Friday, August 04, 2006

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935)

James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) left me at awe. Men trying to be gods, creating monsters. Monsters of moral ambiguity, dramatically trying to catch the light. Monsters as mere children, misshapen, misunderstood and later on, prosecuted. It' is an experience that will leave any viewer horrified, and suspicious of the possible answers to the many questions left unanswered. James Whale, who originally didn't want to revisit the tale, ups the stakes and cooks up a sequel that further examines the humanity of the monster, the insatiability of all humanity, and all that existential, religio-social conceptions of morality. The sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein, although impossible, is a vast improvement over its predecessor.

The Bride of Frankenstein opens on a stormy night, inside a beautiful mansion where two men are discussing poetry and literature as a lady is doing some stitching in her dainty chair. We learn that the lady is no ordinary woman, but is actually Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), the creator of the story of Frankenstein and his monster. She then proceeds in telling what happened after the fiery conclusion of the first film. The monster (Boris Karloff) has survived and in an effort to save himself, kills townspeople who are trying to harm him. Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is recuperating from his injuries when a mysterious visitor Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) pays him a visit, and offers him a team-up to create another monster, a female monster who would serve as the monster's mate, and from there create a world of "gods and monsters."

The monster is stalking the woods and the nearby houses where he is continuouosly chased by angry mobs. Although injured and afraid, he becomes attracted to the beautiful music from a nearby hut. The owner is a blind man who befriends the monsters and teaches him basic words. The scene is quite moving, despite the overt religiosity that surrounds it. The background music features church tunes, the old blind man prays and thanks God for giving him a friend in his times of loneliness, and the monster, for the first time, sheds a tear. It could've ended there where a well-deserved bliss is finally granted to the misunderstood creature. However, the joyous and playful exchanges of smiles and elementary words are aborted when two huntsmen disrupt their momentary glee and attack the monster, chasing him again into the woods. The monster flees but is now armed with a learned sense of good and evil.

The monster hides in a crypt and longs for friendship from a beautiful corpse. There, he chances upon Dr. Pretorius, who has been stealing corpses for his experiments. They make a pact. Dr. Pretorius is a prime character in the film. He is the very personality of evil and Whale doesn't put upon him any question of moral ambiguity. His experiments are unlike that of Dr. Frankenstein's. He actually creates life from his very own sources: black magic, as Dr. Frankenstein calls it.

The results are misshapen, unholy creatures. Miniature versions of royalty, clergy, a pitiful mermaid, a ballerina, and finally a demon, who Pretorius admits he has a bit of resemblance with. He comes in the film, always with an offer to the human characters that they can either accept or desist, a literary trait of the devil who delights in obligations and contracts as read from the stories of Faust and Daniel Webster. Here, the devil, as Dr. Pretorius, makes two contracts: one with Dr. Frankenstein and one with Frankenstein's monster. The objects of the contracts are similar: for the doctor, the safety of her bride; and for the monster, companionship.

The film climaxes in the creation of the monster's mate. Much has been said about the homosexual undertones of Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Pretorius' team-up: Frankenstein as the overworked father, and Pretorius as the mother who makes sure everything is alright. It holds ground here as its quite evident in Whale's direction. However, much more than that, the climax here is very technically well-staged. It literally has you grabbing your seat, waiting to see what happens to the experiment, and if successful, if the experiment will go as planned. The conclusion is both humorous and fitting. The monster's mate is dressed in a white flowing dress, with her eyes wide with curiosity or fear, and her head constantly bobbing up and down. The monster descends waiting to see his bride. The music reminds you of a bizarre wedding song. The two finally exchange glances. Like any other human being in the village, the female creation shrieks in horror. The bride thereafter settles and sits down. The monster proceeds to sit beside her and attempts holds her hand. The female monster again shrieks at the sight of the monster, and the monster gives up.

Brilliantly staged, masterfully directed, superbly acted by both Karloff and Elsa Lanchester, the scene is a culmination, or a fitting conclusion to all of the spice and the excitement held over the supposed marriage between the two monsters. The film ends in a bittersweet note. Dr. Frankenstein and his wife escape through the help of the monster who makes a final decision: that he, who is a created out of evil, despite learning goodness and evil through the inherent kindness of the blind man, and with his supposed mate, and the conniving devil-incarnate Dr. Pretorius, should perish, leaving a world that is bereft of evil, although tainted.

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