The Essential Movie Library #89: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Bride’s revelation is that what haunts the heart is more terrifying than what shocks the senses
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‚ÄúShe‚Äôs alive!‚ÄĚ In 1931 Frankenstein, based on the novel by Mary Shelley, was¬†such a phenomenon that while a sequel was a no-brainer to some, including the¬†studio that produced it, it was an obvious mistake to others, including the man who¬†directed it. James Whale had to be badgered and cajoled, and the more he resisted,¬†the more certain everybody grew that he was the only one who could do it. Seizing¬†on one of Shelley‚Äôs afterthoughts in her story about the mad scientist who flirts with¬†immortality, Whale did what artists sometimes do when they have nothing to lose:¬†raised his own stakes and turned the sequel into something at once more lyrical and¬†deeply strange. An unsettling eroticism between Boris Karloff‚Äôs Monster and the¬†Bride played by Elsa Lanchester‚ÄĒstyled as an electrified Nefertiti, her unearthly hiss¬†emulating swans that the actress heard in London parks‚ÄĒalarmed censors around the¬†world, where the movie was banned from Asia to Europe to Scandinavia. The Bride‚Äôs¬†revelation is that what haunts the heart is more terrifying than what shocks the senses.

A former World War I British POW with hopes of becoming a cartoonist, Whale may¬†have been the only person who ever found a steadier line of work in theater, where he¬†acted, built sets, and finally directed. Needing someone who had a way with dialogue,¬†Howard Hughes lured Whale over to the States when movies started talking and stunt¬†pilots flying their airplanes was no longer enough for Hughes‚Äôs Hell‚Äôs Angels; along¬†with the Frankenstein pictures, Whale proceeded to make The Invisible Man and The¬†Man in the Iron Mask before his career was sidelined by bad luck and bad choices¬†(he turned down the ‚Äė40s melodrama Since You Went Away, which was a big hit).¬†Gay and defiant of the closet‚ÄĒand portrayed by Ian McKellen in 1997‚Äôs Gods and¬†Monsters‚ÄĒWhale drowned himself in his own swimming pool following a bout of¬†depression, electroshock, and a series of strokes. ‚ÄúI have had a wonderful life but it is¬†over,‚ÄĚ declared the note left behind. ‚ÄúI cannot bear the agony.‚ÄĚ

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