We all desire a fresh start from time to time. It is only natural to wonder what life would be like had we cut away from the poor choices or shoddy decision making. The Bride of Frankenstein certainly follows such a narrative, following the titular doctor, who is trying to break away from his mad experiments and dark past. Seemingly killed in the ghastly fire of the first film, the good, insane doctor escapes and wishes to put his experiments to rest. He was not the man that chose this madness, but he is to receive his just desserts when his monstrous creation comes to life and kidnaps his wife.
Where Boris Karloff defined the horrible monsters of this Universal series, it makes sense that he is the man that carried forth the torch for sequels inside of this universe. While other opportunities for Bela Lugosi would appear intermittently for his Dracula persona, it was never as strong or engaging as The Bride of Frankenstein. It is the immediate continuity that aids the Frankenstein sequel well. We pick up immediately where the first film left off, and in that state of fiery desolation and fearful mortality, comes a story that redeems and fails the leading character. But the same cannot be said for his monstrous creation. The initial characters that interact with Karloff are of limited ability. They portray him as a bullish monster without emotion or any sympathy we can pay to him, unlike the efforts of the first piece.
Still, The Bride of Frankenstein doesn’t mistake itself as bigger or better than Frankenstein. Its ability to extend the story is adjusted well, but some of the supporting performances are chewing at the scenery. It is a matter of the time it was made in, but they are a hurdle needing to be mounted should you wish to find value in the detail director James Whale brings. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) bounces between passionate regret and respect for his horrid creation. There is a sense that he wishes to pursue it and control it. Clive works well here, as does Valerie Hobson, who plays Frankenstein’s wife, Elizabeth. She is as maddened by the monster as Henry is, but it strikes her with mania, rather than anger and grief. Still, Una O’Connor’s supporting performance leaves much to be desired, her vocal style and shrill screams make for an annoyance, rather than a mood setter.
Still, with Whale, Karloff and Clive all returning to bring back the tale of Frankenstein’s monster, it is hard not to enjoy it for what it is. The Bride of Frankenstein is solid entertainment, losing the weight of emotive storytelling, and hoping to engage with the tones of regret, rather than of innovation. It does so with style and good nature. It is short, brief and sweet, yet leaves a remarkable impact on the Universal Monsters series, and that of the Frankenstein tale. Clive frees himself from adapting the works of Mary Shelley, and here can spend time developing the characters beyond the written page. I suppose one day we’d have seen Frankenstein’s monster stumbling through the trees in search of water, surrounded by lambs and in fear of his own reflection. Or maybe not.