Almost from the beginning, Universal Studios planned a “Frankenstein” sequel. Based on test-screenings, they changed the ending of the first film to allow Dr. Frankenstein to survive his confrontation with the monster. It took several years, however, to get an appropriate script and get “Bride of Frankenstein” to come to life.
The story picks up near where the first film left off, with villagers watching an old windmill burn with the monster inside, and the injured Henry Frankenstein being carried back home. Both are presumed dead, but of course both survive, and thus we have our sequel. The convalescing Henry is approached by the eerie Dr. Pretorius, who shares Henry’s interest in creating life in the lab. He pressures Henry to join him in his work and create a new race of beings. “To a world of gods and monsters!” he toasts, but Henry is torn between repulsion and fascination.
Meanwhile, the monster, once again played by Boris Karloff, gets back to the serious business of terrorizing the countryside. He looks a bit buffer than in the first movie, partly because Karloff had to keep his dental plates in to be able to talk, so he doesn’t have the sunken-faced appearance he had in “Frankenstein.” A blind hermit takes the creature in and teaches him some speech, but the refuge lasts only until some villagers come by hunting the monster. Ultimately, the monster meets up with Dr. Pretorius, and together they force Henry Frankenstein to help create a female creature, a bride for the original.
Some modern critics have described “Bride of Frankenstein” as “one of the best movie sequels of all time,” and “vastly superior to the original.” I think this is overstating the case. First of all, the original was pretty good. Secondly, the sequel may be more polished and generally tighter than the original, but it has its own issues. I think it was a mistake to give the creature speech. Lines like “Friend good, alone bad,” lend the movie a campy air. Karloff agreed, saying “Speech! Stupid! My argument was that if the monster had any impact or charm, it was because he was inarticulate.”
On the other hand, Colin Clive puts in an even better performance this time around as the now-reluctant Dr. Frankenstein, and Ernest Thesiger is delightfully evil as Dr. Pretorius. Some have suggested that he was meant to be a coded homosexual. If so, the code is too subtle for me. All I know is that he plays the villain with relish, at one point enjoying a nice picnic and bottle of wine in a crypt, discussing his plans with a pile of bones. Karloff, despite being saddled with those lame lines, still plays the creature with gusto, lending it more menace than in the first film. Overall, I can’t go along with those who say “Bride of Frankenstein” is vastly better than “Frankenstein,” but judged on its own merits, it is equally enjoyable.
4 stars out of 5