Mrs. Frankenstein

The Frankenstein sequel, originally titled "The Return of Frankenstein" (see poster right), was shot in 46 days, and budgeted at a whopping $400,000.

This brilliant film reflects director James Whale‘s outrageous camp sensibilities far more than the first movie. Whale regarded the sequel as something of a black comedy, and called it "a hoot."

A prologue recalling the novel's origins shows Mary Shelly's foppish husband Percy and his friend Lord Byron marveling that a teenage girl could write so ghoulish a story as Frankenstein.

Byron briefly recaps the first film, and Mary (Elsa Lanchester) -- instead of complaining that Hollywood had bastardized her novel -- merely comments that the story didn't really end where the first picture concluded.
When urged to tell "the rest of the story," Mary complies with a tale that is, overall, closer to the novel than the first movie was. The Monster is discovered to have survived immolation in the first film by falling into an underground river. He emerges, burnt but alive.


In the theater, it' traditional to wish an actor luck by saying "Break a leg!" While filming this scene, Karloff slipped and broke his hip. This was not the first broken bone on the set. Shortly after filming on Bride had begun, Colin Clive broke a leg in a horse riding accident. The script was rewritten slightly so the rest of his scenes could be shot with the actor sitting down. Karloff's "Monster walk" was already so stiff that HIS injury wasn't noticeable.

When the Monster emerges from the windmill, his appearance is subtly different from the first film. Jack Pierce invented a variation on his original make-up to show the effects of the windmill being torched and collapsing on top of the Monster at the end of the first film.

In Shelly's novel, the Monster learns to speak fluent French, and delivers elegant, chapter-long monologues. But Boris Karloff never wanted him to talk -- EVER. "When the Monster finally did speak," Karloff said, "I felt that this was eventually going to destroy the character. It did for me, anyway."

Because Karloff had dialogue in this film, he couldn't remove his dental appliance, as he had done in the first film to create a sunken cheek. Because of this, the Monster's face appears noticeably fuller. There are several other differences. Can you spot them?
Here's an infotastic side by side comparison of the Monster's face as it appeared in the first and second Frankenstein movies!
BELOW: Close-up profile shot of the Monster as seen in Bride showing his burned hair, distressed "skin" around the electrical bolt in his neck, a head clamp, and a large burn scar on his right cheek.

Once the villagers learn the Monster is still alive, they overpower him, bring him to the town jail, and chain him to a handy, monster-sized, throne-like chair that comes complete with huge wooden neck-brace. The perfect throne for The King of Monsters! But hey -- just how often are monsters incarcerated in this village anyway? Must be around once a week for them to have a cool set-up like this...

Director James Whale knew something about captivity. As a second lieutenant in WWI, Whale had been captured by the Germans, and was held captive in a POW camp for two long years. He began staging theatrical productions for his fellow prisoners, the start of his show biz career. Whale didn't escape, he was released at the end of the war.

But the Monster DID escape, almost immediately (won‘t those villagers ever learn?) -- and he is taught to talk, drink, and even smoke, by a blind man (O.P. Heggie),
seen below in a promotional photo. James Whale wanted Heggie so badly, he suspended production for ten days until Heggie became available, putting the picture ten days over schedule.
BELOW: The "Frankenstein meets blind man" scene was satirized so effectively in Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein that you can't think of the original scene without also recalling the parody, featuring Peter Boyle and Gene Hackman...
To complete the collection, here's Boris Karloff and Colin Clive enjoying a REAL tea break on the set of Bride of Frankenstein.
In one of the most heart-breaking scenes in Bride, the blind man thanks God for sending him a friend, then collapses in tears at the Monster's bedside. The Monster, deranged brute that he is, still knows compassion. He gently pats the blind man's back to comfort him...

Intruding villagers spoil this temporary idyll, and force the Monster to flee into the woods again. Previous scenes showing the Monster with children had drawn great attention. If ONE kid worked, why not try a whole GROUP of kids?

In a scene that was cut from the film (shown below), the Monster encounters a group of school children. At first they're not afraid, but then they spread the alarm, letting the pursuing hunters know where the Monster is. Seeking refuge in an underground tomb, he meets Dr. Pretorious.

XFrankenstein's academic mentor, Dr. Septimus Pretorious, is played with great sardonic flair by Ernest Thesiger. "Septimus Pretorious" is Latin for "royal seven," a reference to the "seven dead ly sins," which this character apparently embodies.

Pretorious, described as "a queer looking gentleman," has ALSO succeeded in creating life. In what I feel is a ridiculous scene, we see that the creations of Pretorious are perfectly normal humans in every way, except for their size. They're tiny.

They walk, talk, laugh, and seem to be having a grand old time living in the glass jars they are "stored" in. The ballerina even has tiny ballet Xslippers! Who made these slippers? If Pretorious can "grow" these incredible beings, with their fully-functioning yet almost microscopic body parts, this would have been a revolutionary discovery beyond all imagining. It's played here for comic relief.

Each of the miniatures represents a different in-joke, particularly the Devil
(left), who Pretorious says bears "a certain resemblance" to himself, and the King, an award-winning little fellow. Here's the run-down:

Pretorious blackmails Dr. Frankenstein into creating a mate for the monster and -- in contrast to Shelly's novel, where the good doctor begins work on a mate but aborts the project before her "birth" -- in the film, the monster‘s mate IS given life. It is explained that Pretorious grew the her brain "with his method.” Um. OK -- whatever.

BELOW: Dr. Frankenstein works to keep the mate's heart beating...

The Monster's mate, played by British actress Elsa Lanchester, is clothed in a mock wedding gown, and her red hair (which looks black on film) was teased high into an electrified bouffant, adorned with a lightning-like bolt of gray flashing up either side. It was held in place with a wire framework. What a look it was. An icon -- another Jack Pierce classic!

Yet Lanchester disliked working with Pierce, who she said "really did feel that he made these people, like he was a god. In the morning he'd be dressed in white as if he were in hospital to perform an operation." (Guess what? I stole that entire sentence out of Wikipedia!)

Does the world stop for a tea break? It does if you're English, and Colin Clive, Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester (as well as director James Whale) were about as English as it gets!

The hours-long ordeal of donning the elaborate get-up was, Lanchester once recalled with typical British understatement, "quite bothersome." She was bound so tightly in bandages she had to be carried around the studio. A special wicker chair was brought in for her to lie on during breaks.

In the picture below, the all-British cast of "Bride of Frankenstein" enjoys an English tradition -- tea time!

The studio's original choice for the role of Dr. Frankenstein had been Gone With the Wind's Ashley Wilkes, Leslie Howard. Rejecting Howard, James Whales instead chose fellow Englishmen Colin Clive for the role. Clive is seen below taking a tea break with Karloff (another Brit!). Poor Boris couldn't remove his make-up, even to eat or drink on filming breaks.


As mentioned earlier, in Shelley's novel, Doctor Frankenstein begins working on creating a mate for the Monster, but in the end he destroys her, and she is never brought to life. The movie handles things quite differently, as the Bride DOES come to life.

The manic laboratory scene during which the mate is given life is a frenzied riot of sparks and thunder that makes the original look sedate in comparison.

Pictured RIGHT is the big meeting as depicted by Dick Briefer in his comic book series on the Monster. In this panel, Doc Frankenstein acquaints what might be the most bizarre couple ever seen, saying, "Let me introduce you two: Mr. Frankenstein, meet Mrs. Frankenstein."

Below right, the Bride as she is pictured in the movie, an image echoing a similar shot that appeared in the film's prologue (as seen below).
The shooting of this famous scene was re-created in "Gods and Monsters," a semi-biographical movie about James Whale starring Ian McKellen (more on that in a moment). Pretorious announces the entrance of the bride of Frankenstein as Franz Waxman's brilliant score chimes forth with wedding bells...
When the misses comes to life, Dr. Frankenstein screams, "She's alive!" recalling a famous line from the first film. Initially, the bride is confused as to who her intended is supposed to be -- but when she realizes it's the Monster, she recoils in horror, reacting to him with what is perhaps the greatest, most ear-splittingly spasmodic scream ever preserved on film.
In response, the Monster laments, "She hate me," like a rejected teenager.
BELOW: Famous Monsters of Filmland #21, February 1963.

The rejected Monster decides to destroy the entire principal cast by pulling a convenient lever which, as Pretorious exclaims, will "blow us all to atoms!" (No! Not the atomizing-lever!) With a final cat-like hiss of rejection from his bride, the weeeping Monster brings an explosive end to the picture with the immortal closing line, "We belong dead!"
BELOW: Karloff and James Whale on the set of Bride.


"The Return of Frankenstein" was previewed with a new title, "The Bride of Frankenstein," and once again, test screenings lead to editing. This time, a full I5 minutes of footage was edited, leaving 75 minutes remaining in the final cut. These edits were made mostly to reduce the number of murders in the film.

In one edited sequence, the Monster's murder spree inspires a villager to kill his uncle, and blame it on the Monster. These scenes were removed, and replaced with a brief scene where the monster encounters a band of gypsies. This last-minute replacement scene is virtually the only one without a score.

In addition, the explosive deaths of Dr. Frankenstein and his fiancee, the real "Bride of Frankenstein," are negated with a new, tacked-on scene where they escape -- despite a shot of them being buried under falling debris. But so what. Dr. Frankenstein had already survived being tossed off a windmill in the first movie. What's a little debris?

This time, top billing was given to "The Monster ... Karloff" and the film went on to become a horror classic, regarded by many (though not all!) as the best in the series.


In "Bride," Dr. Pretorious toasts to "A new world of gods and monsters!" This toast was used for the title of a book and film called "Gods and Monsters," starring Ian McKellen as openly gay director James Whale, and square-headed Brendan Fraser as a hunky, Frankenstein Monster-ish gardener whom Whale develops a crush on. The movie was based on a novel by Christopher Bram titled Father of Frankenstein.

Whale's longtime ally, producer Carl Laemmle, Jr., left Universal after the studio was sold in I936. The studio's new head, Charles R. Rogers, was no fan of horror movies, and found the macabre humor in "Bride" highly off-putting. No fan of James Whale's openly homosexual lifestyle either, Rogers relegated the talented director to lesser films, leading him to abandon the film industry entirely in the early I940s to become a painter.

In "Gods and Monsters," the retired Whale has a nightmare (in black and white) with Frasier playing the part of Doctor Frankenstein, and himself as the Monster...
This awesome two-minute dream sequence is one of the highlights of this great movie, and you must click it... now. Right now. I SAID CLICK NOW!

By the time Whale turned 61, a series of strokes had debilitated him. Rather than live his last years in agony, he committed suicide. He was found drowned in his own swimming pool in May I957, leading to decades of sinister gossip.

The speculation ended when Whale's suicide note was published in the novel this film is based on, "A New World of Gods and Monsters," written by James Curtis in 2003. His final words:

"To all I love -- Do not grieve for me. My nerves are all shot and for the last year I have been in agony day and night, except when I sleep with sleeping pills, and any peace I have by day is when I am drugged by pills. I have had a wonderful life but it is over and my nerves get worse and I am afraid they will have to take me away. So please forgive me, all those I love and may God forgive me too, but I cannot bear the agony and it is best for everyone this way. The future is just old age and illness and pain. Goodbye and thank you for all your love. I must have peace and this is the only way." --Jimmy

BELOW: Japanese movie poster for "Gods and Monsters."