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Bride of Frankenstein


            Following the success of 1931's Frankenstein, Universal immediately announced a sequel: The Return of Frankenstein. First rumors surfaced in 1933, but it took two more years until the finished film, now entitled Bride of Frankenstein, was shown in theatres.

The film begins in a parlor, where Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley are having a chat. As they discuss the story of Frankenstein's Monster, Mary reveals that this was not the end of the creature.
The narrative then shifts to the burning mill from the first film. After the burgomaster has sent all the people home, only an old couple, the parents of the murdered girl Maria, are left. The husband plunges down into the ruins of the mill where he discovers that the Monster is still alive. Driven by revenge, the Monster kills the couple. Meanwhile Frankenstein is brought home to recover. There he is visited by his old teacher Dr. Pretorius, who urges him to continue his experiments. Pretorius brings Frankenstein to his own lab, where he shows him his latest creations: five miniature men whom he keeps in glass jars. Now Pretorius' aim is to build a bride for the monster in order to "create a man-made race". Running loose in the woods, the Monster spots a beautiful shepherdess and approaches her. The frightened girl cries out in terror and falls into a lake, but is saved from drowning by the Monster. Summoned by the girl's cries, two hunters arrive and shoot at the Monster. Soon a new lynch mob is organised and captures the Monster. Killing several people, the Monster manages to escape again. In a forest hut he encounters a blind hermit, who is not afraid of the horrible creature. He feeds the Monster, tends to his wounds and even teaches him a few words. But this peaceful atmosphere does not last very long. Two hunters discover the strange couple and chase the Monster away. The creature then hides in a graveyard where he meets Pretorius, who is just about to steal some bodies. Together they drink wine and the Monster, pointing at a skull, asks him, "You make man like me?" But Pretorius has something better to offer, "No, woman, friend for you." The doctor then uses the Monster to kidnap Frankenstein's bride Elizabeth in order to make sure Frankenstein will co-operate. In Frankenstein's old laboratory they finally give life to their new creation, a woman made from dead body parts. When she spots the Monster, the bride is so appalled by his horrible appearance that she rejects him. This final disappointment is too much for the Monster to take and he destroys Pretorius, the Bride and himself. Before the building collapses he proclaims, "You live! We belong dead!" and sets Frankenstein free to rejoin his wife Elizabeth.

Cover of 1999 DVD release of Bride of Frankenstein


            With a production budget of over $ 400,000 Bride of Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester, was almost twice as expensive as its predecessor. Before the actual shooting began director James Whale had to submit the screenplay to the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA). Under the pressure of Joseph Breen and Catholic organisations like the League of Decency, in 1934 the MPPDA had been forced to introduce strict censorship rules, the so-called Production Code. This code prohibited, among many other things, explicit depiction of crime, drug abuse, violence and sexual actions (e.g. "excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embrace") in films. It also prohibited the use of indecent or vulgar language, e.g. "S.O.B.", "damn", "Hell!", "God!". While Frankenstein had been left untouched by the censors on its initial release, Bride of Frankenstein did not meet the approval of Joseph Breen. "Throughout the script there are a number of references to Frankenstein which compare him to God and which compare his creation of the Monster to God's creation of Man. All such references should be deleted." was one of Breen's statements (1). He also demanded the cutting of a scene where the Monster watches a couple exchanging love vows and one scene depicting the killing of the burgomaster. Additionally, the narrative frame lost much of the dialogue of Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron boasting of their immorality and adultery. In fact, the narrative frame itself was introduced as a result of the strict US censorship system. James Whale feared that the film would be rejected because of its Faustian theme and hints of blasphemy. Therefore he introduced the narrative frame which should clearly point out that Bride of Frankenstein exists explicitly as a work of fiction told in the words of Mary Shelley.

            In Trinidad, Palestine and Hungary the film was rejected completely "simply because it is a horror picture" (2). Other countries (e.g. China, Singapore, Japan) deleted important parts of the film and in Sweden censorship cuts were so excessive that Bride of Frankenstein was only released as a short film.

Beauty and the Beast: the Monster meets the Bride (Karloff and Elsa Lanchester)


A Bride of Frankenstein cartoon by acclaimed comic book artist Bruce Timm


            One major difference between Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein is the conception of the Monster. While in Frankenstein he was a murderous vengeful creature, the sequel presents a Monster the audience can sympathise with, thus bringing him much closer to Mary Shelley's original concept. Several scenes from the novel were adapted for the film (the opening credits read "Suggested by the original story written in 1816 by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Adapted by William Hurlbut, John Balderston") in order to make the Monster more human. In one of them the Monster saves a girl from drowning and is "rewarded" with being shot in the arm. Another, even more important scene is the episode involving the blind hermit, which was obviously influenced by the De Lacey episode from the novel. It is not only important because for the first time a human being accepts the Monster, but even more so because the Monster is given a voice. Now Frankenstein's creation can talk and express his feelings and emotions through words. Although his utterances are only simple sentences like "Friend - good!" and not the eloquent speeches in perfect English from the novel, this is an important factor in removing the Monster from the sub-human image of the first film. Furthermore, the Monster can now be soothed by sweet music, he laughs, drinks wine, puffs cigars with the hermit and even weeps because at last he has found a friend. There are also hints at a gay undertone inherent in these scenes, a guess which is not far-fetched considering James Whale's homosexuality. "There is something tacitly but strongly erotic here: the meeting of two men, both outcast, both unwanted, who find they can share house under a common bond" (3).  


Another drawing of the Bride by Bruce Timm
Very often the Monster is clearly shown as a victim, which is a further step in order to humanise the Monster. The first such episode is the rescue of the frightened shepherdess. In this scene we see the Monster in an idealised idyllic setting with pine trees, mountains, sheep and a painted sky. This is a sharp contrast to the preceding scene, that showed Pretorius and Frankenstein in a dark, cold laboratory. Despite his noble act of rescuing the drowning girl, the Monster is shot by hunters and runs off into the woods. This tendency of victimizing the Monster is continued in one of the next scenes, where the Monster is captured by the villagers. They chain him, tie him to a pole "and raise him up in the air like a wounded Christ on the cross" (4). Later, when the Monster has at last found peace in the hermit's hut he again falls victim to the blind rage of the villagers.

When in the end the Monster enters the laboratory to see his bride he appears like a sweet and innocent child. Smiling, he reaches for the Bride and gently touches her hand whispering, "Friend." But the Bride, monstrous like the Monster himself, rejects him and flees him in terror. The ensuing rage of destruction is perfectly understandable because now the Monster fully grasps all the consequences of his hopeless situation: "She hates me, like others!" The Monster knows that he will never have a chance in this world and that he will never be accepted by anyone, not even those who are like him. There is only one solution: suicide and the destruction of those who gave him life. But even in this final act of destruction the Monster shows compassion and lets Frankenstein escape.

            To the Monster death is not necessarily the end but also symbolises the source, a new beginning. He is aware that he was made up from dead parts when he muses at a skull and says about Frankenstein, "I know him. Made me from dead. I love dead. Hate living." When Pretorius promises to make a wife for the Monster, he knows that "from the dead he was made, among the dead he will find his companion, to the dead he will return" (5)

            In Bride of Frankenstein Dr. Pretorius (the magnificent Ernest Thesiger) is a much more important character than Frankenstein. He is the devil/Mephisto and Frankenstein is Faust, the searcher for forbidden knowledge. By proposing to make a bride for the Monster in order to "create a race, a man-made race upon the earth", Pretorius is introduced as the true evil force in Whale's film. In Shelley's novel it is the Monster who demands a bride: "My companion must be of the same species and have the same defects. This being you must create."
But here it is Pretorius who brings up the idea to "create his mate". The Doctor's driving force is a longing for power, the wish to "populate the earth with his own handicraft" (6) like a shadow God. The Monster in the novel, on the other hand, only longs for someone to share his life with him.

On several occasions Pretorius is presented as a diabolical character. For instance, on his first entrance Pretorius' name is spoken several times by Minnie and Frankenstein. According to an old medieval superstition the devil's name has to be spoken out aloud at least three times to invite him into human company. Like in Goethe's Faust this has now been done and Pretorius/the devil will not leave Frankenstein's side again. Pretorius then proposes a collaboration to Frankenstein, to work together "not like master and student, but as fellow scientists", again a reference to Faust.

Diabolical capabilities:
   Dr. Pretorius (Ernst Thesiger)

When Pretorius later shows Frankenstein his collection of miniature people in glass jars he finally reveals his identity, or at least how he perceives himself. In one of the bowls we see a devil in a black suit and Pretorius comments, "The next one is the very devil. Very bizarre, this little chap. There is a certain resemblance to me, don't you think. Or do I flatter myself ?"

Pretorius again proves his "diabolical capabilities" (7) when he mysteriously enters Henry and Elizabeth's room through a backdoor although Minnie has been ordered to send him away. Elizabeth tells him that he is not welcome, but nevertheless exits the room to leave her husband in the hands of the devil.

The duo of Pretorius and Frankenstein can also be interpreted as a gay couple, who are still able to produce offspring, without any participation of women. Film critic Gary Morris sees the whole film as a gay assault on standard sex roles and family values. In his essay "Sexual Subversion" Morris writes that Karloff's Monster is "the terrifying child of the unholy marriage of Pretorius and Henry — Henry the father in giving it life, Pretorius a mother-figure who nurtures it". He also points out several other instances that place Bride of Frankenstein into a homosexual context, e.g. the fact that Ernst Thesiger was gay. 

          Several scenes in Bride of Frankenstein refer to an identification of the creator with his creation and vice versa. When Henry Frankenstein's inanimate body lies on a table in his castle this reminds of a similar scene of the Monster lying on a table in the laboratory. When Henry suddenly moves his right hand - like the Monster in the first film - Elizabeth cries out, "He's alive!", the same phrase Henry madly yelled when he brought his creation to life. At the end of the film the phrase will occur again when Frankenstein awakens the Bride. In all three cases the return of dead persons to life is indicated by the same gesture (moving of the hand) and the same announcement.

A number of other points in the film also indicate the identification of creator and creation: Mary Shelley and the Bride are played by the same actress (Elsa Lanchester); the Monster demands a mate at the same time when Frankenstein marries Elizabeth; and the Monster takes Frankenstein's place by kidnapping his bride Elizabeth.

This is a parallel to a common tendency of confusing and mixing up the name Frankenstein: Indeed to many people creator and creation have become synonymous, the Monster has become Frankenstein, the name Frankenstein has become the name of the Monster - a confusion that may also be caused by the title of the film. Even Dr. Pretorius makes this mistake when he falsely introduces the female Monster with the words "The Bride of Frankenstein!".

            In addition to its horror elements, Bride of Frankenstein also contains a number of humorous moments. In fact, screenwriter Balderston stated that originally his script had been intended as a satire but was later changed by Whale and producer Laemmle. The comic highlights are Pretorius' miniature people in glass jars (a king madly in love with the queen trying to get out of his jar, an archbishop wildly whistling at the king to stop, a devil, a mermaid and a ballerina), the Monster drinking wine and smoking cigars, and a couple of scenes involving the burgomaster. Another such comic character is Una O'Connor's Minnie, a kind of Cassandra, whom nobody believes when she warns of the Monster. Even Pretorius can sometimes be funny, when he utters his running gag line, "It is my only weakness", once referring to gin, another time to cigars.

            In terms of film technique, Bride of Frankenstein is a masterpiece of its time. Like in Frankenstein, director James Whale took inspirations from German expressionism. The design of the creation scene and the Bride's looks and robot-like movements show influences from Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Elsa Lanchester looks "half Neferiti, half ghost with her long white bridal gown" 8.
The creation scene, shot by cinematographer John J. Mescall, is another extraordinary achievement. The room is filled with various crackling and humming devices, among which Frankenstein and Pretorius restlessly run around flicking switches, adjusting machines and giving orders to their assistants. This fast pace is underlined by similarly fast editing: the sequence contains countless cuts with some shots shorter than one second. Additionally, Frankenstein and Pretorius are filmed from weird tilted angles, often in combination with wide-angle close-ups of their faces, which gives the whole scene a restless, almost outlandish tone.

Many viewers prefer Bride of Frankenstein to is predecessor due to its more complex, multi-layered structure and its unique, sometimes quirky mix of comedy, drama and horror. Both films are undeniably genre-defining works and essential additions to the Frankenstein universe, thanks to Boris Karloff's iconic impersonation of the Monster and its re-interpretations of the Frankenstein myth.


Cast & Crew:  
Henry Frankenstein Colin Clive
Elizabeth Valerie Hobson
Mary Shelley/The Bride Elsa Lanchester
The Monster Boris Karloff
Dr. Pretorius Ernest Thesiger
Make-up Jack Pierce
Writing credits William Hurlbut, John Balderston
Music Frank Skinner
Cinematography John Mescall
Producers Carl Laemmle jr
Director  James Whale




1 Manguel, Alberto. Bride of Frankenstein. (London: British Film Institute, 1997) 14
2 Manguel 1997: 15
3 Manguel 1997: 34
4 Manguel 1997: 30
5 Manguel 1997: 39
6 Manguel 1997: 27
7 Manguel 1997: 39

8 Manguel 1997: 46



© 2000-2004 Andreas Rohrmoser

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