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Bride of Frankenstein, The Print E-mail
Tuesday, 19 October 1999

Bride Of Frankenstein

Universal Home Video
MPAA rating: Unrated
starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Una O'Connor, Dwight Frye, Elsa Lanchester, E.E. Clive
release year: 1935
film rating: Five Stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

Another in Universal's continuing "Classic Monster Collection," BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN has been given A-list treatment, which the film fully deserves.

After a prologue in which Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) discusses her story with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, the movie opens shortly after the burning windmill scene that climaxed FRANKENSTEIN. The villagers assume the Monster (Boris Karloff) has been burned to death, but two of them learn the hard way that he survives -- badly scarred by the flames, but angry and murderous. He wanders off, hoping to find something like happiness.

Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) also hopes to find happiness with his bride Elizabeth (now Valerie Hobson), but he's confronted by a specter from his past: the sardonic, wickedly humorous Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), who hopes to talk Henry into creating a female Monster.

Meanwhile, the Monster has a series of increasingly upsetting adventures. While clumsily trying to rescue a shepherdess who falls into a river when she sees him, the Monster is shot by some passing hunters. He tries to flee, but is pursued and captured by villagers and taken back to town. He immediately breaks lose, and stomps out of town, killing a couple of people offscreen. (The production notes reveal that in the original cut, there were at least 21 deaths; to satisfy the Production Code, this was reduced to a mere ten.)

In the forest, the Monster takes refuge with a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie), and for a while, it looks as though he might be able to live a semblance of a normal life. But a couple of hunters (one is John Carradine) again intrude, and the Monster flees, taking refuge in a cemetery.

It happens to be the same crypt where Dr. Pretorious is gathering bones for his planned creation of a female Monster. When he meets the Monster, Pretorious discovers he can talk -- and that he's found the perfect means of persuading Henry to continue with their project....

Nothing less than one of the greatest horror movies ever made -- many claim it to be the greatest -- BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN has been given the deluxe treatment in this outstanding DVD by film historian David J. Skal and a team of experts.

But just what does "the greatest horror movie" mean? The scariest? BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was never especially scary, not even when originally released back in 1935. The grimmest? BRIDE shows the impish, sardonic personality of its director James Whale so vividly that many have (erroneously) called it a comedy. What "the greatest horror movie" means, at least in the context of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, is simple: it's one of the best movies that can be classified as a horror movie, and undoubtedly the very best of the classic era.

It was never intended to be very frightening (though it does have some creepy sequences); instead, it's a witty, imaginative and compassionate tale of fantasy, of science gone wrong. The production values are superb; there's never been another movie that looks quite like this one, with its mixture of German expressionism, some touches of surrealism, and Hollywood gloss. Even without having seen the film in decades, almost any film buff could identify the movie from a single frame of film -- it's that distinctive.

James Whale originally balked at doing a sequel to his hit, FRANKENSTEIN, but after a while, and offers of greater money and authority, he finally gave in -- and created his masterpiece. And when you consider his other films include the 1935 SHOWBOAT, THE INVISIBLE MAN and THE OLD DARK HOUSE, that's quite some accomplishment.

So is this DVD. The highly informative and entertaining documentary on the making of the film, hosted by life-long BRIDE fan Joe Dante, covers the film thoroughly, from its inception to its release to its influences. (There are even scenes from BRIDE OF CHUCKY though, unfortunately, nothing from YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.) Skal interviewed a large number of authorities, including Sara Karloff, Clive Barker and film historian Bob Madison. But the most interesting and informative comments come from Paul M. Jensen, Gregory W. Mank and GODS AND MONSTERS director Bill Condon.

There's an extensive collection of stills, production notes, biographies, etc. -- much as can be found on any good DVD release. But the disc also includes an excellent narration track by Scott MacQueen, the archivist at the Disney studios, whose authority easily extends to films like BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN as well. MacQueen's narration is marred just a little by highly technical references to the music, and some fairly clumsy jokes. But those are very minor defects when compared to his work overall.

The disc's only drawback is that, unlike with the FRANKENSTEIN disc, the movie has not been fully restored. The transfer is from a very good print, but it's the same one that Universal used for their earlier video releases. It's too bad that this film, of all their releases, couldn't have been burnished by a full restoration, but it's likely that only the most devoted Universal fans and film buffs will notice that this print isn't quite all it could have been.

If you've never seen this film before, don't come to it expecting a rip-roaring horror thriller; BRIDE is far too sophisticated for that. James Whale's ironic, playful attitude infuses the entire film, but he treats the characters with real sensitivity as well. As you know if you've seen GODS AND MONSTERS, Whale was gay, and as several of the commentators point out, BRIDE has what can be described as a gay sensibility -- which means it's playful, intelligent and stylish, while also taking the story seriously. The on-screen exemplar of this attitude is Ernest Thesiger's performance as Pretorius. Thesiger, who looks like he was born old, is brittle, witty and sharp-tongued, and he, too, was gay in real life.

Finally, it showcases probably the finest performance of Boris Karloff's movie career. Even though he felt the Monster shouldn't talk, he went along with it -- and gave himself over to the role, heart and soul. The Monster is a killer, a creature made of parts of the dead, but he's also a heartbreaking figure of tragedy and a strange, awkward beauty. There is no other performance like it in movie history.

more details
special features: DVD includes extensive supplementary material; see commentary.
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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