Friday, October 29, 2010

"The Bride of Frankenstein" and "Gods and Monsters"

Universal Studios  "The Bride of Frankenstein" (1935)  is generally considered to be, along with "King Kong" at RKO Pictures to be the penultimate early sound horror films of the American screen. The Bride was directed by James Whale, who had come to Hollywood in 1930 to make 'Journey's End", a popular play about British rank soldiers and officers in the trenches during World War I. He also directed the original "Waterloo Bridge" 

 Because of the success of that play-to-movie he got the job of directing the original "Frankenstein" (1931) released in time for Christmas of that year.   A good deal of the film's "outdoor" sets were for the World War picture were reused for this version. 

Universal  originally wanted the Biggest horror star of that all, Lon Chaney, Sr., to play the monster if they could get him on loan from MGM.  Chaney's death from cancer prevented that option, so the role was next offered to Bela Lugosi who had scored well with audiences as "Dracula". But Lugosi to his later regret turned down the role because  "the Monster" had no dialogue. 

Director Whale then saw Boris Karloff in the commissary at the studio.  (from the Moviediva website.)   

"Karloff was the last to be cast in the original Frankenstein, the monster's look conceptualized by Whale and then detailed by make-up's mad genius, Jack Pierce. Whale told the NY Times, "Karloff's face has always fascinated me, and I made drawings of his head, added sharp bony ridges where I imagined the skull might have been joined. His physique was weaker than I could wish, but that queer penetrating personality of his I felt was more important than his shape, which could easily be altered." There had been Frankenstein plays, and on stage, for some reason, the monster's skin had often been blue. This might have influenced Pierce's choice to color the Monster's skin with a blue-green greasepaint that would photograph "a corpse-like grey." They envisioned the top of the skull like a cigar box, "We had to surmise that brain after brain had been tried in that poor skull, inserted and taken out again. That is why we built up the forehead to convey the impression of demoniacal surgery. Then we found the eyes were too bright, seemed too understanding, where dumb bewilderment was so essential. So, I waxed my eyes to make them heavy, half-seeing," said Karloff. The result: "This, like the face of Garbo, is one of the icons of our time." (Alberto Manguel).

"Karloff reported for work at 4:00 am, fortified by continual rounds of tea and cigarettes (and was endlessly photographed in his make-up, drinking tea and smoking cigarettes.) The make-up took four hours to apply each morning, and he was padded up and out to 7 feet 6 inches with at least 50 pounds of suit and heavy weighted shoes. The long hours and grueling working conditions led directly to his becoming one of the founding members of the Screen Actors' Guild. The actor's suffering was real, and created an aura gentle pathos. Children were afraid of him, but wrote him fan letters none the less. As one of his biographers pointed out, what was the monster but a child whose parent no longer loves them?

 (below, Elsa Lanchester on the set, wrapped up in her work but still getting her 4 pm tea time with the rest of the cast.)    

      This despite the fact that "Frankenstein" incorporates a lot of German  Expressionism  (The cameraman was the German-born Karl Freund) adds greatly to the sense of menace that pervades the first to films of the Frankenstein series. 

Karloff himself became a major star after the film was released, also playing "The Mummy" (1932) and having a memorable turn as a crazed alcoholic butler chasing around poor Gloria Stuart in "The Old Dark House".  The latter film had many comic and macabre touches that later found their way into the sequel to the Promethean classic, "The Bride of Frankenstein".  

The latter film benefits in many ways from the first with the addition of the crazed Doctor Pretorius (Ernest Thesieger) who lures Dr Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive ) back into the reanimation business.  By the time the second film was made Clive himself was a dying man, with alcoholism and tuberculosis eating away at his health.)  

James Whale's own life, at least the last year of it, became the subject of a well-made Hollywood film in 1998 with Sir Ian McKellan, Brenden Fraser and the late (and very missed by many) Lynn Redgrave.  The film was "Gods and Monsters", based on a book about Whale's lifestyle as a gay man in the 1950's and his lost career and the pain  of separation he experiences from a wartime romance he tries to replicate four decades later,this time  with a young American man who is not gay. 

There is also a great film score by Franz Waxman in the 1935 film that makes the sequel one of the rare instances where a commercial film surpasses the original.            


  1. BRILLIANT, I loved the video clip.

  2. Thanks Jeff. it's really a great scene.

  3. A sample of Waxman's original score for the 1935 film, with production stills and poster art.

  4. That is some hairdo Doug....thanks for posting that strange old British movie and this later exposé of undead love.... and maybe a posible case of zombie they say, great films thanks for revealing them Doug!

  5. Ahh, when horror movies were horror movies, not slasher movies! Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Peter Lorrie, Vincent Price, these guys all knew how to make scary movies. REALLY scary movies. Just their voices scared me! lol
    Thanks, Doug. I've seen this classic,and it's so good.

  6. Yes, AA, I'm surprised the "Bavarian Afro With Lightening Streaks" hairstyle didn't catch on except as a Halloween ornamental effect for women.

    As one viewer on You Tube said, "Worst blind date ever!";-) Some might disagree with that---at least The Monster wasn't left to pickup the check at an expensive restaurant.

    This is a fine example of a British movie shot in Hollywood. Thanks to James Whale, most of the principal cast is British and the opening of the film features a "table setting" opening scene featuring Mary Shelly (played by "The Bride" Elsa Lanchester in a dual role) , plus actors playing Percy Shelley and Lord Byron! Reportedly, mid-afternoon "Tea Time" was strictly enforced on the set. Score another rout for the British Raj at Outpost Los Angeles!

  7. We agree here Jacquie. Movies like "Bride" are classics because they created atmosphere and have a literate script and distinctive style. Lacking schlock special effects, they needed actors' voices and suggestion to make the story work. Culture marches on, but truly fine work outlasts mere fashion.