Four years after Universal made Boris Karloff a big enough star he could go by his last name only, the Frankenstein saga continued with that rarest of things in Hollywood: a sequel that is better than the original. The Bride of Frankenstein is a classic in every sense of the word. Not only is it the best of the Universal Frankenstein series and one of the best Universal Horror movies, it is also considered one of the 100 best movies ever made. Boris Karloff as back, this time getting credited as the monster and only using the name “Karloff”. Colin Clive returns as Dr. Frankenstein, somehow saved from what appeared to be certain death off of the windmill at the end of Frankenstein. Valerie Hobson assumes the role of Elizabeth from replacing Mae Clarke. I personally preferred Mae Clarke’s performance but by 1935 she was no longer a lead actress. Ernest Thesiger (the undertaker from 1951s Scrooge) plays Dr. Pretorius as over-the-top as was legal. He is the quintessential mad scientist. Dwight Frye is back again, this time as Karl and things turn out just as bad for him the second time around. Una O’Connor (The Bells of Saint Mary’s) played Minnie, the old woman/servant who is absolutely a joy to watch. Her performance here is reminiscent of what she did in The Invisible Man. Sadly, Frederick Kerr, who played Baron Frankenstein in 1931, had died in 1933 and did not reprise his role. And we can’t forget Elsa Lanchester as both Mary Shelley in the prologue as well as the bride at the end of the movie. She puts in a classic performance that is an iconic image in the history of Hollywood.
Watching both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein back-to-back, there are lots of differences from one film to the next. The Frankenstein house in the village becomes a grand castle. Baron Frankenstein just disappears while Elizabeth has started seeing Death and appears to be in touch with the netherworld. Colin Clive ages a lot in that four-year gap. The fact he dies two years later from alcoholism comes as no surprise. While the monster is one dimensional and full of hate in Frankenstein, you can easily sympathize with him in Bride. He’s brutal at times then so calm in others. He also now speaks and seems so lonely. And when he does find a friend, his tears of joy are heartwarming. The monster was at his peak here. Karloff’s performance in Son of Frankenstein was more subdued, The Ghost of Frankenstein (Lon Chaney Jr.) and Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (Bela Lugosi) saw him more as a monster than a man. And by the time Glenn Strange assumed the role in House of Frankenstein, he seemed almost an afterthought. The parts with Pretorius can be a little over-the-top at times but the fun factor is turned up a notch.
The Blu-ray is stunning, even more so than Frankenstein. Another film that I’ve watched more times than I can remember. From this first viewing in the 1970s to the videotape I bought at Suncoast Motion Picture Company in 1989 to the two DVDs and now the Blu-ray, it’s a semi-annual Halloween event. Need I say it? Highly recommended!