The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)


  • directed by James Whale
  • starring Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester, O.P. Heggie, Una O’Connor
  • Mary Shelley reveals the main characters of her novel survived. Goaded by an even madder scientist, Dr. Frankenstein builds his monster a mate.

“To a new world of gods and monsters!”

The main focus of the film was not a relationship between the two creations as I had been expecting from the title–Elsa Lanchester isn’t unveiled as the Bride until the film’s last few minutes–but it was the maturation of the monster that drove the film as he learned basic speech and began to understand his place in the world and nature of his existence. The monster still gets his typical murderous rampage scenes, usually the fault of the victim for egging him on, but once he wanders into the cabin of the blind hermit, he becomes a different character completely. He learns to express his likes (friends, music, smoking, wine) and dislikes (fire and people screaming at or antagonizing him) and from that point on is able to vocalize his unhappiness with being “alive”. The monster’s befriending of the blind man in the cabin is the best scene of an otherwise great movie, though maybe I’m biased because I am an absolute sucker for the poignancy of “Ave Maria.”

The entire cast hit the right notes, from the familiar Karloff and his developing, almost-wise monster and Colin Clive’s continued madness, to new faces like Una O’Connor who put in another hilariously hysterical performance, O.P. Heggie as the blind hermit, the subdued madness of Ernest Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorious, and double duty from Elsa Lanchester as both Mary Shelley and the Bride. The crew fared just as well with director James Whale, production and set designers, and especially the editing team creating a fully realized universe for these characters while updating the style and pace ever-so-slightly. I think the prevailing opinion in film technique is that good editing should fly by completely unnoticed, but in The Bride of Frankenstein, especially during the recap in the beginning and the final laboratory sequence, the editing took center stage, infusing what seemed like rapid-fire successions of still photographs to highlight the stylized machinery and magnify the madness in the air. The movie flew by with clear purpose. When it veered too strongly toward camp, Whale pulled back the reins. When the monster’s behavior went too dark, we then caught a glimpse of his sentimental and melancholy spirit. It was yet another one of the successful highwire acts for James Whale, a director constantly in limbo between artistic sensibilities and commercial structures. What better way to satisfy both tendencies than to smash them together harmoniously on screen?

I’m going to give the next installment, Son of Frankenstein, a chance in order to smoothly segue back into 1939 but I have a sneaking suspicion that I just watched the most fitting end possible for the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. This film did exactly what every sequel should strive to do. It broadened the film’s universe by including the Shelley prologue, caught audiences up with a fast-paced, brilliantly cut together recap of the first film, it built on the themes and evolved the characters from what was laid out in the original, and then came up with a completely satisfying ending. In a perfect world all film series should end it on that type of note, especially this one since Whale exited the franchise and Clive passed away after Bride, but the call of the dollar is always too strong and they revisited four years later.