—On October 24, 2012, TCM presented a one day only showing of a double feature of Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein. Using the Blu-Ray remastered films, and presented in their original theatrical aspect ratio’s, this was a wonderful double feature.
When Dr. Henry Frankenstein conducts experiments into creating life, he creates a monster.
Directed by James Whale, Frankenstein in quite simply a masterpiece of early ’30’s creature features. Perhaps the best of the big four Universal monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon), Frankenstein is is film that simply is more than it seems on the surface. Exploring the themes of love, life, god, death, and the responsibilities of a father to his son, James Whale has crafted a timeless film that is like a fine wine. It only gets better with age. This final theme is the one that resonated with me the most. What happens when you create a life then fail in the guidance of that life? Obviously, you get a murderous monster who is less a monster than his creator.
Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) are experimenting on creating life. Not just reanimating a corpse, but cobbling together pieces of bodies in an effort to actually create life from which life never existed. Not at all concerned where they get the parts from, they dig up graves and cut down hanged men. After stealing the brain of a criminal, they conduct their experiment and succeed in creating life where there had not been life before. Henry locks the creature in a dungeon and makes no efforts to educate the creature. He lets Fritz torment his creation until the creature kills Fritz. It is then decided to kill the abomination, who then manages to escape. After inadvertently killing a young girl, the townspeople organize a mob and search the mountains for the creature who is cornered and burned in a windmill. But is he really dead?
I feel that the success of this film is the fact that the monster is not a monster at all. Created by Henry and then left to his own devices, the creature has no concept of the way of the world. He is a full grown man when created and doesn’t get the care that father should show to his son. And Henry is his father. A father who is unavailable and only does something because he can. He has not thought about the consequences of his actions. He has not thought through what will happen when he succeeds in his experiments. Instead of stepping up and doing the right thing, he leaves the monster, his child. And he pays dearly for his lack of foresight. When all is said and done, Henry is more of a monster than the creature he creates. The creature has no concept of right and wrong, good and evil. He was not taught after being created. This is a theme that is more relevant today than it was almost a hundred years ago when the film was released.
Fankenstein is a masterpiece. Still relevant today, the film works in just about every way possible. While it is not particularly scary by today’s standards, the themes introduced are timeless. This is a wonderful film that deserves to be seen and remembered for what it is. Not so much as a monster movie, but an allegory of a fathers responsibility to his son and the consequences that come from abandonment.
**** out of ****
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Once again directed by James Whale, The Bride of Frankenstein is a wonderful film, but doesn’t live up to the standards set by the original. While the original film was straight forward, this film goes into more comedic territory and loses some of the impact of the original film. The comedic set pieces and lack of a coherent direction of this film certainly hinders it from being the masterpiece that some people claim it is. This is a worthy sequel to Frankenstein, but falls just short of the brilliance of the original.
Beginning immediately after the first film, the villagers are watching the fire die in the old mill, where the creature holed up when it was lit. Dr. Henry Frankenstein is transported to town with grievous injuries, but manages to survive. Renouncing his creation of life, Henry is then visited by Dr. Pretorius, who convinces Henry to see his work in the creation of life. Henry agrees to work with Pretorius on the creation of a bride for the monster.
While The Bride of Frankenstein is certainly a sequel in most respects (bigger, longer, less coherent plot), it is not a better film than Frankenstein. While it is still a great film, it does certain things and goes certain places than do not make a lot of sense. Gone are a lot of the themes of the first film, focusing solely on the aspect of playing god as opposed to the responsibility a father has to his son.
While the character of Dr. Pretorius is a darker character than Henry is and was, his creations are introduced in a comedic light that takes away any of the trepidation you may have for the character. In fact, I was completely dissatisfied with the creations of Pretorius and his mini, jarred creations. Yes, that is what Pretorius created. Little people that he keeps in jars. Whereas Henry’s creation was based at least somewhat on scientific fact and was realistic, Pretorius’ creations were complete silliness. This completely threw me out of the film, and I had a hard time recovering from this silliness.
The arguments that Pretorius uses to lure Dr. Frankenstein back to the lab were also pointless and lacked any real conviction. Once he was back in the lab, though, the old Henry surfaced, if only for a brief, shining moment and then the film gets much better. Of course, that is the end of the film.
On the whole, I wasn’t as completely satisfied with The Bride of Frankenstein as I was with Frankenstein. It is still a wonderful film, it just missed some of the spark of the original. It is not terrible by any means. It is just a lot sillier.
- TCM presents, FRANKENSTEIN (onceuponascreen.wordpress.com)