Sunday, October 28, 2012

Octoberama! Sundays with The Bride - Happy Birthday, Elsa

Last week, JimD emailed me and asked if I planned on posting about Elsa Lanchester's 110th Birthday, which happens to fall on today, the day I'd planned the finale post for Sundays with The Bride.  Honestly, I had no idea the birthday was coming, so, everybuddy, take a moment and thank JimD and then take another moment and appreciate cosmic happenstance.

I had another post ready, and so you'll still see that today, later, but as it's Elsa's birthday, we need to give the lady her due.

We all grew up seeing clips from The Bride of Frankenstein, or saw the role of The Bride parodied in other films, in cartoons, or pop art.  The role passed into western iconography as much as the rest of the Universal Horror pack of monsters, but - oddly - The Bride appears for a total of one scene in this single film.  The Bride has no speaking lines, and, of all the Universal Horror "monsters", she is the only one which hurts nobody.

But that's only if you don't count breaking hearts.

The Bride of Frankenstein opens upon a recreation of the legendary (possibly apocryphal)  rainy night when Mary Shelley spent an evening in Geneva with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron trading spooky stories to wile away the hours.  According to legend, Mary Shelley went to bed and had a waking dream of her monster.  She was so impacted by the vision that she set forth to create her novel.

In our scene, Lanchester plays Mary Shelley in period garb.  As Shelley, she has far more lines and is given a bit more business than as The Bride and Whale draws parallels between Shelley's friends and the mad doctors.  The purpose of the scene is to launch her into continuing the tale of her monster as the film begins - and fans of the original novel will know that some of what follows is from the book, but which had not made it into the 1932 predecessor.  Sort of.

It's not Elsa Lanchester in a corset that audiences generally remember about the film (though we'd understand if you did).

Rather, what has made it into the zeitgeist is the dramatic appearance of everything The Monster has hoped for in the form of a young woman shocked into life by cosmic powers man was never meant to meddle with - a creature newly upon the earth, wide-eyed but ready for a fight.

With Pretroius spurring him on, The Monster had threatened and cajoled Frankenstein to build him a friend, someone to love and who will love him.  And, of course, it doesn't turn out that way.  The Bride rejects The Monster, "We belong dead" he says, sparks fly, a tower falls, and that is the last appearance The Bride makes in any film.

Lanchester herself was from London, born this day, 1902.  A dancer, singer and actress, she made the London rounds, eventually acting with and marrying Charles Laughton - whom she remained married to until his death.

She appears in numerous films, many of which you've seen, but without the make-up and electrified hair of The Bride, she may not be instantly recognizable.  Her work includes everything from The Private Life of Henry VIII to Mary Poppins.  She also appeared in Lassie Come Home (1943), The Big Clock (1948), That Darn Cat! (1965) and many others.  I was shocked when she showed up in a small part in Hell's Half Acre (1954) as a cabbie.

Lanchester was not a classic Hollywood beauty, like Veronica Lake or Garbo.  Director James Whale saw a quality in Lanchester, and, whether its in the audience sympathizing greatly with The Monster, or in the perfect mix of lighting, costuming, make-up, music and sound...  Lanchester is stunning in her first appearance, introduced with flamboyant aplomb by her mephistophelean co-creator, Doctor Pretorius.

It shouldn't be fascinatingly lovely, but somehow it is.  Or, more accurately, she is.  The blownback, electrified hair, the scars framing an elegant jaw, the white peaks of the bridal gown and all.

still breaking hearts, Elsa

We'll always salute your other work, but we hope you don't mind we love you best for the few minutes you brought a monster to life.

Here's to you, Ms. Lanchester.  Happy 110th - and you're still electrifying imaginations every year when its time to pull the stories of crippled monsters wearing their humanity on their sleeves.

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