The Bride of Frankenstein contains some of the most iconic images in cinema, but it opens with a scene I really didn’t expect — Lord Byron and Percy Shelley praising Mary Shelley for her book, Frankenstein. In a bold move by the film-makers, Shelley herself continues the story from the end of the 1931 film. Even this is not as bold as the little people in jars, grown by Doctor Septimus Pretorius in his attempts to create a woman, and shown to Henry Frankenstein to get him to help Pretorius’s cause. The mini king, queen, devil, and bishop caper around, providing unexpected surreal slapstick. Like the monster is made of body parts, The Bride of Frankenstein feels like it is made of several films.
Doctor Pretorius is a singularly evil presence. As Pretorius cajoles and blackmails Frankenstein into helping him in his laboratory, the monster wanders the countryside, hungry and lonely. In a famous scene, a blind old man plays the violin, attracting the monster, who is accepted into the man’s home. But the local villagers cannot let the monster alone, and he is eventually caught, but he escapes and meets Pretorius in a nearby crypt.
The final quarter dials up the suspense. The laboratory is familiar from clips played for years on television. It’s amazing to think how thoroughly Bride of Frankenstein has permeated Western popular culture. The score is simply a persistent beat, like the Bride’s heart, and it’s a fantastic touch to have the same actress play both Bride and Mary Shelley. As the Bride opens her eyes, we hear one of the most famous lines in movie history — ‘She’s alive! Alive!’.