..

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester
Director:  James Whale
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  75 minutes
Release Date:  October 19, 1999

Film ****

The Bride of Frankenstein shines like a true gleaming gem amongst Universal’s vast library of classic horror films.  It was also perhaps the crowning achievement for legendary director James Whale.  Above all, it’s a film that violates conventional wisdom that a sequel can never surpass the original.  This one proves it can be done, no matter how unlikely it may seem.  Perhaps all of Hollywood could take a few lessons from Whale on how this can be achieved:

Lesson One—take a strong central character and develop him.  Boris Karloff, who became a cultural icon when he created the role of the monster in the first film, gets to take his creation further in this film.  He learns to speak, and through his limited but strong vocabulary, he is able to give voice to the monster’s feelings, thoughts and intentions.

Lesson Two—have a solid story to tell.  James Whale didn’t need to do more of the same for his sequel…fortunately for him, there were rich, sumptuous parts of Mary Shelley’s original novel that had been left completely unexplored in the first film.  By tapping into those fresh waters, Whale had a legitimate continuation to the first story.

Lesson Three—be more creative.  Whale initially didn’t want to do the sequel, but finally agreed because Universal gave him virtually unlimited freedom to do the picture his way.  As such, what we see on screen is much more personal and involved…particularly the touches reflecting Whale’s sense of humor.  Whale also was able to give this picture more and better production values, which he used to further establish the mood and atmosphere of his scenes.

Lesson Four—take what was best from the original, and give the audience more and better.  The monster had moments of pathos in the first film.  Here, he is given a lengthy, heartbreaking scene where he pairs up with a blind hermit…the only man who hasn’t run screaming from his hideousness.  It’s one of the most beautiful scenes in movie history.  And since we’ve seen the creation sequence in the first one and know how it works, Whale really delivers the goods in this picture by saving the sequence to the end, and making it louder and more frantic, with better special effects and more interesting uses of camera work.  Notice how the angles and shadows on the men’s faces in this scene look almost mad, or even evil.

Whale was able to accomplish all of these objectives and more with this movie, proving once again that he was one of Hollywood’s most visionary directors.  And if the look of the original monster has become something of an icon, so too has the look of the bride (Lanchester), with her electrified and streaked hair.  Like Karloff’s image, Lanchester’s has been copied and spoofed throughout cinema.  And like Karloff, what she brought to the simple role was more than just the make-up.  Her final hiss of rejection toward the monster is unforgettable.

Of course, the Frankenstein series would continue on for years, but without the participation of Whale…and as such, none ever came close to the creative apex of the first two films.  All franchises eventually fall into the trap of looking like self parody, but in this case, nothing could diminish the genius of a terrific director in his prime, and the mark he left on cinema history.

Video ***

Universal once again delivers a nice transfer for a vintage film from their collection.  I find the overall quality of this disc to be slightly less than the original Frankenstein.  The first film had some inconsistencies, but this one just seems a tad soft and slightly grainy throughout.  Again, I emphasize slight.  Safe to say, this is the best the Bride has ever looked, and possibly will ever look. 

Audio ***

The mono soundtrack is clean, and virtually free of the distracting surface noises usually associated with older films.

Features ****

As with the first film, The Bride of Frankenstein comes fully packed.  There is a commentary track by a film historian, a 45 minute documentary of the film, an archive of publicity items and photos, production notes, cast and crew bios, and a trailer.

Summary:

The Bride of Frankenstein is more than just another sequel…it is the apex of Universal’s classic horror years.  It is dark, eerie, yet funny and moving, with a terrific cast and a true master director at the controls.  This is one no horror fan or film history buff should be without.