A discombobulated Monster, an intractable Bride, a star-crossed romance. When Bride of Frankenstein film rolled out its potent, dark fantasy across North America through the spring and summer of 1935, critics hailed and moviegoers eagerly lined up.
Reviewers of the time were typically patronizing towards horror films, often treating chills and scares as a low forms of entertainment. Bride garnered its share of mild derision, but the film’s excellence couldn’t be denied, and its humor signaled that it was in on the joke.
The New York Times of May 11, 1935, described Bride of Frankenstein as “Another astonishing chapter in the career of the Monster” and “a first-rate horror film.”
The Monster, it seems, “is changed… possibly under the influence of Spring at Universal, he is slightly moonstruck, hungry for kindness and even — oh perish the thought — for love.” Of his climactic demise, “Mr. Karloff’s best make-up should not be permitted to pass from the screen. The Monster should become an institution, like Charlie Chan.” Indeed, Karloff is praised as being “so splendid in the rôle that all one can say is ‘he is the Monster’.”
Variety, the film industry trade paper, was typically blunt in its short appreciation, even revealing the film’s punch, “…she’s just as horrified at him as everyone else.” Praise is reserved for Karloff, who “manages to invest the character with some subtleties of emotion that are surprisingly real and touching.” Ernest Thesiger is also singled out for “a diabolic characterization if there ever was one". Elsa Lanchester's Bride “impresses quite highly, although… she has very little to do.”
At The Pittsburgh Press, staff writer and frequent entertainment critic Peter Botsford had a lot of fun with his review, Terror Tale Stirs Fans At The Alvin, on May 3.
“Take your scares straight or in a high-ball? Step right up. Scaresmith Frankenstein is ready to take your order."
The Monster, Botsford opines, is “A little short on brains and organization, but A-1 when it comes to brawn and endurance”. After Ernest Thesiger’s Pretorius, “an insistent old wizard”, blackmails Colin Clive’s Frankenstein, “Again there is grave-sacking and gore. Once more there is a mysterious visit to the gloomy castle on the crags… the scientists don rubber gloves, chart heart beats and apply thunderbolts.”
The Bride, revealed, is “a big-eyed doll with an asparagus hair-wave, a partner for bloodthirsty Boris Karloff Frankenstein.” Botsford pronounces the film, “Sensational, weird, nothing if not picturesque, this eerie extravaganza is somehow believable.”
The writer also enjoyed the accompanying stage show as “likewise… apt and nifty”, providing a fascinating glimpse at the live entertainment that, back then, shared billing with films.
“There is every sort of act here.” Botsford reported. “The clowns in street clothes, that would be the Lees, are swell. So are the others, Mr. Mulcay, the mouth-organ man; a package called Collette; the Alvinette troupe and the fellow who dances atop a 12-foot ladder.”
Also with The Pittsburgh Press, entertainment columnist Kaspar Monahan reviewed Bride of Frankenstein on May 13, writing “despite its hokum story, it manages to achieve some hair-raising effects… it curiously makes of its monster a sympathetic figure…” adding, “Morally it may be suspect — for it introduces the monster to the petty vices of the human: Smoking, boozing and necking.”
Inevitably, there were critics who were less impressed with the film, but few appeared to be as off the mark as “A.R.D.” keeper of the Theater Gossip column of the St. Petersburg Evening Independent. Get a load of his review…
And here's another fascinating contemporary review: The Bride Wore Bolts.
Tomorrow: Exhibitors dress up their theaters for some wild Bride Ballyhoo.