In late 1931, during the early preview screenings of “Frankenstein”, Carl Laemmle Jr. decided that the ending should be changed. Henry Frankenstein, he determined, would survive - not just to provide a happier ending, but also to leave open the possibility of a sequel. After tinkering with several versions of the script and much persuading from Laemmle for director James Whale to return, production finally began in 1934 on what would be cinema’s first great sequel. Indeed, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is still arguably one of the greatest sequels ever made.
James Whale was resistant. He felt as if he had done all that could be done with the Frankenstein mythos. He eventually agreed to do it (his price was the ability to direct the now largely-forgotten “One More River”) but still felt like he couldn’t top the original. He decided that instead of trying to do the same thing, he’d create a whole new tone. That he would make it a memorable, over-the-top experience. The result was the world’s first 'camp' horror film. So influential was the tongue-in-cheek nature of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN that the celebration of the inherent absurdities in Horror became a staple of the genre.
For all its camp and fun, it is also a brilliantly made film. The return of James Whale put a visionary in the director’s chair, Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, and Dwight Frye all returned (though Frye obviously played a new character), and Franz Waxman was brought on to create a deeply influential score. Another key crew member was make-up artist Jack Pierce, creator of the original Frankenstein’s Monster make-up, who returned to create the Bride. All they needed was the right actress to play her. They settled on British actress Elsa Lanchester.
Lanchester actually has a dual role in the film, playing Mary Shelley in the prologue. After the prologue, however, she scarcely seen again until the end of the film as the Bride, and then for only a very brief time. Lanchester makes the most of it, however, giving the Bride a bewildered, avian attitude. She based her characterization primarily on her observations of swans in London’s Regent Park - particularly the hissing (she said; “They’re really very nasty creatures”). It is, indeed, a testament to the genius of Jack Pierce’s design and the striking performance of Elsa Lanchester that although the Bride is only on screen for about 3 minutes, she is a Horror icon on par with Frankenstein's Monster himself.
The original “Frankenstein” was a touchstone in our culture - establishing many of the indelible images in our iconography of the macabre. It is rare indeed for a sequel to bring us something new - to contribute something further. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN did, and we can all be very grateful for that.
BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN fun fact - Boris Karloff hated the idea of the monster speaking. He said; "Speech! Stupid! My argument was that if the monster had any impact or charm, it was because he was inarticulate – this great, lumbering, inarticulate creature. The moment he spoke you might as well play it straight."
Dwight Frye’s character, Karl, had an entire subplot in which he attempts to frame the monster for a murder he himself committed. It was cut after preview audiences felt the film was too long.
The Monster - “You stay! We belong dead!”
Dr. Pretorius - “To a new world of gods and monsters!”
Dr. Pretorius - “Sometimes I have wondered whether life wouldn't be much more amusing if we were all devils, no nonsense about angels and being good.”