12 July 2006 | Camera-Obscura
One of the all time classics from the silver screen
This review also refers to FRANKENSTEIN (1931).
The epitome of the Universal horror classics made by one the greatest practitioners of the genre, James Whale. He always wanted to be an A-list director and used to have mixed feelings about his horror work. Reluctant to make a sequel, he managed to assure himself of complete creative control over the project, putting together a unique blend of horror, suspense and tongue-in-cheek comedy that was quite unlike anything made before and has rarely been equaled ever since.
It has been noted, but the original 1931 FRANKENSTEIN should be seen first, as this one picks up the storyline where FRANKENSTEIN left off. Considering the combined running time of about 140 min, both films can easily be watched back to back.
The story sets off with a clever prologue between Mary Shelly (a short but great performance by Elsa Lanchester who also plays The Bride) and Lord Byron, who asks her to continue the tale of Dr. Frankenstein. Still recovering in his castle after the escape of the Monster, he is visited by the even more insane Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesinger). He is also experimenting with creating life (the miniature humans) and tries to persuade Frankenstein to join forces in order to create a female companion for the Monster (Boris Karloff), that is still at large wreaking havoc in the surrounding countryside.
Although both films are justly hailed as classics, in my opinion BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN holds up much better to modern audiences than the original. Basically two things stand out: a great music score is added, which make everything seem much more alive and fast moving than in the original film. Secondly, the black humor and it's sense of self-parody, spoofing the genre and even underpinning Whale's earlier films greatly adds to the fun, compared to the much more basic and primitive FRANKENSTEIN. Admittedly, this is partly due to a larger budget, but combined with the fabulous production values, splendid sets, stunning photography and absolutely striking special effects, that still look pretty amazing, even by today's standards. I was stunned by the scene in which Dr. Pretorius shows off his miniature people, that he keeps in the glass jars. Even modern-day special effects specialists couldn't figure out how they did it. I don't know anything that comes even close until computer-generated effects took over.
The eccentric Ernest Thesinger plays the role of his life and almost walks away with the film with his wonderful portrayal of the menacing Dr. Pretorius, who delivers one classic line after another. But the rest of the cast is just as good with particularly outstanding roles for - off course - Boris Karloff as the Monster, Elsa Lanchester in a dual role as The Bride (billed as "?") and Mary Shelley, and Una O'Connor as Minnie, Frankenstein's servant. I think it's one the very few films that can be enjoyed at almost any level, equally fun for (older) children and lovers of classic horror. This film proves that horror can be funny and intelligent and can be combined with splendid cinematic virtues. Not just Whale's best, this is one of the all-time great films.
Camera Obscura --- 10/10