In 1818, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus was first published anonymously in London. Audiences in France would later discover in its second publication that the story was a product of a young and dark imagination. That imagination, aged 19 years, was Mary Shelley. No one could have predicted that her novel would be produced into a film over a hundred years later and her beloved monster would instantly become one of the most recognizable faces since the inception of film.
It was never Whale's intention to make a follow-up film to 1932's Frankenstein but under certain contractual obligations and a substantial amount of pressure from executives, he finally agreed to make another film based on the Frankenstein monster. The original working title was known as "The Return of Frankenstein" but was changed to Bride of Frankenstein based on a small story arc in Shelley's novel. So, now that we've thoroughly explored the in's, out's, and around's, we have a solid background to build upon and we're ready to continue onward. So...onward!
The story opens with Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley seated comfortably in a sitting room discussing the horrors of her novel. Mary states that a moral lesson is to be drawn from her tale and goes on further to explain that other events occur after the initial story's final act. Subtle screen transitions then depict the closing scene from the first film, as the Frankenstein monster escapes from the burning wreckage and flees into the woods. Meanwhile, Dr. Henry Frankenstein's body (his name was originally Victor but for reasons unclear to me they changed it for the sequel) is recovered and brought back to his fiancee Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson replaced Mae Clark who played Elizabeth in the first film). Henry is approached by his former mentor Dr. Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) and expresses an interest in furthering their research. These introductory elements head smoothly into a classic moral tale.
Bride of Frankenstein celebrates the same lavish sets and cinematography that helped make the first film beautiful. If you take the time to admire the set design it becomes clear that amazing things were produced 75 years ago - there are still several sequences where I had to ask myself, "I wonder how they did that?" We could agree on how similar these devices are but a welcome addition that you'll find in Bride of Frankenstein is the use of comic relief, especially from Dr. Frankenstein's housekeeper Minnie, played by character actress Una O'Connor. The presence of this comedic effect is quietly slipped into the dialogue but if you pay close attention and have an offbeat sense of humor you may pick up on it.
In some ways it's refreshing to watch an enjoyable sequel without the overuse of marketing campaigns and slogans that slowly bleed dry the film's worth - but even in the '30's, sequels exhibit cliche moments to capitalize on the first film's success. Show business is show business but I've chosen to exercise a more lenient approach this time and ignore the negative attributes that plague most sequels.
What may be the biggest issue with Bride of Frankenstein, though, is how little screen time that the Bride has. With a title that openly proclaims the main attraction and a female monster that is easily in the top ten of all horror icons, her part is a small one. The Bride is played by Elsa Lanchester who also fills the role of Mary Shelley in the film's prologue. James Whale did this intentionally, not on account of budget constraints but with the purpose of portraying the duality of man. The small increments that the Bride is available are, without a doubt, classic...it's wonderful how much of an impact her character has on the genre which is why many film critics hail this film as Whale's masterpiece.
If you love old movie monsters from the silver screen and have always wondered what the hoopla was about, especially that of Frankenstein, The Monster, and the Bride, you HAVE to see this. I recommend starting with the original and then viewing this one - just a friendly bit of advice. Now...onward!