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Elsa Lanchester is 'The Bride of Frankenstein'

Here are 12 facts fans should know about the horror classic, 'The Bride of Frankenstein' (1935).

Glamorous, grotesque and gosh, the Monster’s Mate (Elsa Lanchester) appeared only briefly during her Silver Screen debut in 1935. However, Bride of Frankenstein is often considered by film historians and critics as The Empire Strikes Back (1980) of the Frankenstein franchise. The movie, and the character herself, are both sterling examples for Women in Horror Month (WiHM) thanks to the author of its source material: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

Certainly, Shelley is most fondly remembered by genre fans for her 1818 Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, but she was also an author who didn’t allow herself to be boxed into a single writing convention. During Shelley’s career, the English novelist also composed plays, essays and biographies. Indeed, Shelley was even known as a travel writer.

And if ever a face were selected to represent WiHM, Mary Shelley’s hat need definitely be thrown into the ring. But this article is devoted solely to Shelley’s shining moment – realized long after her death – a film which began in a literary masterpiece born 200 years ago.

Do you love the Bride and its impact on the horror genre? Think you know the whole story? Well, here are 12 things fans should know about The Bride of Frankenstein.

Boris Karloff reprised his role of the Monster, but there was a heated debate on whether the spawn of Frankenstein should speak or not in the sequel. Karloff was adamant the creature not have any dialogue, as was the case in Frankenstein (1931). Karloff lost the argument though, and as a result the actor could not remove the bridgework from his mouth this time around to create the eerily aesthetic appearance. Karloff had done this in the first film to give the Monster that sunken look around the creature’s cheeks. Look closely in the sequel, and you’ll notice Karloff’s face is much fuller.

Bride of Frankenstein was shot entirely on set at Universal for a budget of just under $400,000, and the original budget was $300,000. Whale and crew went over budget by about $97,000 and change. It took 46 days to complete the shoot, and the film made an estimated $2 million at the box office for Universal. Actor Boris Karloff brought home a staggering $12,500 – $2,500 a week – for the role of the Monster. Compare that to a contract-matinee idol like Tyrone Power whose earliest paydays were $750 a week. Director James Whale also commanded a weekly draw of $2,500 for the sequel.

Actress Marilyn Harris also returned for Bride of Frankenstein, but this time as a different character. Harris portrayed the little girl the Monster drowns while throwing those lovely flowers in the water in Frankenstein (1931). Four years older, in Bride, Harris leads the young schoolgirls who cross paths with Frankenstein’s creature after he flees from the hermit’s (O.G. Heggie) burning home. Director James Whale even gave Harris one word of dialogue in the picture: “Look!” Whale did this so the studio had to pay the young thespian more money than those actors with non-speaking roles.

As the Winter Olympics rage on in South Korea, the event seems the perfect segue to this next little-known-fact from Bride of Frankenstein. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) revealed a Mermaid in one of those tiny bottles he shared with Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive). The mermaid was none other than Josephine McKim. McKim was a member of both the 1924 and 1928 U.S. Olympic Swim Teams. Her squad won Gold medals in the 400-Meter Freestyle Relay in 1928. With her near physical perfection, and sultry body, McKim also acted as Maureen O’Sullivan’s double during the nude swimming sequence in Tarzan and His Mate (1934).

Censors were a pesky bunch even in the 1930s when it came to thwarting the horrifically creative ventures of director James Whale and his team. Originally, Bride of Frankenstein had a body count which would make even Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers envious: 21 bodies! However, the censors pressured Universal to trim the deaths to only 10.

Colin Clive also returned in Bride of Frankenstein as the misunderstood but power-hungry Dr. Frankenstein. Curiously, most of Clive’s scenes were shot with the actor sitting rather than standing. Prior to shooting the film, Clive injured himself while riding a horse. The poor actor broke his leg in the incident and subsequently had to sit for the duration of the film shoot.

Orchestra Conductor C. Bakaleinikoff led Franz Waxman’s musical score for Bride of Frankenstein which was riveting and unforgettable. The score resonated in the minds of cinema fans in both its infancy and for years to come. The music became so popular that it was recycled for the Golden Age movie serials Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.

James Whale was more than a tiny bit stubborn when it came to directing Bride of Frankenstein. With Frankenstein (1931) behind him, Whale wanted to pursue other endeavors. It took nearly four years for Universal to convince Whale to direct the sequel. Whale demanded complete artistic control and freedom as a condition of his return. Fortunately, the head of Universal Carl Laemmle Jr. happened to be on a European vacation at the time, so the request was granted.

During the time of uncertainty, regarding Whale’s return, other story ideas were being cooked up which ultimately didn’t make it to the Silver Screen. In fact, one such yarn involved an intelligent and well-educated Monster carrying on Dr. Frankenstein’s research. That can’t be the case otherwise Boris Karloff never would have finished shooting Bride of Frankenstein. During the opening of the film, Frankenstein’s Monster emerges from the burning windmill which was the sight of his apparent demise in Frankenstein (1931). It was in that scene Karloff actually fell during the filming process. Karloff “The Uncanny” had dislocated his hip! With the injury “strapped” back into place, Karloff carried on with the shoot. The actor received constant heat therapy and massages to alleviate the pain and discomfort.

Sweet Elsa Lanchester went through hell on Earth for just two little sequences in Bride of Frankenstein. However, it was that last sequence as the Monster’s Mate which wore heavily on the young actress. Lanchester’s face make-up took Jack Pierce three to four hours to apply. The shocking hairdo the mate sported in the film took a wired, horsehair cage to hold it in place. In addition, Lanchester was only 5’4” in height. She was placed on stilts which took her up to 7’ tall. The cumbersome make-up made life unbearable for the actress while shooting that sequence. Indeed, her bandages were so tight Lanchester could not move. She was carried around the set by the crew, and Lanchester’s hairdresser had to feed the actress through a straw because the bandages were so tight around the fingers. After all that grief, the Monster’s Mate appears on screen for a total of three minutes.

Actor David Niven became quite the big star in Hollywood. A then virtually known, 21-year-old Niven was given a screen test for the part of Percy Shelley in Bride of Frankenstein’s opening sequence. However, Niven didn’t win the part which was eventually awarded to Douglas Walton.

As intriguing and well-received actor Ernest Thesiger was in the role of Dr. Pretorius, the thespian was not Universal’s first choice to play the charismatic baddie. Claude Rains was first offered the coveted role, but he was busy shooting The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935).


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