The Bride of Frankenstein - Essential Monsters Collection Blu-ray Review
FilmWith a bigger budget, a far more accomplished, sophisticated and witty screenplay, a bigger roster of performers and a broader canvas upon which to play, an original and now classic score from Franz Waxman, along with much improved photography and special effects, the curtains opened to reveal one of the greatest sequels ever made … and one that stands the test of time to tower above almost an entire genre. Once committed to the project, Whale, himself, probably summed it up best as being simply “a hoot.”
For this chapter, Colin Clive’s soul-blighted Frankenstein is forced to play not just second fiddle, or even third, but fourth fiddle in the dark morality power struggle. The Monster now takes a very justifiable lion’s share of the story and the screentime, revealing the overpowering stature and dignity of the character and, of course, providing Karloff with his greatest showcase to date. But the inclusion of Ernest Thesiger’s highly camp, yet resolutely sinister Dr. Pretorius, and the acute and haunting presence of Elsa Lanchester’s briefly seen but extremely potent Bride become the icing on an already very rich cake.
Casting from brimstone the template that the genre would forever (and ever, ad infinitum) adhere to, it transpires that the Monster did not die in the blazing inferno in the windmill at the climax of the earlier film, after all. He survives the conflagration, crawls out of the millpond secreted beneath it, and embarks upon a crusade to make friends with anyone who doesn’t shriek in horror and revulsion at the sight of him … and to basically kill all those who do. In the meantime, the badly injured Frankenstein attempts to recover from being roughed-up at the mighty hands of his estranged son, even marrying the beautiful Elizabeth (Mae Clarke in the original, now played by the seventeen-year-old Valerie Hobson, who really does look and act a fair bit older) and trying to put all of this resurrection lunacy behind him. But Fate just won’t let go. Out of the shadows comes a mad doctor even more obsessed with creating life, the wild and wacky Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger, who was an old associate, mentor and producer from Whale’s stage days), who wants to join forces with Frankenstein in an experiment to create a WOMAN this time around. Although Frankenstein refuses, the dark inventive fire still burns within him and, with Pretorius now aided by a vengeful Monster who still has an axe to grind with his disrespectful “father”, he is eventually blackmailed into switching on the generator up in the old watchtower again and getting to work on energising yet more dead flesh. The Monster wants a mate, and if Frankenstein doesn’t obey and deliver him one, then he will never see his new wife alive again.
PictureFor her wedding day, The Bride of Frankenstein wore an AVC encoded dress, inspirationally bedecked with plenty of delicate detail and a delightful delineation of shading from light to dark. In short, she looks beautiful and radiant.
With the majority of print damage removed – fine lines and scratches, pops and tears smoothed-over via a wet-scan process – the film’s 1.33:1 image now appears bold and crisp, often quite sharp and strongly etched. Grain remains, and the use of DNR has been respectful, consistent and light. The film’s texture is just as it should be. The image doesn’t look smooth or waxy at all. Depth is very good. Movement of either cast members or the camera through the vast halls and sets presents a genuine sense of visual spatiality that no previous home video version has been able to accurately reproduce. There is much less of the softness inherent to the film-stock and the original cinematography that Bride’s predecessor exhibited, and certainly upon large screens, there are finite details that I suspect fans may never have spotted before.
Once we discover that damage has been meticulously repaired and hidden-away, the next major consideration that wows us is the immaculately well-balanced contrast. As with the other titles in this restored collection – most notably Dracula, The Mummy and the original Frankenstein – the black levels are outstanding. Thick, deep and brilliantly defined, they supply the all-essential shadows with plenty of atmospheric depth and stability and provide the film with an eloquence of visual mood that I doubt it has enjoyed since its debut. The fall-off to grey is smooth and natural without the blacks ever once becoming infiltrated or compromised. Highlights are just as sublimely handled with no overt blooming and the whites remaining clean and bright and clear from fuzzing or blurring.
The seams and folds in the painted backdrops that became so much more apparent in hi-def in Frankenstein are virtually absent in comparison here. The sets are also far more elaborate and boastful of improved construction, and the transfer would certainly bring to light any such shortcomings if there were any. The detail down in the crypt and in the watchtower laboratory is fabulously conveyed, but then we uncover more in the dungeon and the hermit’s cottage too. The incredible woodland sets are just as patently artificial as they have always appeared, but they benefit now from the three-dimensional quality and level of detail that has been denied them previously. Subtleties in the shading are also more accurate and pleasing. Close-ups reveal some amazing clarity of the eyes and the whiskers, and the various scars –especially those underneath Elsa Lanchester’s chine - and the stitches. Skin-texture is also made more apparent than ever before, on either the living or the dead. Characters like the Monster, obviously, and Dr. Pretorius really benefit from this greater definition. Now you can really study the countenance of either and find oddities lurking there that we’ve scarcely encountered before.
There is absolutely no question at all of this being a vast improvement over what has been available before. The painstaking work that has gone into it is wholly apparent. I would have been happy just with the better maintenance of the contrast, but the upgrade in detail and the print-restoration is, at time, breathtaking.
Finally, there is no aliasing that I detected, no banding or smearing. And no edge enhancement. The scene when the Monster is pursued through a nightmarish glen of telegraph-pole trees – very abstract and unreal – would once have been a riot of ringed haloes. It is gloriously smooth and natural-looking now.
An outstanding piece of work from Universal … the Bride looked stunning.
SoundAs with the other titles in the collection, The Bride of Frankenstein has a DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track that has been shorn of all but the barest minimum of hiss and crackle. It sounds remarkably clean and fresh.
Now working with an original score, courtesy of Franz Waxman, James Whale proves that he is adept at juggling music and effects and maintaining the level of now much wittier and more intelligent dialogue. Speech, be it the ceaseless screeching of Una O’ Connor, the waspish blathering of Colin Clive, the urbane and malevolent diction of Thesiger, or the despairing pleas of “Friend” from the Monster is always right on the money. Nothing is lost or drowned throughout the film, with even the babbling of the bloodthirsty mob and the demented exchange between Frye and Karloff atop the storm-lashed watchtower perfectly clear in the restricted but cunning soundmix.
The dazzling score gets some space in which to drive its sinister 5-note Monster motif at us, and the rendition of Ave Maria and the peel of church bells for the unveiling of the Bride are exquisitely reproduced. The Bride’s theme, elsewhere, is delightfully woven into the fabric of the movie. Yes, there is a vaguely tinny sound to the score, but you really cannot complain about the clarity and power that it now possesses.
And nor could you realistically find much to fault with the presentation of the effects that litter the film. The muted, miniaturised sound of the little King clamouring on the glass of the Queen’s bell-jar, the banging-in of the chains to the stone floor of the dungeon holding the Monster captive, the sparking electricity of the laboratory and the raging storm that roars all around it, the eerie beat of the primitive heart-monitor and the yelping of the dogs on the hunt, all come across with more presence and accuracy than ever before. Screams, grunts and growls are clearer and more distinct and carry more vigour than before. The detail and range of the hermit’s violin-playing is also much improved.
This is probably the most dynamic that Bride of Frankenstein has sounded in all of its seventy-seven years.
More wonderful stuff from Universal.
ExtrasWe get the 100 years of Universal: Restoring The Classics featurette that celebrates the painstaking work that has gone into the preservation and transfer of the studio’s treasures … with typically fawning music playing behind images of such technical endeavours and talking head interviews with the people responsible. This sort of thing would be really fascinating if it went on for longer and wasn’t so gag-inducing.
We get a splendidly detailed chronicle of the film, its performers, its screenplay and its actual production courtesy of the audio commentary from film scholar and historian Scott McQueen. Snippets of previous screenplay treatments find their way in to his discourse, and he makes a few well thought-out observations about various themes and how Whale treats them. This won’t be new to anyone who has the film in its Monster Legacy DVD incarnation, but it is still a very welcome asset despite a few more pauses in his read-aloud delivery than many of the usual vintage movie commentators.
She’s Alive: Creating of The Bride of Frankenstein runs for 39 minutes and seeks to reveal the genesis of this masterpiece of American macabre. It is hosted by Joe Dante – although he only bookends the piece - and boasts contributions from Rick Baker, Clive Barker, Sara Karloff (Boris’ daughter), Dwight Frye’s son, historians Greg Mank, Scott McQueen and Paul M. Jensen and screenwriter and director of the celebrated Whale picture Gods and Monsters, Bill Condon. We hear about the Bride’s hiss, the makeup for Karloff, the set-building and special effects and how the major themes were finally presented. Lots of love and opinion abound. Good little documentary.
We also get the Bride of Frankenstein Archives and a Trailer Gallery that supply us with lots of marketing and production stills and chunky, clunky teasers for an array of Frankenstein flicks from the era.
A trick has been missed here. Bride is the truest and finest gem in the vintage Universal stable and there was an opportunity here to provide it with more features than it has enjoyed previously. What there is good, of course. But I feel that we should have been privileged to an expanded roster of material by now.
VerdictA faultless exercise in true cinematic macabre, James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein combines humour with horror, wit with whimsy and chaos with character, commenting on the darkness of the human soul at the same time as celebrating the nobility of the misunderstood and the much-maligned. After the original Frankenstein created a Monster that audiences were both terrified of, and profoundly sympathetic towards, Universal knew that they couldn’t just let the story end with a burning windmill. Despite numerous useless attempts at crafting a follow-up, they found that the answer lay in Mary Shelley’s original prose. The Monster wants a Mate!
And, thus, the Bride was born.
That she went on to become one of the most iconic of screen monsters, despite only appearing in the film for five minutes and killing absolutely nobody, is stark testament to the power of both James Whale’s direction and Elsa Lanchester’s staggeringly effective performance. But the magic of the movie lies within the alchemic combination of many factors. Ernest Thesiger is an absolute hoot as the camp gargoyle of scientific megalomania, Dr. Pretorius, a charismatic Mephisto. Colin Clive is an enjoyable misery, soul-burned and self-pitying – the actor virtually playing himself as the put-upon Frankenstein. There are also the off-kilter sets, the virtuoso score from Franz Waxman, the memorable support from Una O’ Connor and Dwight Frye, and the increased level of violence to help elevate this sequel. But it is, once again, the dazzling performance from Camberwell lad Boris Karloff as the Monster, and the exultant direction of James Whale that catapults the film to its status as a peerless classic of the genre, and a genuine masterpiece of filmmaking.
As part of this Essential Collection, Bride receives a fantastic AV transfer that is pure monochromatic gold. The upgrade in the contrast balance is blissful enough, but the meticulous restoration just makes the film’s hi-def debut heaven-sent. We could have done with more extras – and it is a mystery why Universal didn’t add anything new to the selection many fans are used to – but this is still a stunning release that no Horror fan can justify omitting from their collection.
A masterpiece through and through, The Bride of Frankenstein shines like never before.
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