Two weeks ago, Nick Szegda and I did a Bride of Frankenstein program at Menlo Park Library.
Nick's presentation was so wonderful, that I asked him to share his notes with us--so that you can use them for your own program at home or in your library or classroom.
When I started working at the reference desk at Menlo Park Public Library, filling in for Nick at busy times, long-time patrons would come up to me at the desk, peer at me, and say with dismay, "You're not Nick."
This went on for months until I got a plastic nametag with a little green Menlo Park tree on it.
I'm still not Nick and you won't be either. But at least you can use his notes--and add some of your own.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Production Notes
- Shot in 40 days for $400,000
- 15 minutes cut to please censors and after test screenings.
- Karloff sweated off 20 pounds under the costume and makeup (Asphalt shoes, metal struts to stiffen his gait, several pounds of makeup) Broke his leg from a fall during the Mill scene.
- Colin Clive (Dr. Frank) had also recently broken a leg in a horse riding accident. It’s the reason so many scenes are of him sitting down or in bed.
- Valerie Hobson (Mrs. Dr. Baron von Frankenstein to be) was only 17.
- Both monsters are scary but sympathetic. The monster wants friendship, but is met with revulsion, cruelty and anger. Monster has his own musical theme, as does the Bride (sounds like the first part of Bali Hai, plus wedding bells)
- The Production Code was in effect when Bride was made (Catholic League of Decency, code started in 1934, Joseph Breen) and Whale had to make several changes to his finished version of the film – cut body count from 21 to 10 (“Kill them all and let Breen sort them out”), put in a prologue with Mary Shelley spelling out the “moral” of the story) though Decollatage and references to Lord Byron’s unusual marriage arrangements cut from prologue. There was an extensive subplot where Karl (Dwight Frye) murders his Aunt and Uncle for financial gain and blames the deaths on the monster’s rampage.
- Karloff resisted the idea of having the monster speak. Since he had to speak, he had to keep in his bridgework, and so the monster’s face looks fuller in this sequel.
- In the crypt Scene the monster was originally to knock down the giant crucifix to get into the crypt.
- The parts of Burgermeister and Minnie the Maid provide lots of comic relief so that the scary parts have something to contrast against. The roles were written specifically with E.E. Clive and Una O’Connor in mind
- Lanchester (5’4”) wore stilts that made her 7’ tall. The bindings on her costume were so stiff she had to be carried about by the crew and fed through a straw (though she says she only ate and drank sparingly because she didn’t want to have to use the bathroom while in costume. She was intimidated by the makeup artist. The application of costume and makeup took three hours to accomplish).
Lanchester said she based the movements of the bride on the hissing swans she had seen in a park.
We can imagine being dead, and this imagining frightens us. Suggestions of dead bodies (The Monster is made of dead bodies) images of the graveyard, of bones and the crypt. Fear of the body – the decay of the body.
This movie less scary to us because the images of Frankenstein’s monster and the Bride are iconic – see them everywhere.
Freud: Das Unheimliche – literally “un-home like” uncanny, unusual. “That class of the frightening that leads back to what is known of old and long familiar”. But also, things that should have remained hidden that have come to light.
Where and When is this taking place? A mishmash of styles and time periods
Burgermeisters with British accents, peasants and Barons, hunters with US accents, small town Bavaria and Eastern European Gypsies but also telephones and electricity. Lord Byron and the present day?
Real villain of the film is Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesinger).
He’s the one who forces Frankenstein to make a bride, and convinces the monster that a bride is what’s needed. Scenes cut from the final film detailed how Pretorius has been sacked because Frankenstein’s research has reflected poorly on him as his former teacher.
Pretorius’ outfit – part clerical with the high collar and sleeves, part Medieval alchemist with the robes and the skull cap. Lovely dinner scene in the crypt. Gin is my only weakness. Cigars are my only weakness. “I hope her bones are firm”
“Christ like” image of the trussed up monster being hoisted in the wagon by the posse. But a strange Christ – first resurrected and then crucified.
Hermit scene could very easily have slipped into parody, but was held together by the performance of O. P. Heggie. The hermit’s outfit deliberately suggestive of a monk’s outfit, the consecration of bread and wine (“Bread….goood. Wine….gooood”). An organ version of “Ave Maria” plays in the background. That’s John Carradine as one of the hunters who interrupts the idyllic scene.
Creation scene draws heavily on German expressionist films like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The sets were built with oddly jutting walls and the lighting and camera angles (low POV when shooting monster) also make one uneasy. The sharply detailed faces of the 2 Drs. The eyes of the bride peering out through the bandages. All of the strange electrical machinery. Nefertiti hairdo. Cross cutting between close ups of the harsh light on the faces and the sputtering machinery.
What’s with the destructo lever?
Who's Who In The Cast
Director James Whale – b. July 22 1889, Dudley England
Father – William – blast furnaceman in a local factory
Mother – Sarah, trained as a nurse, taught Sunday school
One of seven children. Cobbler’s assistant, factory job making metal fenders. Evening classes at the Dudley School of Arts and Crafts. WWI – commissioned as a second lieutenant and sent to the front in France. Taken prisoner in August of 1917, POW for 15 months. Sketching, organizing a theatrical group, playing cards. Won some 4,000 pounds in checks playing cards. At war’s end, rushed back to England and cashed checks. Moved to London, worked as a cartoonist, began studying theater, worked with regional theater groups throughout the 1920’s. Asked to direct a new play about WWI called Journey’s End. Play is a hit, came with it to NYC in 1929, and to the attention of Paramount – Paramount looking for stage directors to handle new talking pictures (date of Jazz Singer -- 1927). Worked on film version of Journey’s End. Success led to another war picture, Waterloo Bridge. Chose to direct script for Frankenstein (1931) in part because he feared being typecast as a war movie director. The Old Dark House(1932), The Invisible Man (1933). In these films he set many of the iconographic images used in horror movies. (“It’s alive”) Resisted a sequel to Frankenstein for many years, studio gave him complete artistic control for Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The monster, Boris Karloff – born William Henry Pratt November 23, 1887 in Camberwell, England.
Youngest of nine children. Father worked for most of his life in India as a salt tax administrator. An indifferent student, he was interested in cricket and the theater. Emigrated to Canada, worked as a farmhand, coal shoveler, and on a survey crew. Hired on as a member of a traveling theater troupe after claiming to have had stage experience in England. Started appearing as an extra in silent films, moved up to character work, most often playing exotics (native Americans, Mexicans, or Asian characters – at the time Hollywood pictures were almost entirely white.
Noticed in a cafeteria by James Whale when he was casting for Frankenstein – Bela Lugosi turned down the part, fearing that the heavy makeup would obscure his expressions too much. Had a long career on screen and on the stage (playing in Arsenic and Old Lace) – but did most of his work in later years on TV and the radio. Narrated How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
The Bride--Elsa Lanchester
Born in London 10/28/1902. Second of two children. Parents never married, they gravitated to radical causes (pacifists and socialists). Started her own theater while still a kid, putting on plays and variety shows for the neighborhood. Closed by the authorities for violating child labor laws, she reopened it as a nightclub.
Met Charles Laughton while working on a play with him in London, they were married in 1929. Early in the marriage Laughton confessed to being a homosexual, but Lanchester chose to stay with him. They were married until his death in 1962. Appeared in other films – Private Life of Henry VIII, Witness for the Prosecution, Bell Book and Candle, Mary Poppins, Murder by Death.
James Whale again
Whale was an openly gay director in the 1930s in Hollywood. He and his partner attended premieres, lived together. His monsters are sympathetic, and this creates a tension between what we feel for them and their actions.
Was it Whale’s outsider status that made him create sympathetic monsters, or was it his experiences on the battlefield in WWI?
Directed the 1936 version of Show Boat
Whale committed suicide in 1957 by drowning himself (he had been treated for depression with electroshock therapy) – his manager found the suicide note and concealed it, leading to all sorts of conspiracy theories. Death officially ruled an accident.
Book on his bedside table on the day of his death: Don’t Go Near the Water
“Gods and Monsters” with Ian McKellan as Whale, is the 1998 film based on the last years of Whale's life.
Causes Lauren John Supports
Keplers Bookstore Circle of Friends (Menlo Park)
Friends of the Menlo Park Public Library
Book Group Expo
Marin Agricultural Land Trust...