who we learn has bred miniature doll-humans under glass in the form of a king, a queen, even a ballerina. It's quite persnikkety of Whale to introduce Pretorius (assisted hilariously by Una O'Connor in the doctor's initial scene) as an even more demented foil for Baron Frankenstein. When the baron refuses to cooperate with Pretorius, he of course is compelled to assist in the schizo scientist's experiments...not to mention having his own living monster coerce him into making a mate against his will...ugh, as Jackie Chan would say, bad day! bad day! bad day!

When you get down to it, Karloff's sympathetic Frankenstein is a by-product of hatred and arrogance. His creator twice learns the folly of playing God, while the monster himself finally comes to realize his unwelcome stature in society simply leaves him no room for peace. The briefest moment when Frankenstein's monster has quietude comes courtesy of a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) who patiently waits on him and teaches him skills and language. Funny back in '35 how hard smoking was pushed, for the record, as the hermit schools Frankenstein in cigarette pulling!

Regardless, you can hardly do better than Bride of Frankenstein in measuring up to an existing classic...

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