Bride of Frankenstein

Today I watched James Whale's 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein. I have never seen it before, but in his essay, Ebert mentions that it's the best of all of the Universal Frankenstein movies. I really liked it - it was funny, witty, and an enjoyable little movie. The plot, I think, is self-explanatory - Henry Frankenstein, coerced by both the Monster and Dr. Praetorious, tries to make a mate for his Monster.

I love the cinematography in old horror movies like this one. They were inspired heavily by classic silent movies and German Expressionism. Films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with it's heavy shadows, jarring camera angles, and odd sets, had a lasting influence on this genre. In Bride of Frankenstein, the camera is always tilted at interesting angles, highlighting shadows on the characters. I felt like it was almost never straight. The set is large and often sparse, aside from the prop-filled laboratory. Lots of dark, twisting stairs, covered in shadows. I really liked the whole look of the movie - it made it really interesting to watch, and gave it a more unreal, fantastical quality.

In his essay, Ebert writes that "Some movies age; others ripen. Seen today, Whale's masterpiece is more surprising than when it was made because today's audiences are more alert to its buried hints of homosexuality, necrophilia and sacrilege" (The Great Movies, 89). There are a lot of disturbing and strange things buried in this movie that went unnoticed when it was released. There is a scene where the Monster takes a long, lingering look over a woman's dead body, hinting at necrophilia. The Monster is pulled up by the angry mob onto wooden beam, his arms bent outwards like Christ on the cross. The angry mob runs by a crucifix in the graveyard where the Monster is trying to hide from them. A crucifix in the Hermit's home glows during some scenes. The Monster, on his last night with the Hermit, eats wine and bread. Dr. Praetorious is vaguely homosexual, having a relationship with Henry where he tempts him away from his new bride Elizabeth to create their own child-like figure, the Bride. I'm glad I had Ebert's essay for this movie - I was noticing things like this in the film, especially the Christian imagery, but it made me feel better to know I was at least picking up on something real. I kept thinking of this as a reverse Christ story - Christ was crucified and then resurrected, and the Monster was resurrected and then crucified. It was funny because after thinking that, I found out that the commentary on the DVD brings up this point as well. Good to know I'm not alone in my analysis!

While the subtext of the story is interesting, it's not needed to enjoy the movie on any level. In fact, it's pretty amazing without it. It's just hard for me, as an English major, trained for years to look for symbols, (especially the religious kind), to turn off that part of my brain. It's a fun movie with lots of obvious comedy, like the shrill, manic housekeeper and the scene where Praetorious had a candlelit dinner in the crypt. It's really interesting to look at because of the cinematography, and it's a pretty good story. Praetorious is a really great character, and I enjoyed watching him in all of his scenes. Renfield, the lunatic from the 1931 Dracula, is one of my favorite characters ever, so I personally really loved the humor in Bride of Frankenstein. If you love horror movies, especially the old classics, I highly recommend this movie.

Have any of you seen Bride of Frankenstein? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie essay on Bride of Frankenstein

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