Initial release April 22nd 1935 (LA)
Director James Whale
Screenplay by William Hurlbut
Music by Franz Waxman
Released by Universal Pictures
Run Time 75 minutes
Boris Karloff The Monster
Colin Clive Henry Frankenstein
Valerie Hobson Elizabeth Frankenstein
Ernest Thesiger Doctor Pretorius
Elsa Lanchester Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley &
The Monster’s Bride
Gavin Gordon Lord Byron
Douglas Walton Percy Bysshe Shelley
Una O’Connor Minnie
E. E. Clive The Burgomaster
Lucien Prival The Butler
O.P. Heggie Hermit
Dwight Frye Karl
Reginald Barlow Hans
Mary Gordon Hans’ wife
Anne Darling The Shepherdess
Walter Brennan Peasant (uncredited)
Ted Billings Ludwig
Bride of Frankenstein opens with a light shining in the window of Lord Byron’s estate on a dark stormy night as thunder crackles. Inside the elegant drawing room of the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, in the early 1800s, three characters are lounging and talking together in an historical reconstruction. Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon), poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton) and his 19-year-old bride Mary Shelley(Elsa Lanchester). The memorable scene recreates a discussion the trio may have had. Before a roaring fire, Mary expresses her unusual fear of thunder and the dark.
Mary defends her Frankenstein novel to her admirer, arguing that it was more than a story about a mad scientist and a monster. Byron casts doubts on its suitability for publishing, but Mary replies, ‘It will be published, I think’ Her husband tells her ‘ then you will have much to answer for’ She tells them it was about the punishment that befell a mortal man that dared to emulate God.
To set the scene, we now see a recap from the original film. Mary then pricks herself sewing. She draws blood and becomes a little squeamish at the sight of it. We then hear Percy remark, ‘I do think it a shame, Mary, to end your story quite so suddenly’. She replies ‘that wasn’t the end at all’ and adds ‘ would you like hear what happened after that. It is a perfect night for mystery and horror. The very air itself is filled with monsters’. The scene fades back with Mary saying ‘ imagine yourselves standing by the wreckage of the mill. The fire is dying down ‘ We conveniently slide into our new story. She explains that Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff) did not perish, but actually survived the fire that destroyed the old blazing windmill.
We move on and see the mill burn to the ground while peasants from the village cheer and look on. Minnie (Una O’Connor), Dr. Frankenstein’s highly-strung, screeching housekeeper/chambermaid cries ‘I’m glad to see the Monster roasted to death before my very eyes’. To restore order, the village’s burgomaster (E. E. Clive) declares the Monster dead and encouragingly sends the mob home.
Believed to be mortally wounded after being thrown from the burning mill (his fall only partially cushioned by one of the mill blades), Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) lies on a stretcher. Someone has to break the news to Elizabeth, his fiancé, as they were to be married that day. Our burgomaster tells someone to ride to the castle and tell the Baron that they are bringing his son home.
Hans (Reginald Barlow), the peasant father of the little girl the monster accidentally drowned, and his wife (Mary Gordon) linger at the site. Unsatisfied and vengeful, Hans is determined to view the Monster’s remains. His wife pleads with him that nothing can bring back their murdered daughter.
When Hans approaches the unstable beams from the wreckage of the fire, he falls through the collapsed floor and splashes into an underground millpond/cistern below. We see the Monster step fully into view from the shadows, with grotesque electrodes at the neck and a flat, square head (and a face scarred by the fire). Hans is held under the waist-deep water and drowned by the Monster. A sleepy-looking owl witnesses the murder. In one of the many scenes displaying macabre humour, Han’s wife reaches into the wreckage for her husband’s extended hand, not realising that she is pulling the Monster from the debris. The resurrected Monster kills the farm wife by heaving her down into the mill (again watched by the owl), and stalks off into the countryside. Next he comes up behind Minnie, the housekeeper, who turns and sees him. She panics and runs off screaming. She of the charmed life.
News of Henry Frankenstein’s demise is brought to Henry’s fiancée Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) at Castle Frankenstein. After his seemingly-lifeless form is carried in a procession into the gothic castle on a stretcher, Minnie rushes in and wails to a co-worker that the Monster still lives, “It’s alive! The Monster! It’s alive!” She is not believed, and denounced as an old fool.
After Henry’s body is brought into the spacious castle chamber we see Elizabeth go over and embrace it. She turns away, but suddenly we hear Minnie shriek and we see that Frankenstein is still alive. He mutters the word’ Elizabeth’ Later in the evening, Henry recuperates in his bedroom chamber in the castle, tenderly cared for by Elizabeth. She suggests they go away and forget what has happened. Despite all the ordeals he has been through , we see he has no intention of giving up. He tells her he could even have found the secret of eternal life.
Elizabeth is visibly upset to the extent that she raves on about seeing an apparition that has come to claim Henry. We then hear her saying that it has appeared again, pointing and being reduced to hysterical tears. Henry can see nothing.
They are brought back to reality when startled by a loud knocking at the castle door. It is opened by Minnie with her usual dialogue of moans and curses. There is no one at home is her initial greeting, but out visitor is persistent. It is Doctor Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) who was formally one of Henry’s teachers. He tells the housekeeper he is here on a secret matter of grave importance and that he must see him alone that night. The gaunt, sinister caped man is led up to Henry’s bedroom through dark corridors. He is greeted knowingly by Henry, who explains to Elizabeth that Doctor Pretorius used to be a Doctor of Philosophy at Henry’s university, but, as the Doctor cynically comments ‘was booted out for knowing too much.’ Elizabeth excuses herself with the understatement, ‘ I do hope he won’t upset Henry’ . Pretorius’ arrival once more threatens to postpone Henry’s wedding.
On being asked what he wants , our doctor claims they must work together. Henry replies he is through with it all and walks away, wringing his hands. Suddenly, he stops in front of a window. Henry is told that he is the one who is really responsible for all those murders, and with his creature still at large in the countryside, there is still the threat of more deaths. Henry accuses his visitor of blackmail. The argument is that the experiments have gone too far to be stopped. Henry is invited to go and see Pretorius’s creation after being told that as a result of 20 years of experiments, he also has ‘ created life in God’s own image’. Henry is hooked. He must know and needs to know when he can see it. The reply is tonight.
They are driven by coach to Doctor Pretorius’ lodgings, where after climbing some stairs, we see the professor’s laboratory. The first thing they do, at the professors’ suggestion, is to drink to their new partnership. He raises his glass and drinks ‘ to a new world of God’s and Monsters’, and states ‘ the creation of life is enthralling, distinctly enthralling, is it not?’ His state of mind leaves nothing to the imagination. To say he appears a little unstable is an understatement indeed.
He leaves the room and returns with a large trunk which he places on the table. Pretorius unveils to Henry the results of his experiments for creating life, namely six small figures in glass jars. The animated costumed Lilliputian-like characters include a Queen (Joan Woodbury,) a lecherous King (Arthur S. Byron), a finger-wagging, lecturing Archbishop (Norman Ainsley), a Devil (Peter Shaw), a ballerina (Kansas De Forrest) and finally a mermaid (Josephine McKim), which we are told was as a result of an experiment with seaweed. Henry likens these results more to black magic than science. During all this we see the King climb out of his jar and run over to the Queen. He is quickly picked up by Pretorius and returned to his own jar. Bizarre.
The figures are perfect in shape, but lack size. Pretorius’ major challenge was achieving human-size for his creatures while using a natural approach. He grew them from seed as cultures as opposed to Henry’s dead approach, involving grave digging. The unbalanced doctor wants Henry’s help with what he considers would be a world astounding collaboration.
The aim is to abandon the revival of the dead, to engineer a race of real living people. Frankenstein alone has created a man, but together they will create his mate.
We now see the monster moving through woods and thick underbrush. He finds a still, placid pool and scoops up water to quench his thirst. He sees his hideous reflection in the water, which bothers him to the extent that he angrily growls and strikes the water’s surface in an attempt to make the image go away. Next we see a beautiful young shepherdess (Ann Darling). Our monster staggers over to her and when she sees him, she screams. She loses her balance and falls into the pool. He follows her into the water and saves her life. In direct opposite to his actions in the original film. She is still terrified of him and screams ‘don’t touch me’. Nearby, hunters hear her screams and rush to the rescue. Our monster is confused, but before he can take any action, a well aimed shot wounds him in the arm. He is chased through the forest. One of the hunters notifies the burgomaster and other villagers that the monster is on a rampage, and a search is immediately organised. The cry is “Get out the bloodhounds. Raise all the men you can, lock the women indoors, and wait for me’
The monster is pursued uphill by the angry, blood-thirsty townspeople with the bloodhounds barking after their prey. After pushing a rock boulder down on two of the villagers, the monster is surrounded by the mob. As you would expect our Minnie is again present. At the moment of the capture she exclaims to the burgomaster: “Mind he don’t get loose again. He might do some damage and hurt somebody.’ He is lashed to a long wooden pole, and taken back to town on a cart. He is then taken to an underground dungeon, where he is shackled into a stone throne-chair. Secured firmly our monster is now left on his own as the townspeople go about their daily routines. We again she Minnie in on the action as she and a few followers jeer at our monster through a barred window. We hear her utter another gem, “I’d hate to find him under my bed at night. He’s a nightmare in the daylight, he is.”
All have however underestimated the strength of our prisoner. He is too strong for the chains to hold him for long and he soon pulls them from their mountings and frees himself. Despite one of the guards attempting to shoot him through the cell bars, he breaks down the door of the dungeon and kills one of the them. He escapes into the street, just as the burgomaster is calmly assuring the townsfolk that the Monster is “quite harmless.” Our creature appears, causing panic and goes on another murderous spree.
The Monster returns to the woods that evening, where he hungrily smells a chicken roasting above a gypsy campfire. They are unaware of the escape. He is hungry and scares the family as they sit around the fire. In his attempt to snatch the food from the campfire he burns his hand. He blunders off.
We now hear the strains of a violin coming from a cottage and our fugitive goes towards it to seek refuge. It is the cabin of an old blind hermit (O. P. Heggie). Approaching with a smile and a melancholy look on his face he stumbles towards the blind man’s home. The hermit, on hearing a noise goes to the door, ‘Who’s there?’ No answer, so he returns to his playing. Still captivated by the music, our monster enters the cottage and is greeted by ‘ who is it, you’re welcome, my friend, whoever you are’. The hospitable blind hermit befriends the disturbed creature, becoming his first real friend.
He asks who he is but gets no response. We are however led to believe there is a bond between them. The hermit cannot see and the monster cannot speak. He goes to get some food and declares they shall be friends. The hermit has shown humility to our monster. He says he has prayed for a friend many times. He tells him that it is very lonely where he is and it’s been a long time since any human being came into this hut. The monster seems to respond to this offer of friendship.
Next we see them sitting around the table with our host attempting to teach table manners.The monster even responds with the words bread, drink and good. Friends they utter and we see them shake hands. He teaches him to smoke. When he is shown some wood for the fire there is the first signs of disagreement. Fire is good our hermit says, but the response is ‘no good’ Our monster then picks up the violin and gives it to our hermit, who is encouraged to play.
As if on cue as things were beginning to go well, we see the arrival of the two hunters who shot our monster earlier.They have lost their way in the forest and on entering the hut see the monster. Panicked, they gasp ‘Look, it’s the monster!’ Abruptly, the monster rises and knocks one of the threatening hunters to the floor. The hermit defends his monster friend, but to no avail, as a fight breaks out. In the struggle, the hut is accidentally set on fire.The monster cowers inside as the flames spread.The bewildered, protesting hermit is led away to safety by the hunters.
The Monster eventually stumbles through the smoke to the door, holds out his hands and pleadingly cries, ‘Friend?’, but there is no answer. Miserable and on the run again, he enters a graveyard. He pushes over a dead tree trunk and angrily desecrates a religious statue of a Catholic bishop by knocking it over. He steps down into an underground crypt to hide from torch-carrying villagers who we see are now back on his trail. In the crypt he speaks to the corpse of a deceased girl in a coffin, calling her his friend.
Just by coincidence, Pretorius and two hired assistants Karl (Dwight Frye) and Ludwig (Ted Billings) enter the crypt with lanterns to rob the corpse of a young 19-year-old girl for the madman’s life-creating experiments. The monster hides in the dark shadows and watches as the grave robbers go about their business. After being paid, the two assistants leave the crypt, but Pretorius remains to have a meal and a smoke. Once again his deranged personality comes through. Who else, alone inside a crypt eating a meal, would toast a Gothic skull that he had placed decoratively on the top of the coffin between lighted candles. His laughing to himself only confirms what we already knew.
The monster staggers up to Pretorius, not frightening him in the least. The grave-robbing, scheming scientist befriends the Monster for his own ends, forgetting about his original grave-robbing errand. The Monster is told that a female friend would be made for him. Pretorius sees an opportunity to use Frankenstein’s own creation to get his own way.
Pretorius now goes to see Henry and his new bride. He is told by Elizabeth Frankenstein that Henry has been very ill, and his visit is most unwelcome. They are leaving. After Elizabeth leaves the room , Pretorius again tries to get Henry back on board. He claims that all the necessary preparations are made and his part in the experiment is complete. He has completed, using his method, a perfect human brain. Henry still refuses and to persuade him to join in his part of the experiment, Pretorius opens the outer door to the monster, providing a harrowing confrontation between the creature and his creator. Pretorius takes credit for the Monster’s ability to talk and the monster repeats his request for a female companion. He is dismissed, but not before Henry tells them both that nothing will make him go on with the experiments.
To get his way, Pretorius has ordered the monster to kidnap Elizabeth. We see her abducted, with Minnie witnessing the event. Pretorius then announces to all that if the incident is kept quiet then he will do his best to see she is returned unharmed. The monster deposits Elizabeth in a dark, mountain cave.
Henry now visits Pretorius and tells him he can find no trace of Elizabeth, but if he can bring her back he will do anything that Pretorius wants. He tells Henry that his wife is well and will be returned if the experiments proceed.
We now see the two scientists working together on a human heart for their new creation. The one they have is useless and Henry says he must have another and it must be sound and young. In return for a payment of a thousand crowns, Karl is instructed to go to the accident hospital for a heart from a female victim. She needs to have died suddenly. Henry and Pretorius are unaware that Karl murders a young peasant girl walking in the street to get what they want. When they test the heart, it beats perfectly, but we see Henry is very suspicious as to where it came from.
The work goes on , but exhausted and distraught, Henry complains about the growling Monster’s presence in the laboratory. No longer needing him, Pretorius subdues the impatient Monster with whiskey to prevent him from interfering.
Henry is also growing more impatient and worrying about the safety of Elizabeth. To prove that she is still alive, Pretorius produces an electrical machine so that Henry can speak to her: After a short conversation, Pretorius again promises, she will be returned when the work is completed.
Henry, we soon observe, cannot forget his old mad scientist habits, which start to resurface as the experiment progresses. They decide to put the heart into the creation as it appears to be working perfectly well.
We now learn that a storm is rising and the air is heavy with electricity. What else as a prelude to our films climax. The time has come to bring the creation to life. Amidst weird electrical devices and the sound of thunder, Pretorius removes the sheet covering the bandaged, mummified corpse. Karl is told to proceed to the roof to send up metal kites.They will receive the spark of life in the form of a lightning bolt. Crackling electrical devices are set into motion. Sparks fly, smoke plumes rise, arcs of electricity jump between devices, switches are thrown, and a spiraling circular generator collects and harnesses electrical energy. The operating table with the corpse is sent to the roof. This is a sequence that does justice to any sci-fi movie and sets up the tension for the final part of our story.
Not all is well though. We see the monster making its way up to the roof where Karl attempts to stop it with a lighted touch. He fails and is killed in the process and is hurled from the top of the stone tower. We now see the operating table being lowered back down into the laboratory and the diffuser bands are removed from the corpse. We see one hand stirring.
We see the monster’s Bride (Elsa Lanchester) is stunningly grotesque. When Pretorius removes the bandages from her eyes, two uncomprehending globes stare back. Henry exclaims, “She’s alive! Alive!” The two scientists tilt the table to an upright position. The Bride stiffly raises her arms and then collapses. After the bandage-covered Bride has her wrappings removed, she is viewed in full, chilling splendour.
She wears a flowing white shroud and has wild frizzled hair, streaked with white from lightning charges. It stands straight out behind her, making her look dramatically stunning. Stitches are visible beneath her jaw. Her angular movements are bird-like and her sharp-boned and angular head jerks and darts from one position to another. Appropriately, her white covering could be mistaken for a bridal gown and Pretorius announces the Bride of Frankenstein. Unstable on her feet, the now-living woman wobbles and sways back and forth.
Trouble is not far away however, as the monster eagerly rushes down into the laboratory and sees what is intended to be his new Bride. She stands back warily.The monster approaches muttering friend? friend?
Our ugly creature’s clumsy advances are however rejected. She lets out an ear-shattering scream, when he reaches out to touch her arm. The Bride pulls away in disgust and seeks shelter behind her creator, Frankenstein. The monster refuses to stand back when commanded ‘She hate me’ he says.
Our monster now goes berserk, and threatens to pull a lever that will destroy the tower and everything in it. Elizabeth, who has now escaped from her bonds races to the tower door where she pleads for Henry to flee. Henry says he cannot leave his creations, but the monster utters the words ‘ yes, go. You live, go’ They run to safety outside. He does not however allow Pretorius to escape, saying ‘we belong dead’ and pulls the lever. Explosions begin to rock the stone-tower and we see rubble from the crumbling building buries alive everyone inside..
Having escaped to a nearby hillside, Elizabeth and Henry hug one another.
There are few sequels that are superior to their predecessors. However, The Bride of Frankenstein not only equals it’s masterful original, Frankenstein (1931), but many are of the view that it surpasses it.
Director James Whale was not at all keen to do a sequel, but he eventually agreed when Universal agreed to let him have complete artistic freedom. Production was much publicised as early as 1933. Whale, who was following his towering success with Frankenstein,The Invisible Man and The Old Dark House, would not begin working on a sequel until late 1934. It was originally entitled The Return of Frankenstein. The film was adapted by William Hurlbut and John Balderston from an incident in the Mary Shelly novel Frankenstein, in which the monster demanded a mate. The difference in the novel was that Dr. Frankenstein created the Bride, but instead of bringing the monster to life, decided to destroy it. Not good for a film line.
The original cast was kept pretty much intact except that the then seventeen year old Valerie Hobson played the part of Elizabeth. Ernest Thesinger also plays the role of his life and almost walks away with the film, with his wonderful portrayal of the menacing Dr. Pretorius. We see classic line after classic line being delivered. As for the remainder of the cast, their performances still stand out. Boris Karloff, of course as the monster, Elsa Lanchester in a dual role as The Bride and Mary Shelley, and Una O’Connor as Minnie, Frankenstein’s servant. What would the film have been like without her?
The memorable sequence of bringing the Monster’s Bride to life is great and can be considered to have excelled over even the original scene in Frankenstein. The famous line as Clive exclaims, “She’s alive! ALIVE!” stays with us as one of those quotes you never forget.
We then see some more of the emotional plays that we have come to expect and are intended to prove to us that the monster is really human after all. She moves her head like a bird, makes choking sounds, hisses and when the Monster finally sees her, she screams at him. Once again he tries to get her to like him, but she screams wildly at this final attempt. Karloff’s heartbroken Monster exclaims,”she hate me…like others!”
Lanchester was not overly tall and was therefore placed on stilts to make her look the part. And what about her unforgettable shock hairstyle which stood up and hinted that the electricity had shocked her to life. It was held by a wired horsehair cage
It was a film that was made to be enjoyed by all, even those who may not particularly be fans of horror. This film proves that horror is not just a narrow market, but can be funny and intelligent and also be combined with splendid cinematic virtues. Arguably James Whale’s best – and one of the films that has to be seen and enjoyed in one’s lifetime.
When we look more closely at Universal Studio at its height, we see that it was renowned for three things that kept it in the black. Besides those famous studio tours that still excite visitors even today, we had the Deanna Durbin musicals, the Abbott & Costello comedies and those great Gothic horror films with Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy and, most of all, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Those sets were used over and over again, and we all recognise them as fans of the genre.
The macabre, satirical Bride of Frankenstein is a key film to the horror genre (perhaps the best) and one of the genuinely great films. It’s one of the most wonderfully crafted films in cinema history and can be considered as one of Whale’s finest productions.
Whale’s passion for lightweight comic relief in his horror films can been seen again. Aside from Thesiger’s Pretorius, much of that comes courtesy of Una O’Connor, who is a delight as Frankenstein’s sniveling maid.
Lord Byron discusses the merits of Mary Shelley’s book
Frankenstein’s monster is dead
The monster lives to fight another day
Henry Frankenstein is comforted by Elizabeth
Frankenstein is approached by Doctor Pretorius
Our monster has once again been captured
Friendship at last. The old blind hermit
Monster and creator are reunited
The Bride of Frankenstein
Our bride rejects her mate
Final destruction of the dream
Finally it is all over and the horror has passed