Monday, October 29, 2018
Halloween Watch: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Viewing: Unknown - but, a lot
I have zero interest in writing a book on any one pop culture topic. God bless ya people who do, but that's not me. But... in my handful of topics I'd be delighted to spend time researching and digging through (but am well aware this territory is well covered) is how the hell Whale pulled together the first two Frankenstein movies. There's so much about what got put into both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein that gets discussed in film-geek circles and which I am uncertain as to how it would have been received at the time. Did the public pick up on this? Did those who did keep it to themselves, receiving a coded message from Whale embedded into a movie sold as a scare-fest?
While, yeah, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is a horror film - what with the monster and murders - it's also high camp, broad comedy, thriller, social critique, queer cinema, feminist critique, and employment for Dwight Frye. It's also brilliantly performed by all the players (look, Una O'Connor is an acquired taste, but I love her), and a showcase for set design and cinematography. Not to mention that crazy Franz Waxman score.
Each of those things could be a chapter in a book or thesis, but I'll not do that here. The film is a cut diamond, giving you multiple angles through which the viewer can look, all of them refracting off the other angles and still holding together. What it were more movies just went for it the way The Bride does.
I am positive a lot of people coming to the movie flat out reject the film as it is not what they were expecting, or some combination of the elements just sets them off. Certainly the first time one sees the movie, discovering the Bride herself only appears in the last five minutes, has no lines and rejects life itself is probably a shock. If you're expecting morbidity and joylessness in a horror film, Dr. Pretorious is going to make zero sense and feel like a massive distraction or like the filmmakers aren't taking the movie seriously (*what* the movie is taking seriously is a debatable point).
But, what can I say? The movie has always just worked for me, not just in what it was trying to do in 1935, this isn't a point of condescension about the clunky early attempts at something before film language evolved - but what it flat out accomplished in 1935. The world has finally caught up in the past two or three decades, and that's not a bad thing.
That we got these two dense, rich films based on a text that was just as dense, if doing something else on a parallel track, and somehow wound up with the easy slide into House of Frankenstein and the "Abbott and Costello meet" and "Wolfman meets" type ur-Avengers-crossover type films is more than a bit disappointing.
If anything warranted a sequel, I'd like to think The Bride herself could have *also* survived, not fallen in the final explosion. If Frank made it out, where did she go? While I cringed at the notion of Angelina "I am ACTING" Jolie taking on the role in the defunct Dark Universe concept from Universal, yeah, I'd have liked to have seen Elsa Lanchester in 1935 or some other game actor in another era freaking out the squares in the Swiss countryside. Alas, this was not what anyone had in mind. The last real attempt to think on all this in a movie was the 1980's Sting/ Jennifer Bealls vehicle The Bride, which treats itself with unwarranted seriousness and plays out as a melodramatic pygmalion rape fantasy. Call me crazy, but I think we can do better.
At any rate, I got in my annual Bride of Frankenstein viewing, and on the birthday of Ms. Lanchester, no less.