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Friday, January 20, 2012

Bride of Frankenstein

Universal Pictures followed up their highly successful Frankenstien with what has to be one of the best sequels out of Hollywood. James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein (BoF) had many factors contributing to its success. For some of those, see the Notes section below. It is a bigger, richer tale. Two key cast members reprised their roles. Colin Clive again played the obsessed and tormented Henry Frankenstein. Boris Karloff again played the monster. Other lesser characters were picked up by new faces. A couple of new characters were added. To some, BoF surpasses the original. Few sequels get such acclaim.

Quick Plot Synopsis
The film opens on a suitably dark and stormy night in the early 1800s. Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron sit around a fire talking of Mary's story. Was that how it ended? No. Mary tells what happened next. (cross fade to burning windmill). The crowds filter on home. Maria's father insists on seeing the body of the monster, so goes into the smoking rubble. He falls into the water filled cellar. The monster is there too, much alive. He drowns Hans. The monster emerges. The crowd took Henry back to his family castle, thinking he was dead, but he moves his hand. He's Alive! He swears to never dabble in man-making again. Just then, a sketchy former classmate arrives. Dr. Pretoreous heard of Henry's work and wants him to partner, to make a perfect man. Henry goes to Pretorious' lab to see his work. Six glass jars, each with a miniature person inside. A queen, a king, a bishop, a devil, a ballerina and a mermaid. Pretorious makes them from raw materials, not dead body parts, but can only make smaller things. He wants Henry to make a full-sized body again. Pretorious would supply the brain. Meanwhile, the monster roams the woods. A shepherdess sees him, screams and falls in a river. The monster rescues her, but hunters heard her screams and shoots the Monster in the arm. A new mob combs the woods finally capturing the monster. They haul him into town and chain him in a jail cell. Stronger than his chains, the monster escapes and rampages around the village awhile before fleeing into the woods again. Tired, hurt and hungry, the monster comes to the shack of an old blind hermit. The hermit befriends the monster, eventually teaching him to talk. Hunters find the monster in the shack, so he flees again. Yet another mob chases him through the woods. The monster goes down into a crypt to hide. There, he sees Pretorious and henchmen stealing body parts (bones). When henchmen leave, Pretorious entertains the monster and suggests Henry should build him a woman, a mate. The monster likes that idea. Pretorious tells Henry it's time to start building. Henry refuses. Pretorious has the monster kidnap Elizabeth and take her to a cave. Her ransom is to build the new woman. Henry, under duress, starts working in the old tower again. They have the "bride" done and exposed to dramatic sparks. She's Alive! When the monster comes in to meet his bride, she screams and runs from him. Enraged that even his own kind rejects him, the monster rampages around the lab. This lab is equipped with a self-destruct lever, (for some reason). The monster starts to pull it. He tells Henry to get away with Elizabeth (now free). "You go. You live." He pulls the lever and the tower blows up dramatically, crumbling to rubble. Henry and Elizabeth embrace on an adjacent hilltop. The End.

Sci-fi Connection
Much of Henry's prior electro-biology technology is reused. The equipment is ramped up a bit, though. Henry uses two 3-winged kites (ala Ben Franklin) to gather lightening. Pretorious' process is more akin to alchemy, and in that way similar to the "science" used in Edison's 1910 version.

Compared to the Novel
The plot in BoF is an expansion on elements in Mary's original novel. In her story, the monster demands that Victor create a mate for him. In BoF, it was Pretorious who pushes the idea. The scene with the hermit befriending the monster is a good parallel to the DeLacy family whom Mary's monster lived with for awhile, there learning to talk, etc.

Saga Connection
BoF is such a close sequel, it is more like the second part of a single story. It picks up immediately where the first film left off. After all the action, things return to pretty much where they started. A notable exclusion is Henry's father, the old baron. Suddenly, even though it is the "same night", the old baron is gone and Henry is "now" the baron. Despite all the action, BoF ends as it began. Henry and Elizabeth survive and want to put all the nastiness behind them. The monster is, again, presumed to have died in a dramatic architectural collapse.

Superior Sequel -- Where most sequels falter is that they try to do the same thing as the original, with just a little variation. It is as if the writers or producers don't dare tamper with "success". James Whale was bold. He continued the story in the same time line. He kept the 2 main characters. They start out as they left off, but change (grow) during the film. Whale introduces a key antagonist and some potent sub-plots. The 1931 film was spartan and a bit claustrophobic, with two worlds -- one sane, one unstable. This befit the birth of the creature. BoF is a wider tale, with more characters and much more going on. This is befitting the monster's growth into personhood. BoF is clearly not just a retread, Frankenstein II.

The Devil Himself? -- Ernest Thesiger plays Dr. Pretorious, who is a Mephistopheles-like character. This lends a very Faustian flavor to the saga. When Pretorius is showing off his miniature people, he shows off his miniature bishop, the voice of morality. Then he shows his fourth. "This one is the very devil. There is a certain resemblance to me, don't you think? Or do I flatter myself?"

He Speaks! -- In a broadening of the monster character from the first movie, the monster learns to speak. Granted, they're rudimentary sentences. "Friend…Good." But, even with just a few words, a deep range of the monster's thoughts and desires become known. It is said that Boris Karloff objected, at first, to having "his" monster speak. But he did and it made the monster much more "human" and sympathetic.

Monster As Christ -- It's not a prefect allegory, though allegories, by nature, are not exhaustive matches.
That said, consider how the screenwriters and Whale made the monster an allegory of Jesus. Note these parallels. He did not have the usual mom-dad-birth, but has a creator. He was befriended by the poor, but rejected by the better-off. Some of the visuals are too obvious to ignore. He was hung on a pole (half a cross). (See image at left.) Watch the scene where they're hammering in the chain rings in the jail. This is a strong parallel to the nailing of Christ's hands. Then, note at the end of the film, the monster acts noticeably out-of-character for a horror film monster. Instead, he (again) parallel's Christ, in that he voluntarily gives up his own life to save someone else, and to wipe away that person's "sins" and the devilish power of temptation over them. All this Christ-parallel is a very curious inclusion, but it clearly adds depth to the BoF story.

MORE Ambiguity -- BoF exacerbates the name confusion over who is "Frankenstein" -- the man or the monster. When the female creature is unveiled, Pretorious declares, "Behold, the bride of Frankenstein." Most people take that to mean the bride of the monster. Yet, it could still mean the "bride" that Henry created. The poster adds another layer of ambiguity, by suggesting that the monster ("frankenstein") might chose either Elizabeth or the new woman as his bride. (The monster does kidnap Elizabeth at one point -- the primeval bride-selection method). Yet, Elizabeth is also the bride of Henry. More ambiguity!

Nurture, not Nature -- Note the rejection of the monster by "regular" society. It is more evident than in the first movie, The subtle implication is that "bad behavior" in mankind is not due to "nature" (how we're made), but from "nurture" -- how people are treated. The abuse by society "made" the creature a monster.

Comic Blend -- James Whale made his sequel much more complex by weaving in occasional comic moments. Some of it verges on camp, as with most of the scenes with Minnie (Henry's old biddy house keeper). Even the monster drinking and smoking, saying lines like "Smoke… Good." were designed to get a laugh. Some humor was more subtle, such as Pretorious saying that each vice, wine, cigars, etc. were "his only weakness." Happily, the humor and camp did not overtake the deeper plot. This early bit of comic relief, though, does open the door for later films like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Bottom line? BoF is another classic that should be seen. Perhaps the best way is to watch the 1931 film and BoF as a double feature. Much of what "worked" in the original is still in the sequel, but BoF adds new, vibrant material. Whale weaves a complex, yet not confusing, plot and paces it very quickly. Bride of Frankenstein is a movie milestone that even all old movie fans should experience.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An interesting point was that the movie was originally to have a "downer" of an ending. If you look when the castle explodes, you can see Dr Frankenstein and Elizabeth on the stairs when the tower explodes.