Saturday, October 31, 2015

Franken-Watch: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

This year on the 80th anniversary of the release of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), I wrote a post celebrating the film.   You're welcome to check out what I said there about the movie.

Each Halloween I now make it a habit to watch a string of horror films from across the past hundred years, and while the rest of what I'll watch I might change up, I always include the first two Frankenstein films from Universal Studios, Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein.  Of course I just watched Frankenstein (and I really do recommend catching these movies in the theater, when possible), but I found no listings for the movie here in Austin, so I busted out my BluRay copy.

As I covered much of what I like about the movie in the post linked above, I do feel there's probably a thesis-worth of material to unpack about the two movies, especially when you get into The Bride.  All the moody atmosphere of the first film is amped up, the sets larger and grander, the characters no longer the misbelieving folks tied to reality and the movie is overrun with James Whale's peculiar sense of humor from the opening framing sequence and into Una O'Conner getting ample screentime camping it up before we ever see the monster or Henry Frankenstein.  Throw in the absurdity of the Burgomaster and the general unpleastantness of everyone from the townsfolks to the gypsies - the sole "humane" character of the film is really the blind hermit, and it's these scenes that are the most human of any in the film.

I don't think director James Whale was suggesting that humanity is inherently cruel, but it takes an extraordinary person to reach out to The Monster, and another sort of person, such as Dr. Pretorius, to also reach out, but perhaps in a manner more damaging to everyone involved but at least he isn't judgy.*  But, certainly, Whale's own life informed his understanding of the outsider status The Monster is born into, and the irrational desire for destruction inherent in both the mob and the outsider as they sort through their differences.

While the life-giving sequence in Frankenstein (1931) is remarkable, and the sound in that scene is instantly memorable, of the two films, Whale's budget and time to reflect between pictures enhances and enlarges the whole procedure, and it's an oddly beautiful bit of filmmaking, and it's really this bit that gets imitated and referenced at least as often as the original film.  From the camera angles to the exploitation of black and white to greatest effect, to the flow of electricity, showers of sparks, and even the shadows thrown by the faces of Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Pretorious are masterfully captures... It's all pretty remarkable.

Of course, we can't not mention the shockingly brief presence of The Bride, all in white, wedding bells announcing her debut.  And what she means to each of the characters is probably a couple of paragraphs or book chapters in analysis.  For all the cultural conversation about The Monster as, essentially, a gigantic, brutish killer - it's a weird read based on what you see on the screen.  This is the movie where The Monster wants nothing more than a friend, something, he decides, must be someone like himself.  His attempts to make friends with the living have all met in calamity, after all.  At The Bride's rejection, he sees it will be even the undead that will turn from him, and he seeks oblivion.  In the last shots we see of him, he's learned mercy, and - for goodness sake - there's a tear running down his cheek.

I often wonder what the audiences of the 1930's thought they saw while watching the movie.  Surely they appreciated the humor of the movie, but in reviewing what was said about the film in a contemporary review, it's never really mentioned.  But, still, it's a glowing review of the film.

So strange that the audience only ever saw those first scenes where the monster acted brutishly, ignoring, somehow, the circumstances.

Anyway, that was this year's viewing.

*still, you have to love Pretorius.  One of the most quotable characters in all of filmdom.  Seriously, Pretorius' little in-crypt picnic is one of my favorite things in movies

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