This Month's Featured Equipment Reviews
Bride of Frankenstein, The
Written by Bill Warren
Tuesday, 19 October 1999
|Bride Of Frankenstein
|Universal Home Video
||Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Una O'Connor, Dwight Frye, Elsa Lanchester, E.E. Clive
Another in Universal's continuing "Classic Monster Collection," BRIDE
OF FRANKENSTEIN has been given A-list treatment, which the film fully
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
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.
||DVD includes extensive supplementary material; see commentary.
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||36-inch Sony XBR