(1935) dir. James Whale
Part two of our little Frankenstein double feature followed hotly on the heels of the original film Frankenstein (1931), also directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff as the monster. The kids both enjoyed the first one and eagerly wanted to play the second one (and Felix would have kept going if we’d had the 2nd disc that had three other Frankenstein films on it apparently). But then we added Victoria, who lost interest rapidly, and took Clara off to play doll house. So, it was Felix and I for the sequel.
I’d remembered when I’d seen this film last at the Castro Theater, the level of Camp was pretty hilarious. And Camp it is. Ernest Thesiger, who plays the fey and evil Dr. Pretorius turns the whole affair whenever he’s onscreen into an arch comic laugh riot. “My only vice…” he says, more than once, first gin, then cigars. He likes the atmostphere of the tombs, drinks wine and snacks across from a pile of skull and bones. And he delivers his lines with urbane piquancy. He’s quite great, but it’s also something that changes Bride of Frankenstein from a horror film into pure comedy.
Felix was disappointed. By comparison, Frankenstein was scary and driving, and perhaps the urbanity and Camp of the film’s tone was lost on an 8 year old. He was much impressed with Elsa Lancaster’s frightwig and her mien. Even in the still on the home page of the DVD, he found her ghostly and spooky.
It’s just a very different film, much more comical, broad and arch, with Una O’Connor playing Minnie the maid, who pulls face after face and delivers hokey fright left and right. Between her and Pretorius, there’s little doubt which genre this slips into. Also, as I noted on the prior film, this one has also been subsumed into popular culture quite profoundly, most notably in Mel Brooks’ comical Young Frankenstein (1974) in particular the scene with the blind man, who befriends the Monster because he’s not horrified by his appearance. It is indeed a sweet moment in this film. Felix was touched and sad that the monster lost his friend. But all I could think of was Gene Hackman and Peter Boyle.
Well, that is what it is to watch these films nowadays for the modern experience. Luckily for the kids, they get them a bit more freshly, seeing them somewhat more akin to how I did as a child, though my viewings were at the mercy of local television channels programming, split with commercials, etc. Here, at least, we get to see them in nice copies, uncut or restored on DVD, with parental explanations to boot.
Well, now I have to decide what to get for the 16th. An interesting conundrum.