Thursday, October 20, 2016
James Whale | Bride of Frankenstein
William Hurlbut (screenplay, adapted from Hurlbut’s and John L. Balderston’s adaptation of the novel by Mary Shelley), James Whale (director) Bride of Frankenstein / 1935
By framing this sequel within the context of Lord Byron’s friendship with the Shelleys (Byron, one should recall, was self-admittedly bisexual), wherein Mary picks up the tale with the end of the first film, Whale also allows himself to weave in, throughout Bride of Frankenstein, a tale of—if not of homosexuality—at least of bisexuality.
Although this film finally sees the recovered Henry Frankenstein (once again Colin Clive) married to his Elizabeth (this time, Valerie Hobson), who helps in his redemption from his former evil ways, he is “tempted”—or perhaps we should say blackmailed—to return to his black arts by his former philosophy teacher, Doctor Pretorius (played with relish by Ernest Thesiger). Pretorius, it is clear, is homosexual, urging his student to “'Be fruitful and multiply.’ Let us obey the Biblical injunction: you of course have the choice of natural means; but as for me, I am afraid that there is no course open me but the scientific way.”
Not only is the evil Pretorius able to convince the newly married Henry to return to his dark past, but, being in love with death itself, meets us and befriends the monster within a crypt, using the monster himself as a tool to convince Henry to join him in creating a “mate” for the Frankenstein monster, and thus assuring that two males will spawn the female “bride,” a fairy fantasy to be certain.
We discover that the monster, with the brain of a 10-year old, does not really know anything about sexuality, particularly through the hermit scene, where the monster discovers his first “friend,” in the form of a blind man (O. P. Heggie), who offers him the holy sacraments of bread and wine—while praying to God for the monster’s visitation—as well as introducing his new guest to the delights of smoking, the latter of which the monster particularly enjoys—once he is rid of his fears for the fire it requires to ignite it. But, once again, society intrudes in the form of two passing hunters, who, reasserting his dread of fire, burn down the hermit’s hut in their attempts to rid the world of this “monster.”
Whale, does not stop there, however. This time around his cardboard Tyrolean characters are truly crazies, led by the miraculous cackling of the Frankenstein servant, Minnie (Una O’Connor). His previously “aroused” peasants are now a kind of mob out to get not only the innocent monster (who has, in this film alas, killed a great number of people—a disturbing fact for the Hays Office), but its creators, both the unwilling Henry and his devious mentor, Pretorius. Yet it is, finally, the monster himself—who admittedly prefers death to inhabiting life with this woman—who destroys himself, his bride, and Pretorius by pulling the lever which will blow up the laboratory in which they are assailed.
In so doing, the monster, in fact, allows the continued existence of his God, reversing the myth of Wagner’s the Ring cycle. In Whale’s fantastical version of the Shelley story, it is the sinful humans who allow the Gods, whatever their destructive infatuations, to continue to live. And in the mad Valhalla of Frankenstein-land the hierarchical worlds (of both the Frankensteins and the idiot Burgomaster) survive. In Whale’s films even the most absurd of hierarchical society is preserved, just as the little monsters in all of us are forever destroyed. Did I say forever?
Los Angeles, October 20, 2016
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (October 2016).