First, the seal of approval from the government – or, rather, the rote NRA sign to vouchsafe the studio’s compliance with the wishes of the state:
Next, the second Universal logo, with the tiny plane around the cloudless orb:
The titles. One word says it all, except he’s not exactly in Cher or Madonna territory:
Again with the ? as the Monster’s bride. I forget this every time: it begins with three literary types sitting around talking about the raw force of Nature, and Frankenstein. It’s like the Frankenstein / Dracula / Wolfman match ups. Byron!
That wimp, Shelley:
The Johnny B. Goode of proto-feminist lit, Mary B. Shelley!
The movie – released in ’35, years after the original – begins where the last one left off. Quite quickly we learn what’s different. Whale apparently didn’t want to redo the first one, so he decided to add some elements and turn everything up to 11. So we get Comic Relief:
Oh, she was a corker, that one, inserted into many films for birdy screechy overreaction. Then there’s Dr. Pretorius, all arch smiles and untrimmed eyebrows. Again, he overplays; SWIFT ARMOUR should have been stamped on his side, there's so much ham here. But it's tasty ham.
Here’s where the film stumbles: his magic box of mini-people.
The first time I saw the film this scene clanged like a box of cymbals tossed into a monkey cage. The FX are quite accomplished, but it’s all trickery, and it’s ridiculous: Pretorius managed to grow small complete intelligent homunculi, eh? Grow them? Chia style? It doesn’t work at all, and derails the implausible but internally-consistent science of the movie.
The blind-old-man section still works, although it’s impossible not to curse Mel Brooks and Gene Hackman somewhat. Friend! Good!
Religious symbolism, as Frankenstein denies the gift of the risen Christ, good!
Supposedly there was a scene of Frankenstein trying to get Jesus off the cross, just to help a brother out, I suppose. Can’t imagine why they cut that.
Elsa plays the Bride with the quick darting brainless movement of a pterodactyl, and it would be funny if it wasn’t so damned creepy.
As a whole, I’m not sure it’s better. Technically, it’s a better film. When it’s good, it’s awesome: The reanimation of the Bride is brilliantly shot and edited – the gap between ’35 and ’31 is almost as great as the space between the ’31 film and, say, 1927. The music is better, but that’s not difficult; there’s no music in the original. Waxman’s theme for Frankenstein has a motif that’s like Mahler on a psycho jag, and the insistent timpani heartbeat of the Bride’s creation is marvellous. Karloff handles the role with more detail than before, and even though he speaks he maintains the character’s essential muteness. There the same aching pathos in his outstretched hands, the same torment and want. His scenes with his blind friend show you why this character is different from the other Universal monsters: he is not only capable of the best of human emotions as well as the worst, he aspires to the former. He’d be okay if people didn’t keep coming at him with FIRE, RRRR, FIRE BAD for things he can’t remember doing; he’d be happy if little girls floated; he’d be fine if pretty girls didn’t scream at the sight of his face, and men try to shoot him just for being. But by the time he makes his way around to the castle and Drs. Pretorius and Frankenstein, he’s soured on it all. LOVE DEAD. HATE ALIVE. He would never be so human again.