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A JOURNEY INTO DARKNESS: THE ART OF
JAMES WHALE'S HORROR FILMS
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN
PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS
FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
the two ladies in my life:
who has always supported me, financially and
emotionally, in any endeavor that I chose;
who shares my happiness, tolerates my moods, picks me
up when I am down, and, most importantly, loves me
I should like to thank the following persons who have assisted
me in my graduate career:
Dr. Ben Pickard, for guiding this dissertation with a firm,
yet benevolent, hand;
Dr. Harry Paul, for keeping faith in me over a fifteen
Dr. Alistair Duckworth, for giving me confidence in
Mr. Jim Flavin and his staff, for permitting me access
to the audio-visual equipment without which this study would
have been, quite literally, impossible;
Mr. Dan Kennedy and his staff, for obtaining needed
material in a prompt and unfailingly courteous manner;
Ms. Helen Martin and Ms. Mary Crume, for providing the
best possible job environment;
and, most of all, Dr. William C. Childers, for being a
close personal friend. Thanks, Bill.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS .......... ......... ......... ........... iii
ABSTRACT................ ... ....... ........ ... ................ v
CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION.................................. 1
The Auteur Theory and James Whale.......... 2
The Horror Film: Definition................ 8
The Horror Film: History.................. 13
James Whale: An Overview................... 18
CHAPTER II FRANKENSTEIN. ....................... ......... 29
Influences on the Frankenstein Films........ 29
Background: Frankenstein................... 35
Analysis: Frankenstein..................... 43
CHAPTER III THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.................... 69
Background: The Bride of Frankenstein...... 69
Analysis: The-Trie of-'Frankenstein....... 76
CHAPTER IV THE INVISIBLE MAN............................ 101
Background: The Invisible Man............. 101
Analysis: The Invisible Man............... 108
CHAPTER V THE OLD DARK HOUSE.......................... 132
Background: The Old Dark House............ 132
Analysis: The -ld Dar-Tf ouse............... 136
CHAPTER VI CONCLUSION................................. 163
Recurring Patterns in Whale's Films......... 163
Whale's Influence.......................... 174
APPENDIX A CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF JAMES WHALE'S FILMS..... 184
APPENDIX B CAST AND CREDITSFOR JAMES WHALE'S HORROR
FILMS................. ...... ............ 185
BIBLIOGRAPHY................................... ......... 189
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH...................................... 200
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council of
the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
A JOURNEY INTO DARKNESS: THE ART OF
JAMES WHALE'S HORROR FILMS
Chairman: J. Ben Pickard
Major Department: English
James Whale is often cited as a "master" of the horror film,
but there has been very little detailed critical commentary on his
four horror films--Frankenstein (1931), The Old Dark House (1932),
The Invisible Man (1933), and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
Thus, in this study, each film is closely examined to determine
the recurring themes, motifs, and stylistic elements which Whale
used to create his works of art.
The introductory chapter includes a discussion of the auteur
theory and its application to Whale; a definition of "genre" in
general and "horror film" in particular; an investigation of the
history of the horror film, with emphasis on the German Expressionist
film movement; and an overview of Whale's life and career. A
separate chapter is then devoted to each of the four films; the
individual film's background is discussed, and the thematic
and stylistic content is carefully analyzed. In Frankenstein,
Whale uses a complex collection of themes and motifs--including
the symbolic utilization of fire, light, darkness, hands, flowers,
dogs, and paired characters--to demonstrate the basic inhumanity
of man to his fellow creatures. In The Bride of Frankenstein,
this depiction of inhumanity is extended until, in paradoxical
fashion, the artificial Frankenstein Monster is shown to be of
higher moral caliber than the "real" humans. Throughout these
two films, Whale emphasizes his moral position by the use of
numerous religious parallels and contrasts. The Invisible Man
exemplifies Whale's brilliant understanding of the cinema's
stylistic resources; he inventively uses editing, lighting, camera
movement, camera placement, and special effects to present a
portrait of the madness which results from an individual's
unrestrained desire for power. Finally, in The Old Dark House,
Whale examines the suffocating effect of the past on the present
and creates a consummate horror film which balances tension and
comedy in perfect equilibrium. The last chapter summarizes
Whale's artistic achievement and demonstrates his substantial
influence on modern horror films.
Everything must have a beginning,
to speak in Sanchean phrase.
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
(Preface to 1831 edition)
We love the thing that shocks us
and sends chills down our spine.
The horror film has something for
I am a mere goosepimpler.
During the past ten years, the proliferation of books on
film has been astounding. These works deal with a wide variety of
subjects and with such diverse personalities as D. W. Griffith,
Sergei Eisenstein, the Marx Brothers, John Ford, Woody Allen, and
Clint Eastwood. Many of these publications focus on the work of indi-
vidual directors. Yet, in all this outpouring of material, there is
no book-length study of the British-born director, James Whale, although
he directed some of the most interesting films of the 1930's. Indeed,
several film historians do not even mention Whale's name.1 In this study,
1Works on film history which do not give Whale even a passing
glance are the following: Thomas Bohn and Richard L. Stromgren,
Lights and Shadows: A History of Motion Pictures (Port Washington,
N. Y.: Alfred Publishing Co., 1975T;AT. R. Fulton, Motion
Pictures: The Development of an Art from Silent Films to the Age
of TV (Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1957) ;ewis
I shall contend that Whale is an important director in the history
of American film, one whose works make him worthy of consideration
as a major artist.
The Auteur Theory and James Whale
In evaluating Whale, I do not intend to subscribe to any
prescribed critical formula or theory. However, since anyone who
writes about an individual director is influenced to some extent
by the so-called "auteur theory," a brief discussion of this
concept is in order.
The beginning of the "theory" dates from the mid-1950's in
France. A group of young film critics who were later to become
filmmakers (among them were Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and
Claude Chabrol) challenged the French film "establishment." The
beginning of this challenge was Truffaut's article, "A Certain
Tendency of the French Cinema."2 Truffaut--reacting against the
literary bias of French film as represented by directors like
Jean Dellanoy, Claude Autant-Lara, and Rene Cl6ment--was outraged
Jacobs, The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History (New
York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1939; reprint edition, New York:
Teachers College Press, 1969); Lawrence Kardish, Reel Plastic
Magic: A History of Films and Filmmaking in America (Boston:
Little, Brown, and Co., 1972); Arthur Knight, The Liveliest Art:
A Panoramic History of the Movies, revised edition (New York:
macmillan Publishing Co., 1978); Kenneth W. Leish, Cinema (New
York: Newsweek Books, 1974); Paul Rotha, The Film Til Now,
revised edition (London: Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1967).
2Franqois Truffaut, "A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema,"
in Movies and Methods: An Anthology, ed. Bill Nichols (Berkeley
and Los Angeles: UniversTty of California Press, 1976), pp. 224-
238. In turn, Truffaut's ideas may be traced to Alexandre Astruc's
article, "La Camera-stylo," first published in 1948. In brief,
Astruc emphasized the visual component of film and argued that the
director is analogous to the author of a novel. See Alexandre
by the idea that the scriptwriter, not the director, was considered
the auteur of a movie. He was especially incensed by the position
of France's two leading scriptwriters, Jean Aurenche and Pierre
Bost, who specialized in literary adaptations: "I consider an
adaptation of value only when written by a man of the cinema.
Aurenche and Bost are essentially literary men and I reproach them
for being contemptuous of the cinema by underestimating it "3
(Truffaut's emphasis). In contrast to Dellanoy, Autant-Lara,
Clement, Aurenche,and Bost, Truffaut favored directors such as
Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, and Max Ophuls. These men had a
strong visual sense which they employed in their films and, in
Truffaut's mind, they were the true auteurs of film. From
Truffaut's essay, the politique des auteurs was born.
It is obvious that Truffaut's aim was a polemical one: he
wanted to assert the preeminence of the director and break the
literary prejudice of the French film. However, when the
politique des auteurs was exported to America, excesses set in.
Andrew Sarris, in his "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962," made
the most influential American statement of the position.4 But,
Astruc, "La Camera-stylo," in The New Wave, ed. Peter Graham (New
York: Doubleday, 1968), pp. 17-24.
3Truffaut, p. 229.
4Andrew Sarris, "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962," in Film
Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, eds. Gerald Mast and
Marshall Cohen (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), pp. 500-
Sarris proved to be a better writer of English than a translator
of French when he stated, "I will abbreviate la politique des
auteurs as the auteur theory to avoid confusion."5 He could hardly
have created more confusion, for the auteur theory is not a "theory"
at all, but a methodological tool for analysis, a way of "getting
at" and giving unity to a group of films. At most, it may be
considered a prologomenon to a theory. Six years later, Sarris
himself admitted that the "theory" was "not so much a theory as an
attitude,"6 but by then the damage was done. Sarris and his fol-
lowers established rankings and categories of directors. In this
parlor game, for example, D. W. Griffith, Josef von Sternberg, and
Alfred Hitchcock became "Pantheon Directors," and Budd Boetticher,
Arthur Penn, and Gerd Oswald (!) were placed in the "Expressive
Esoterica" category, while such major figures as John Huston, Elia
Kazan, and Billy Wilder were consigned to the rank of "Less Than
Meets the Eye."7 At their most unreasonable, the auteurists
claimed that any film by, say, Alfred Hitchcock was superior to
any film by, for example, John Huston (The Maltese Falcon,
Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen), a director dis-
missed by Sarris as "virtually a forgotten man with a few actor's
5Ibid., p. 503.
6Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions
1929-1968 (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1968), p. 30.
7See Sarris, The American Cinema, for a complete listing of
his eleven categories.
classics behind him, surviving as the ruins of a once promising
As early as 1957, the French film critic, Andr'e Bazin--a
friend and mentor of Truffaut, Godard, and Chabrol--warned against
this excessive approach. Bazin wanted "to give him [the auteur]
back the preposition without which the noun auteur remains but a
halting concept. 'Auteur,' yes, but of what?"9 (Bazin's emphasis).
Although it is easy--and justifiable--to criticize the ludi-
crous excesses of the auteur theory, its use as an analytical tool
was--and is--valid and valuable for several reasons. First, it
forced critics to look at a film closely. It cleared away the bias
that certain forms or genres were not worth taking seriously and
re-emphasized the fact that film is primarily a visual medium.
Second, it established the director as the primary creative
force behind a film. Notice that I say primary, not only. Film
is undeniably a collaborative art, but this does not deny the
presence of one major, shaping spirit. Hence, when I speak of
James Whale's Frankenstein, I do not intend to denigrate the acting
of Boris Karloff, the make-up of Jack Pierce, or the camerawork of
Arthur Edeson, but to emphasize that Whale is the single most
important figure in the creation of the film. I believe that this
8Sarris, "Notes on the Auteur Theory," p. 505.
9Andre Bazin, "La Politique des Auteurs," in The New Wave,
is true even during the "studio years" of the 1930's. As
Raymond Durgnat states,
When all the sad truths about Hollywood have been
allowed, it is doubtful if it cramps its best direc-
tors' style as much as the Victorian climate of
opinion constrained our Victorian novelists. Indeed,
if we allow the least literary status to, say, Robert
Louis Stevenson, it becomes very perverse indeed to
rule out even the "middling" films of Hitchcock,
Hawks, Ray, and so on.10
Third, the auteur theory allows one to assume that, given the
fact a director may impose his own personal style upon his films,
one may learn more about a particular director's work by consid-
ering each of his films in relation to the others. However, one
must watch one's step carefully at this juncture. The mere fact
that a particular director possesses an individual style does not,
in and of itself, make that director's work artistic. But if that
style is used with genius, as I believe Whale's is, then the film
becomes a work of art, and the director an artist.
Theoretically, then, the proper way to study James Whale
would be to see all his films. Practically, the unique logistics
of film research make this impossible. Whale made some twenty
films in a ten-year period. Of this number, approximately ten are
available for renting (films may be bought or rented; unlike books,
they are seldom loaned).
10Raymond Durgnat, Films and Feelings (Cambridge, Mass.:
The M. I. T. Press, 1971), p. 86.
Because I possessed neither unlimited resources nor endless
time, it was necessary to limit my research. I selected Whale's
four horror films--Frankenstein (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein
(1935), The Invisible Man (1933), and The Old Dark House (1932)--
because they are his best-known works, are readily available,11 and,
as horror films, fall into an accepted genre.
I especially wanted to select films which I could see more than
once. Until the advent of analytic projectors and video-tape equip-
ment, it was nearly impossible to do adequate research in film.
Attempting to write from summaries of movies which one has not seen
simply does not work.12 In addition, in order to write well about
film, it is preferable to see a film several times and to have seen
the film fairly recently, for relying on memory can be exceedingly
1Three of the films (Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein,
and The Invisible Man) are easily available. However, in order to
see The Old Dark House, I had to travel to the Library of Congress
and, then, was only able to spend a total of five hours studying
120f course, it is impossible to write a large volume dealing
with a great number of films without relying to some extent on sum-
maries. Among excellent works in various fields which do use sum-
maries are Carlos Clarens' historical study, An Illustrated History
of the Horror Film (New York: Capricorn Books, 1968); George
Huaco's sociological examination, The Sociology of Film Art (New
York: Basic Books, 1965); Siegfried Kracauer's monumental From
Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Fiim
(Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1947; paperba-c
reprint edition, Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press,
1970); and Paul Monaco's investigation in comparative history,
Cinema and Society: France and Germany During the Twenties (New
York: ETTevier Scientific PubTishing Co., 1976.T AltThough all
these books are well done, they do contain factual errors
13A good example of the treachery of memory is found in John
Baxter, Hollywood in the Thirties (New York: Paperback Library,
My aim is to establish James Whale as a major artist by a
close analysis of the themes and motifs used in his horror films,
and by an examination of the stylistic cinematic tools (camera
movement, camera placement, lighting, editing, etc.) he uses to
express these themes and/or motifs. In the final analysis, Whale's
vision is extremely pessimistic and his films foreshadow the
bleakness, despair, and black comedy of such modern films as
Dr. Strangelove and Night of the Living Dead.
The Horror Film: Definition
Any extended discussion of the horror film as genre is beyond
the scope of this paper, but a few brief comments should be made.
Though no universally agreed-upon definition of the horror film
exists, there is wide-spread agreement on its popularity. Expla-
nations for its enduring success have been many and various. For
example, Lawrence Alloway believes that there has "always been a
spontaneous human taste for monsters, for the more-than or less-
than human";14 Thomas Aylesworth feels that the audience is
attracted to the "mysterious, tremendous, and fascinating" power of
1970). This is a valuable work but Baxter, in trying to deal with
many films from memory, has confused the story of Frankenstein with
that of The Bride of Frankenstein (p. 97) and has so garbled the
plot of T-he ( T darF- House as to make it almost unrecognizable
(p. 98). An excellent recent essay on the problem of the accuracy
of film books and the dangers of memory is Bruce Kawin, "Creative
Remembering (And Other Perils of Film Study)," Film Quarterly, v. 32
(Fall 1978), pp. 62-65.
14Lawrence Alloway, "Monster Films," in Focus on the Horror
Film, eds. Roy Huss and T. J. Ross (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.:
Prentice-Hall, 1972), p. 124.
the villain;15 R. H. W. Dillard thinks that the central concern of
the horror film is to enable man to accept sin and death;16 Drake
Douglas attributes the hold of horror movies on modern audiences to
man's "hereditary fear of the dark";17 Walter Evans declares that
the key to the horror film's appeal is "the theme of horrible and
mysterious psychological and physical change";18 Frank McConnell
states that the core of the genre's meaning lies in the need to
"translate and revalue the inherited burden of European culture";19
John Thomas asserts that through the destruction of monsters, "we
are purged of our fear of the nonhuman";20 and Robin Wood believes
that horror films are successful because they represent "our
1Thomas G. Aylesworth, Monsters From the Movies (Philadelphia:
J. B. Lippincott, 1972), pp. 16-17.
16R. H. W. Dillard, "Even a Man Who Is Pure at Heart: Poetry
and Danger in the Horror Film," in Man and the Movies, ed. W. R.
Robinson (Baltimore: Pelican Books, 1969), pp. 64-66.
17Drake Douglas, Horror! (New York: Collier Books, 1966),
18Walter Evans, "Monster Movies: A Sexual Theory," Journal of
Popular Film, v. 2 (Fall 1973), p. 354.
19Frank McConnell, "Rough Beasts Slouching," in Focus on the
Horror Film, p. 27.
20John Thomas, "Gobble, Gobble One of Us!" in Focus on
the Horror Film, p. 135.
21Robin Wood, "Return of the Repressed," Film Comment, v. 14
(July-August 1978), p. 26.
A discussion of the horror film inevitably raises the following
question: what is film genre?22 Stuart Kaminsky defines it as a
"body, group, or category of similar works; this similarity being
defined as the sharing of a sufficient number of motifs so that we
can identify works which properly fall within a particular kind or
style of film."23 For Stanley Solomon, "a genre film is one in
which the narrative pattern, or crucial aspects of that pattern, are
visually recognizable as having been used similarly in other films."24
For my part, I am quite willing to follow Harry Geduld and Ronald
Gottesman's simple description of film genre as a "category, kind
or form of film distinguished by subject matter, theme, or tech-
niques,"25 with the stipulation that room be made in this definition
22While there have been numerous works published (both serious
and trivial) on particular film genres, there has been very little
written on film genre per se. The only two books devoted entirely
to an overall study of film genre are Stuart Kaminsky, American
Film Genres: Approaches to a Critical Theory of Popular Film (New
York: DeTT Publishing Co., 1977), and Stanley Solomon, Beyond
Formula: American Film Genres (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
1976). Barry K. Grant has edited a number of useful essays on film
genre in Film Genre: Theory and Criticism (Metuchen, N. J.: Scare-
crow Press, 1977), and Leo Braudy has an excellent chapter in his
The World in a Frame: What We See in Films (New York: Anchor
Press, 1977-, pp. 104-181. Another very fine chapter may be found
in Andrew Tudor, Image and Influence: Studies in the Sociology of
Film (London: George ATTen and Unwin, 1974), pp. 180-220.
2Kaminsky, p. 20.
24Solomon, p. 3.
25Harry M.Geduld and Ronald Gottesman, An Illustrated Glossary
of Film Terms (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1973), p. 73.
for the emotional effect of a film upon its audience. As William
K. Everson notes, the "strong point" of the horror film is not plot,
but "audience emotion."26
However, the problem of just what "category, kind or form of
film" the horror film is remains. Neither Kaminsky nor Solomon gives
a real working definition of the horror film. They both devote long
chapters to the genre and attempt to isolate the themes, motifs,
icons, narrative patterns, and mythic structures of horror movies.27
While a listing of these elements is indispensable to studies such
as Kaminsky's and Solomon's, the underlying problem is that it is
impossible to precisely delineate the lines which separate a horror
film, a science fiction film, or a fantasy film. Is King Kong (1933)
in the horror or fantasy category? 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is
obviously a science fiction film, but what about Invasion of the
Body Snatchers (1956) or The Thing (1951)? This overlap of genres
is inevitable; not every film can be (or should be) strictly cate-
gorized. The best answer may be Michel Laclos' solution: group all
such films under the broad classification of the fantastic (le
Fantastique) and then one may, as Laclos does, discuss Frankenstein,
the Topper series, The Wizard of Oz (1939), It's A Wonderful Life
(1947) and Metropolis (1926) under one heading.28
26William K. Everson, American Silent Film (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1978), p. 219.
27See Kaminsky, pp. 130-154, and Solomon, pp. 111-156.
28Michel Laclos, Le Fantastique au Cinema (Paris: Pauvert,
1958), pp. iii-xxxv.
For the limited purposes of this dissertation (and with no
pretense of offering a definitive definition), a horror film will
be understood to be a film whose overt aim is to terrify or
frighten, whether the events in the film are seen as impossible
fantasies (Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible
Man) or as heightened extensions of ordinary behavior (The Old Dark
House). This emphasis on emotional effect seems to me as justi-
fiable a way of defining the horror film as a listing of icons and
motifs. As D. L. White has pointed out, if Psycho were "analyzed
not in terms of impact, but in terms of icons and plot patterns,"
it "would seem to be more a crime film than a work of horror,"29
yet surely no one would seriously dispute Psycho's right to be
called a horror film. By the same token, Frankenstein, The Bride of
Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man, if defined solely by their
icons and themes, could well be considered science fiction films.30
29D. L. White, "The Poetics of Horror: More Than Meets the
Eye," in Film Genre: Theory and Criticism, p. 127.
30Indeed, several critics have taken this approach. Margaret
Tarratt, "Monsters From the Id," in Film Genre: Theory and Criticism,
pp. 172-174, discusses Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein as
science fiction films; John Baxter, Science Fiction in the Cinema
(New York: Paperback Library, 1970), pp. 50-51, and Douglas
Menville and R. Reginald, Things To Come: An Illustrated History
of the Science Fiction Film (New York: New York Times Book Co.,
19777, pp. 46-47, see The Invisible Man as a science fiction film;
and Jeff Rovin, From Jules Verne to Star Trek: The Best of Science
Fiction Movies and Television -New York: Drake Publishers, 1977),
pp. 10-11, 51-52, 64, believes all three films are science fiction.
In addition, Carlos Clarens observes that to study Roman Polanski's
Rosemary's Baby "as genre is quite a different matter from studying
this particular work in and of itself, or as a part of Polanski's
filmography, or even as a part of contemporary filmmaking."31 These
same words might easily be applied to any of Whale's horror films.
Obviously, Clarens' various ways of looking at a film overlap, but
the main thrust of this dissertation is not toward a discussion of
Whale's films as genre (although, of course, reference to the four
films as horror films will be made frequently), but as expressions
of the unique artistry of his filmography.
The Horror Film: History
The horror film occupies a paradoxical position in film history.
Unlike genres such as the gangster film or the musical comedy, the
horror film is not an indigenous American form, though it may
have attained its highest artistic status at Universal Studios
in the 1930's.32 In fact, Universal seems to have invented
31Carlos Clarens, "Horror Films," in Rediscovering the American
Cinema, ed. Douglas J. Lemza (New York: Pioneer Press, 1977), p. 42.
3A definitive history of Universal Studios has yet to be
written. I. G. Edmonds' Big U: Universal in the Silent Days (New
York: A. S. Barnes, 1977), is poorly written, badly organized, and
abysmally edited. It is almost useless, although it does offer some
insight into Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal. Michael Fitz-
gerald's Universal Pictures: A Panoramic Histoy in Words, Pictures,
and Filmographies (New Rochelle, N. Y.: Arlington House, 1977), is
a huge book (almost 800 pages) and has an indispensable filmography.
However, Fitzgerald's text is very slim and wholly inadequate.
Despite my previous critical comments, John Baxter's chapter on
Universal, pp. 95-118, in his Hollywood in the Thirties is a
valuable aid. Stephen Pendo's essay, "Universal's Golden Age of
Horror: 1931-1941," Films in Review, v. 26 (March 1975), pp. 155-
161, contains a handy list of key films, but no interpretive
the term, "horror" film. Frankenstein was not called a horror film
in any contemporary reviews, but, four years later, The Bride of
Frankenstein was.33 Wherever the specific term may have originated,
the roots of horror movies are found in Europe.
The father of imagination in cinema is the Frenchman, Georges
Melies. As Carlos Clarens aptly states, "ghoulies, ghosties, and
all things that go bump on the screen are forever in his debt."34
material. The major Universal horror films of the 1930's and
1940's are perceptively discussed by William K. Everson, "A Family
Tree of Monsters," Film Culture, v. 1 (January 1955), pp. 24-30.
33This surely refutes Ivan Butler's statement in Horror in the
Cinema, 2nd revised edition (New York: A. S. Barnes, 1970), p. 11,
that the term, horror film, came into general use only in the early
1950's. The contemporary reviews in which The Bride of Frankenstein
is called a horror film are Frank S. Nugent,--The Bride of Franken-
stein," New York Times, 11 May 1935, p. 21, and 'The Bride of
Frankenstein7,'Time, v. 25 (29 April 1935), p. 52.
3Carlos Clarens, An Illustrated History, p. 8. Clarens' book
is easily the best history of horror films available. It is compre-
hensive, accurate, and well-written. Its only defect is that it is
now ten years out of date. Ivan Butler's Horror in the Cinema is
also a good work and contains a useful chronology as an appendix.
William K. Everson's Classics of the Horror Film (Secaucus, N. J.:
Citadel Press, 1974), while not strIctly a history, is an excellent
volume, particularly on films of the 1930's and 1940's. However,
Everson has little interest in modern horror films. A very good
short introduction to the history of the genre is Robert F. Moss,
Karloff and Company: The Horror Film (New York: Pyramid Publi-
cations, 1973). An interesting dTiscussion of the modern horror
film (1960 to the present) may be found in Charles Derry, Dark
Dreams: A Psychological History of the Modern Horror Film (New
York: A. S. Barnes, 1977). Other histories of lesser merit
include Thomas G. Aylesworth, Monsters From the Movies; Edward
Edelson, Great Monsters of the Movies (Garden City, N. Y.:
Doubleday, 1973); Alan G. Frank, Horror Movies (London: Octopus
Books, 1974); Denis Gifford, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies
(London: Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1973); Tom Hutchinson, Horror
and Fantasy in the Movies (New York: Crescent Books, 1974); Frank
Manchel, Terrors of the Screen (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-
Hall, 1970); and Ed Naha, Horrors: From Screen to Scream (New York:
Avon Books, 1975).
MRelies pioneered in the use of double exposure, multiple exposure,
fast motion, slow motion, stop motion, the fade, and the dissolve.
In such films as A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Conquest of the
Pole (1912), Melies laid the groundwork for science fiction, horror,
and fantasy films.
From France, the family tree of horror film branches out to
Germany and the single most important influence on the horror genre,
German Expressionism.35 The German Expressionist movement in film
was primarily influenced by Expressionist painting and by the
theatre of Max Reinhardt. German Expressionist painters were a
varied group who never formed a monolithic unit (some of their
better-known members were Max Pechstein, Marc Kandinsky, Oscar
Kokoschska, and Max Beckmann); they were influenced by such anti-
naturalist artists as Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul
35The premier work on German films of the 1920's is Siegfried
Kracauer's famous From Caligari to Hitler. While not a study of
Expressionism in itself, Kracauer-s book is required reading for any-
one working with German films. Part of Kracauer's thesis, that the
German film in its themes and style prefigures the rise of Hitler,
is, at least, plausible. The idea that the films reflect the
German people's "deep psychological dispositions" (p. v) toward
tyranny and authoritarianism is, at best, questionable. Lotte
Eisner's The Haunted Screen: Expressionism and the Influence of Max
ReinhardtTBerkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press,
1973), convincingly demonstrates Reinhardt's influence. However, it
is sloppily organized and poorly written, and also marred by such
ridiculous statements as "the German soul instinctively prefers
twilight to daylight" (p. 51). George Huaco's chapter on German
Expressionism, pp. 25-92, in his The Sociology of Film Art, is a
solid essay. Roger Manvell and Heinrich FraenkeT's The German
Cinema (New York: Praeger, 1971), provides a useful summary of
Expressionism, but adds no new insights. Of particular value among
shorter studies is Andrew Tudor's chapter in Image and Influence,
Cezanne. Expressionism in painting was an attempt to break away
from Impressionism and to present an individual's subjective inner
vision. In depicting this inner state of mind, the Expressionists
departed from naturalistic forms and colors and tended toward por-
traying a radical deformation of the natural order. Eventually,
many of the set designers and art directors for German films would
be recruited from the ranks of Expressionist painters.36
The second major influence on German film Expressionism was the
master stage director, Max Reinhardt. Reinhardt's work with group
composition, lighting, and architectural form on the stage was
enormously influential on the film. Many of Germany's top cinema
directors--such as Paul Leni, F. W. Murnau, and Karl Grune--as well
as the top actors--such as Paul Wegener, Werner Krauss, Conrad
Veidt, and Emil Jannings--had all worked for Reinhardt.37
The beginning of German Expressionism in films is always dated
from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), but the ending date is
vague. Andrew Tudor places the end of Expressionism in 1926 with
The Student of Prague, Faust, and Metropolis, while Lotte Eisner
extends the movement through the coming of sound in 1931 with The
Blue Angel, The Three Penny Opera, and M.38 It may be safely stated
36For a good short background study of the Expressionist
painters, see Huaco, pp. 69-73.
37See Huaco, p. 87, for information on the directors, and
Eisner, p. 44, for documentation on the actors.
38Tudor, p. 156, and Eisner, pp. 314-323.
that Expressionism had spent its force by the mid-1920's and the
trend was toward realism, although many Expressionist techniques
continued to be employed in realist films.
The style of the Expressionist cinema was characterized by the
use of diagonals and broken angles, the unique utilization of light
and shadow, large objects (houses, doorways, etc.) which were
noticeably tilted and either too large or too small in relation to
human beings, the employment of abrupt, stylized acting techniques,
and, most importantly for the future art of the film, the use of a
mobile, moving camera to portray an individual's subjective viewpoint.
The themes of Expressionism were grouped around the idea of
man's powerlessness before "destiny," i.e., the inevitability of
"Fate" (F. W. Murnau's The Last Laugh, Fritz Lang's Destiny); the
concept of the divided self and the duality of life (Henrik Galeen's
The Student of Prague, Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari);
and the power of the supernatural to influence one's life (Paul
Wegener's The Golem, Murnau's Faust).
As direct influences on the Frankenstein series, three
Expressionist films--Caligari, The Golem, and Metropolis--are especially
important and will be discussed in more detail in Chapter II.
The American silent cinema provided little inspiration for the
great Universal horror cycle of the 1930's. There were, however,
a number of silent films known as "thrillers" or "shockers," such
as John S. Robertson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) with John
Barrymore in the title role and, in particular, the films of Lon
Chaney. During the 1920's, Chaney created one brilliant role after
another, the most important and influential being the Phantom in The
Phantom of the Opera (1926). As Clarens states, "the character of
the Phantom, combining the attributes of musical genius, master
builder, and ruthless killer, is an early version of the sympathetic
monster-villain."39 Also, there was a series of influential "old
house" thrillers, like Roland West's The Bat (1926), Alfred Santell's
The Gorilla (1927), and, especially, Paul Leni's The Cat and the
Canary (1927), As the most important of these films and as an
influence on The Old Dark House, The Cat and the Canary will be
discussed in greater detail in Chapter V.
By 1930, all was in readiness for the horror film to burst
forth as an art form. "The stylistic influences from Germany .
the long-developed commercial tradition of the 'shockers' and the
line in individual grotesquerie pioneered by Chaney, all combined
in the Universal melting pot."40 All that was needed was a master
chef to produce an artistic brew from this "melting pot." The
time was right for James Whale.
James Whale: An Overview
"James Whale, who directed the movie Frankenstein, died today
after falling into the swimming pool of his home. He was 60 years
39Clarens, An Illustrated History, p. 50
40Tudor, p. 204.
old."41 The New York Times obituary is, like many statements
about Whale's career and his films, inaccurate. He was not sixty;
he was sixty-seven. For years, his birthdate was accepted as
July 21, 1896, but he was actually born in 1889, and apparent-
ly used the false date because of vanity.42
At the time of his death, Whale was a forgotten man. Only
one commemorative article appeared in any journal or magazine.43
Even today, it is almost impossible to obtain detailed biographical
information on Whale, and what is obtainable is often incorrect.44
4"Obituary: James Whale," New York Times, 30 May 1957, p. 23.
42John Brosnan, The Horror People (New York: St. Martin's
Press, 1976), p. 67; Tom Milne, "One Man Crazy: James Whale,"
Sight and Sound, v. 43 (Summer 1973), p. 166; Don Whittemore and
Philip Alan Cecchettni, "Orientation to James Whale," in Pass-
port to Hollywood: Film Immigrants Anthology, eds. Don Whittemore
and Philip Alan Cecchettini (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976), p. 271.
43Roy Edwards, "Movie Gothick: A Tribute to James Whale,"
Sight and Sound, v. 28 (Autumn 1957), pp. 95-98.
4Short entries on Whale may be found in the following film
reference works: Liz-Anne Bawden, ed., The Oxford Companion to
Film (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), pp. 748-749;
Leslie Halliwell, The Filmgoer's Companion, 4th edition (New
York: Hill and Wang, 1974), p. 800; Roger Manvell, ed., The
International Encyclopedia of Film (New York: Crown Publishers,
1972), p. 502; Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Film Makers, ed.
and trans. Peter Morris (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University
of California Press, 1972), p. 275; John M. Smith and Tim Cawk-
well, eds., The World Encyclopedia of the Film (New York: World
Publishing Co., 19772), p. 292; David Thomson, A Biographical
Dictionary of Film (New York: William Morrow, 1976), pp. 611-
612. Not one of these works is without error. Both the
International Encyclopedia and the World Encyclopedia give Whale's
birthdate as 1896, and both also identify him as a "theatrical
Whale was born in Dudley, Worcestershire, England. His
father, William Whale, was an ironworker and secretary of the trade
union which he had helped found. His mother, Sarah Whale, was a nurse.
Thus, Whale, who projected an image of the cultivated, urbane,
upper-class Englishman, was from a working class background, and he
always retained an interest in social behavior and the English
class system which is evidenced in his horror films, particularly
The Old Dark House.
Whale left Dudley shortly after 1910 and got a job in
London as a cartoonist for the magazine, The Bystander. When World
War I began, he obtained a commission as a second lieutenant with
the Seventh Worcester Infantry Regiment and was sent to France.
His war service was brief, for he was captured soon after arriving
producer." Whale was never a producer, but a theatre director.
The usually reliable Leslie Halliwell has Whale's birthdate as
1886 (however, this is obviously a typographical error since
the 3rd edition has the correct date) and identifies Whale's 1932
film, The Impatient Maiden, as The Imprudent Maiden. The Oxford
Companion- has the correct biographical information, but curiously
defines Whale's 1938 movie, Wives Under Suspicion (a remake of his
1934 psychological drama, The Kiss Before the Mirror), as a "comedy."
Georges Sadoul calls Whale a producer and mies the same title error
as Halliwell. David Thomson has a good short essay on Whale, but
repeats the fallacy that he was a producer. John Brosnan, The
Horror People, pp. 67-72, gives a fairly complete summary oT-~hale's
ife, while Don Whittemore and Philip Alan Cecchettini, "Orientation
to James Whale," pp. 271-278, summarize Whale's life and most of
his films. William Thomaier and Robert Fink, "James Whale," Films
in Review, v. 13 (May 1962), pp. 277-289, provide useful biographical
Information and a list of all the films. Paul Jensen, "James Whale,"
Film Comment, v. 7 (Spring 1971), pp. 52-57, has a rather cursory
Bdscussion of some of the films. Tom Milne, "One Man Crazy," pp. 166-
170, also discusses the films briefly. The only work of film history
which deals with Whale in any detail is Charles Higham, The Art of the
American Film: 1900-1971 (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday,-T97T),
at the western front. "My platoon had been told to do a stint on
a pill-box at midnight, and we had gone straight into a well-laid
trap. It all happened so suddenly I was stupefied and found it
impossible to believe myself cut off from everything British and in
the hands of the Hun."45
For the remainder of the war, Whale was incarcerated in a POW
camp near Hanover. During this period he began his acting career
by performing in plays put on by the camp inmates. After the war,
Whale joined the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and, in addition to
acting, did odd jobs such as designing sets for productions of The
Cherry Orchard and The Seagull.
In March, 1925, Whale acted for the first time on the London
stage in a production of A Comedy of Good and Evil at the Pmbassador
Theatre. He got his big break when an unknown playwright named
R. C. Sherriff approached him about directing Sherriff's anti-war
play, Journey's End. In his autobiography, Sherriff recalls his
first meeting with Whale. "He [Whale] scarcely looked at me; he
kept his eyes on the mirror and talked to my reflection in
the glass. He didn't seem very enthusiastic about Journey's
End."46 At this point in his life, Whale was, according to Sherriff,
45Thomaier and Fink, p. 285.
46R. C. Sherriff, No Leading Lady: An Autobiography (London:
Victor Gollancz, 1968), p. 47.
"a man-of-all-work in the theatre. He played small parts, designed
and painted scenery, and occasionally got a job as stage manager,
but he had never been in charge of a play in a West End theatre. He
told me later that he had never earned beyond five pounds a week for
anything he had done."47 In a sequence of events which would do
credit to a Hollywood screenplay, Journey's End opened in December,
1928, and was a great success. Whale also directed the Broadway
production the following year and was then contracted to direct the
The film of Journey's End was released in 1930 to rave reviews
and, during the next decade, Whale directed twenty films (a complete
filmography may be found in Appendix A), ending his career in 1941
by walking off the set of They Dare Not Love after an argument; he
never returned to filmmaking. Actually, Whale did make one more
effort at directing. In 1949, he made a short version of William
Saroyan's one-act play, Hello Out There, for the film producer,
Huntington Hartford. The film was shown to a special preview
audience which included Saroyan, Charlie Chaplin, John Huston, and
Jean Renoir. It was well received by the audience, but Hartford was
dissatisfied with the results (apparently because he felt it did
not make adequate use of his wife, Marjorie Steele) and never
47Ibid., pp. 46-47.
48Brosnan, The Horror People, p. 71, and Thomaier and Fink,
Whale lived in semi-seclusion until his death. He directed a
few plays (including, in 1951, The Pagan in the Parlor in England),
but mostly he devoted his time to studying painting. In 1952, he
toured European art museums for this purpose and, at the time of
his death, was designing sets for a science fiction operetta based
on the works of Ray Bradbury and Max Beerbohm.49 He had invested
his money wisely in real estate, and at his death his estate was
valued at $600,000.50
The circumstances of Whale's death are often referred to as
"mysterious." Probably because of his homosexuality, it has been
rumored that some type of ritualistic, Sharon Tate-type, sexual
murder took place. The truth is certainly less lurid. Whale had
had a mild stroke in early 1957; he apparently had another one, fell
into his pool, and simply did not have the strength to pull himself
Whale was a shy, reticent man frequently described as "aloof."52
Despite this aloofness, he obviously had an excellent rapport with
actors and actresses since he almost always elicited good perform-
ances. He rarely gave interviews and, after he retired, there was
little interest in him. Hence, the outlines of his personality are
(and are likely to remain) vague.
49Thomaier and Fink, p. 289.
5Brosnan, The Horror People, p. 72.
In addition to Whale's four horror films, he made at least five
other films (The Kiss Before the Mirror, By Candlelight, One More
River, Show Boat, and The Great Garrick) which merit closer attention
than they have been given.53
The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933), at first glance a mere
melodrama, contains subtle psychological insights. It is heavily
influenced by the Expressionist style (Karl Freund, the famous
cameraman for The Last Laugh, was the cinematographer) and, accord-
ing to Charles Higham, includes "more authentic terrors" than the
horror films.54 The film concerns a doctor, Walter Bernsdorf (Paul
Lukas), who murders his wife, Lucie (Gloria Stuart), because of her
infidelity. The defense attorney, Paul Held (Frank Morgan), finds
many similarities between his life and his client's, including the
fact that his own wife, Maria (Nancy Carroll), is also unfaithful.
Held becomes more and more closely identified with Bernsdorf,
indicating Whale's interest in paired characters, an interest which
also infuses his horror films. Another major concern of Whale's is
shown by his emphasis on characters' external images; the Monster's
exterior appearance is also a major motif in Frankenstein and The
53It is outside the focus of this paper to do more than briefly
mention these films. Of the five, I have seen The Kiss Before the
Mirror, Show Boat, and The Great Garrick, but have ha no opportunity
to studyT nm in depth. T have not seen By Candlelight or One More
River and have relied on the judgment or others, an admittedly
54Higham, The Art of the American Film, p. 159.
Bride of Frankenstein. The movie climaxes with a surrealist court-
room scene in which Held sounds a Kafka-esque "we are all guilty"
theme by arguing that, given sufficient provocation, anyone might
act as Bernsdorf acted.
William K. Everson, Whale's most perceptive critic, has called
By Candlelight (1933) one of Whale's three best films.55 The plot
revolves around the reversal of roles between a master and his
servant, and gives Whale a chance to explore the use of artificial
roles and poses, a topic also examined in The Old Dark House.
In One More River (1934), Whale's version of John Galsworthy's
last novel, he "demonstrates his acute and accurate insight into
social life."56 Whale is always interested in the social and
emotional lives of his characters, even when those characters are
the monsters and grotesques which populate his horror films. This
film of a woman seeking a divorce from her sadistic husband has been
called Whale's "masterpiece" by Everson.57
In 1936, Whale was at the peak of his career and Universal
tapped him to direct their "big picture" of the year, Show Boat.
55William K. Everson, "Rediscovery: Journey's End," Films in
Review, v. 26 (January 1975), p. 32.
56Whittemore and Cecchettini, p. 275.
57William K. Everson, "Rediscovery: One More River," Films in
Review, v. 26 (June-July 1975), p. 362.
Although Whale had no experience with musicals, the film was a huge
success, financially and artistically. The opening sequence,
showing the arrival of the show boat, is a tour de force of editing.
Whale perfectly conveys the frenzied excitement which the boat's
arrival occasions as he cuts breathlessly from the boat to shots of
people, horses, and even a sow with her piglets, all rushing to
greet the "Cotton Blossom." Whale's sense of camera movement and
editing is graphically displayed in another scene. Paul Robeson,
seated on a wharf, sings "01' Man River"; as Robeson sings, Whale
swings the camera in a 360Tpan around him, perfectly complementing
the words of the song with shots of the Mississippi "rolling along,"
and subtly commenting on the racial situation by intercutting an
Expressionist montage of slavery. Scenes such as the two above lead
Higham to call Show Boat Whale's "most purely cinematic film."58
After Show Boat, it is customary to conclude that Whale's
career declined, but The Great Garrick (1937) is hardly such. The
story revolves around a visit the British actor, David Garrick (Brian
Aherne), pays to France. The members of the Con'edie Frangaise,
annoyed by Garrick's slur about French acting, contrive to trick him
by taking over an inn where Garrick is staying, and acting the parts
of the servants. Again, Whale deals with the influence of roles
and poses on human life and behavior. He explores the question,
"must emotions be real to be believable or is only the communication
5Higham, The Art of the American Film, p. 160.
real?"59 The film ends in what Tom Milne calls a "double check-
mate."60 Garrick correctly realizes that the actors are playing
roles, but falsely assumes that Germaine (Olivia de Havilland) is
part of the plot while, in fact, her emotional feelings for Garrick
are real. The Great Garrick deserves more careful scrutiny than it
has been given in order to thoroughly analyze the reality-illusion
theme which is the core of the film.
Many more questions remain about Whale's output. For example,
is Remember Last Night? (1935) really a forerunner of the French
"New Wave,"61 or is it only "good minor fun"?62 Is The Road Back
(1937), Whale's rendition of Erich Maria Remarque's novel, "an
unsuccessful attempt to recapture the greatness of Journey's End,"63
or an "entirely serious [film] in its approach to the difficulties
of readjustment faced by young war veterans" after World War I in
Germany?64 And why is Port of Seven Seas (1938), a film not even
mentioned in two of the works I have previously cited,65 called
59Whittemore and Cecchettini, p. 276.
60Milne, p. 170.
61Ibid., p. 168.
62Andre Sennwald, "Remember Last Night?" New York Times,
21 November 1935, p. 27.
63Higham, The Art of the American Film, p. 163.
64Milne, p. 166.
65Neither Higham, The Art of the American Film, nor Whittemore
and Cecchettini acknowledge the film's existence.
queerlyy beautiful"66 and a film of "quiet, anecdotal charm"67 by
Clearly, any definitive assessment of Whale's career must
await the unearthing and careful examination of his as yet largely
66B. R. Crisler, "Port of Seven Seas," New York Times, 15 July
1938, p. 13.
67"Port of Seven Seas," Time, v. 32 (11 July 1938), p. 42.
Have you never wanted to look
beyond the clouds and the stars,
or to know what causes the trees
to bud? And what changes darkness
Henry Frankenstein (to
Think of it! The brain of a dead
man waiting to live again in a body
I made with my own hands! With my
You have created a Monster and it
will destroy you.
Dr. Waldman (to Henry
Influences on the Frankenstein Films
Prior to James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein, there were two
silent American versions of Mary Shelley's novel--Frankenstein in
1910, produced by the Edison Corporation, and Life Without Soul
in 1915, produced by the Ocean Film Corporation. However,
neither of these films influenced Whale's version. The chief
forerunners of Whale's Frankenstein were three German Expressionist
films--The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), The Golem (1920), and
Carlos Clarens, An Illustrated History of the Horror Film
(New York: Capricorn Books, 1968), pp. 38-39, and Donald .TGTut,
The Frankenstein Legend: A Tribute to Mary Shelley and Boris
Karloff (Metuchen, N. J.: Scarecrow Press, 1973), pp. 58-67.
Glut's exhaustive survey is an attempt to document every
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari2 is a legendary film, universally
recognized as the beginning of the German Expressionist movement.3
The angular, distorted sets were the work of Hermann Warm, Walter
Rohrig, and Walter Reimann (they had all been Expressionist
painters), the script was written by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz,
and the direction was by Robert Wiene. According to Paul Jensen,
Whale screened Caligari just before beginning Frankenstein,4 and its
influence shows primarily in the mise-en-scene (the style and decor)
of the later film. For instance, the scene in Caligari in which
Cesare (Conrad Veidt) enters Jane's (Lil Dagover) room intending to
kill her is noticeably similar in its tone and in the contrasts of
blacks and whites to the scene in Frankenstein when the Monster
enters Elizabeth's room. The parallel continues when Cesare, dis-
obeying Dr. Caligari's (Werner Krauss) orders, refuses to kill Jane,
just as the Monster only frightens Elizabeth.
The individual's mad lust for power is another theme of
Caligari which is reflected in Frankenstein and The.Bride of
appearance of the Frankenstein legend in print, on the stage, and
2Hereafter, references to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari will
be abbreviated as Caligari.
3For a comprehensive account of the making of Caligari, see
Seigfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological
History of the German Film (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University
Press, 19-47 paperback reprint edition, Princeton, N. J.: Princeton
University Press, 1970), pp. 61-76.
4Paul Jensen, Boris Karloff and His Films (New York: A. S.
Barnes, 1974), p. 2T.
Frankenstein.5 For example, Dr. Caligari closely resembles Dr.
Pretorius in Bride. As Martin Tropp notes, there is a striking
parallel scene which points up this connection between Caligari and
Bride.6 In Caligari, Dr. Caligari, holding a staff in his hand,
stands beside Cesare, who is sleeping upright in his coffin-like box.
In Bride, Dr. Pretorius stands next to the Monster, who is framed
in a box-like open doorway, while a spear is seen leaning on the
wall beside Pretorius. In each instance, the staff and the spear
function as symbols of domination and power.
It is dangerous, however, to press the resemblances of
Caligari and the Frankenstein films too far since, as Ivan But-
ler observes, Caligari is a germinal film within which the seeds
of almost all future horror films may be found.
In Caligari may be found in rudimentary form most of
the basic ingredients of the horror film formulae of
later years: the mad scientist and the monster (both
inherent in the Doctor)--the 'undead' and the zombie
(the somnambulist who sleeps in a coffin-shaped box
and automatically follows his master's commands)--the
girl dragged around in white flowing draperies--the
general feeling of isolation and claustrophobia.
Metropolis (1926), a heady mixture of incredible architec-
tural compositions and even more incredible political naivete,
5Hereafter, The Bride of Frankenstein will frequently be
abbreviated as Bride.
6Martin Tropp, Mary Shelley's Monster: The Story of
Frankenstein (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976, Tp. xii.
7Ivan Butler, Horror in the Cinema, 2nd revised edition
(New York: A. S. Barnes, T970T, pp. 21-22.
has been called the "last gasp of Expressionism" in Fritz Lang's
work.8 This film supposedly prompted Hitler to offer Lang the
position of head of the Third Reich film division (Lang left
Germany in 1933 while his wife, Thea von Harbou, stayed and worked
with Goebbels).9 The film's influence on the Frankenstein films
lies in only one sequence, but that sequence is a very important
one: the creation by Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) of the "robot
Maria" (Brigitte Helm).
Although the staid editing in Metropolis is in no way compa-
rable to Whale's sophisticated techniques, the machine creation of
the "false Maria," with its spinning dials, glowing coils, and,
especially, its use of electricity as the life force, obviously
foreshadows the creation scenes in Frankenstein and Bride. Also,
the first jerky movements of Brigitte Helm (she was later considered
for the part of the Monster's mate in Bride)10 as the robot are
similar to Elsa Lanchester's movements in Bride.11
8Clarens, An Illustrated History, p. 31. Herman Weinberg
relates an amusing anecdote about Lang and Expressionism. According
to Weinberg, Lotte Eisner once asked Lang to chair a symposium on
Expressionism. Lang asked Weinberg, "What did she mean by a
symposium on Expressionism? What's Expressionism?" Weinberg had to
give Lang a quick course in Expressionism before he was able to
address the symposium (Herman Weinberg, "Coffee, Brandy and Cigars,"
Take One, v. 6 (July 1978), p. 40).
9Clarens, An Illustrated History, p. 36.
10Denis Gifford, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (London:
Hamlyn Publishing Groiu, 1973), p. 11.
11Both William K. Everson, Classics of the Horror Film
Secaucus, N. J.: Citadel Press, 1974), p. 20, and Glut, The
Frankenstein Legend, pp. 82-83, state that Whale was influenced,
particularly regarding the laboratory sets, by Rex Ingram's The
Unquestionably, the single most influential film on the
Frankenstein series is Paul Wegener's 1920 version of The Golem,
which was made for the huge German film conglomerate, Universum
Film A. G. (UFA).12 The Golem (Paul Wegener) is a giant creature
made of clay who is given life by magical means. Animated when a
magical word is enclosed in a Star of David amulet and placed on
his chest, he protects the Jewish inhabitants of the Prague ghetto
from the threatened sanctions of the Christian emperor.
The most obvious resemblance between The Golem and Frankenstein
is the creation of an artificial being, with the significant dif-
ference that the Golem is created by magic, the Monster by science.
Fire, an important symbolic element in Frankenstein, is also present
in the Golem's creation, as Rabbi Loew (Albert Steinruck), the
Golem's creator, stands in the center of a circle of fire while
uttering his magical incantation. Wegener's stiff-legged walk is
similar to the Monster's first hesitant steps. However, Wegener
Magician (1926), based on the career of the notorious Aleister
Crowley. This film, thought for years to be lost, has recently
re-surfaced, but I have not been able to see it and cannot verify
12There is general agreement among film historians that UFA
was a virtual monopoly which controlled German filmmaking during
the 1920's. However, this view has been disputed by Paul Monaco,
Cinema and Society: France and Germany During the Twenties (New
York: ETsevier Scientific Publishing Co., 1776T pp. 29-30,
and H. H. Wollenberg, Fifty Years of German Film (London: Falcon
Press, 1948; reprint ed., New York: Arno Press, 1972), p. 17.
never varies this zombie-like movement, whereas Karloff's motions
become more assured as the Monster matures.
The most important similarity between the two films is the
development of emotional feelings by each of the creatures. The
Golem is first emotionally moved when he is given a flower (flowers
are also important in Frankenstein) by one of the celebrants at the
Rose Festival (this festival may be seen as a forerunner of the
wedding celebration in Frankenstein). The Golem continues to develop
emotionally by falling in love with Miriam (Lyda Salmonova), Rabbi
Loew's daughter. Rabbi Loew, like Henry Frankenstein, loses control
of his creation, who promptly sets fire to the Rabbi's home and
decimates the ghetto. In a scene which clearly prefigures the
Monster's sequence with Maria in Frankenstein, the Golem is finally
destroyed when a little girl, the only person who shows no fear
of the creature, removes the amulet from his breast while playing
Viewed today, The Golem is still an impressive film, holding
up much better than most silent movies. Obviously, Whale borrowed
many elements from The Golem, but he used a much more complex visual
style to infuse Frankenstein and Bride with a richer texture of
3Two other minor parallels between The Golem and the Frankenstein
films are the use of an assistant (Ernst Deutsc-) for Rabbi Loew (just
as Henry has Fritz in Frankenstein) and a scene in which the Golem
throws Miriam's lover, Florian (H ns Sturm), off a tower, remarkably
similar to the sequence in Bride where the Monster tosses Karl
to his death.
Universal had owned the film rights to Frankenstein since
1920,14 but the studio had been hesitant to make the film,
considering it a poor financial risk. However, after the success
of Dracula (released in February, 1931), the Laemmles (Carl,
Senior, the founder of Universal, and Carl, Junior, production
chief) decided to proceed. The history of the making of Frankenstein
is filled with contradictions and discrepancies. Today, with al-
most all the principals involved deceased, it is impossible to
arrive at one "true" account. Nevertheless, the broad outlines
of the story are reasonably distinct.15
Robert Florey, a French director, was originally scheduled
to direct the film and actually blocked out a scenario containing
some 600 scenes.16 A screen test, with Florey directing and
14Denis Gifford, Karloff: The Man, the Monster, the Movies
(New York: Curtis Books, 1973), p.37.-BTy the time Universal
decided to make the film, Peggy Webling had written a stage
version and the studio also purchased--in April, 1931--the rights
to her work, probably to avoid any possibility of a plagiarism
suit (Jensen, Boris Karloff, p. 28).
15The best treatment of Frankenstein's background is found
in Gifford, Karloff, pp. 37-56; Glut, The Frankenstein Legend,
pp. 90-120; and Jensen, Boris Karloff, pp. 23-44.
16Robert Florey, Hollywood d'Hier et d'Aujourd'hui (Paris:
Editions Prisma, 1948), p. 163. Florey relates the following
amusing interview with Laemmle, Junior: "In the course of a
single interview, while Carl Laemmle, Junior, gave his fingers
to a manicurist, his hair to a hairdresser, his thoughts to his
secretaries, and his voice to a dictaphone, I explained the
general plan of the film to him. He told me to quickly type my
story and give it to the head of the screenplay department"
(Florey, p. 164). The original French is as follows: "Au course
Bela Lugosi as the Monster, was actually shot on the set of
Dracula. What happened next is unclear. Lugosi stated that he
did not like the script and wanted-out of the picture. However,
it is equally possible that Laemmle, Junior, cancelled the proj-
ect.1 The truth seems to be a combination of these two stories.
Lugosi was unquestionably a vain man who was proud of his speaking
voice and saw himself as something of a Hungarian Rudolf Valentino.18
d'une singuliere entrevue, tandis que Carl Laemmle livrait ses
doigts a la manicure, ses chevaux au coiffeur, ses pensees a ses
secretaires, et sa voix a son dictaphone, je lui expliquai le plan
general du film. Il me demand de dactylographier rapidement mon
histoire et de la remettre au chef du d4partement des scenarios."
The translation is mine.
17According to Lugosi, "I made up for the role and had tests
taken, which were OK. Then, I read the script and didn't like
it. So I asked to be withdrawn from the picture. Carl Laemmle
said he'd permit it if I'd furnish an actor to play the part. I
scouted the agencies--and came upon Boris Karloff. I recommended
him" (Jensen, Boris Karloff, p. 23). In a slightly different
version of this story, Calvin Thomas Beck states that Lugosi turned
the part down because it had no dialogue, then called Karloff and
told him the part was "nothing but might mean some money for him"
(Calvin Thomas Beck, Heroes of the Horrors (New York: Collier
Books, 1975), p. 113). Denis Gifford says that Laemmle, Junior,
cancelled the movie after seeing the tests and "Lugosi put it
about that he had rejected the role on the grounds that it had
no dialogue" (Gifford, Karloff, p. 37). John Brosnan agrees with
Gifford's account in The Horror People (New York: St. Martin's
Press, 1976), p. 30. Florey, p. 164, remarks only that Lugosi
"did not show much enthusiasm for the role and did not want to
play it." Florey's original French is as follows: ". ne se
montra pas trbs enthusiastic du r8le et ne voulut pas i'interpr'eter."
The translation is mine.
1According to David Zinman, Fifty Classic Motion Pictures
(New York: Crown Publishers, 1970), p. 179, Lugosi once proudly
boasted that he received 97 per cent of his fan mail from women.
He obviously did not like the idea that the role had no dialogue.19
In addition, Laemmle definitely did not like the screen test
results.20 In short, Lugosi wanted out of the picture and Laemmle
was glad to let him go.
About the same time that Lugosi left, Florey departed also.
Again, the reasons and the sequence of events are hazy. According
James Whale, the ace of Universal, demanded that Carl
Laemmle let him film Frankenstein, which had been prom-
ised to me. He satisfied Whale without, however, informing
me of the change. In order to compensate me and to stop
my flood of protests, Laemmle, Junior, assigned me to
adapt and direct Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue.1
19Lugosi's biographer, Arthur Lennig, states Lugosi's
position in the following manner: "Lugosi, after the initial suc-
cess of Dracula, was excited at last to be a big Hollywood star. He
saw himself as a sexy, romantic man who played the part of a vam-
pire, and not a 'horror' man. Universal, on the other hand, felt
that Lugosi would be their new Lon Chaney. The former Hungarian
matinee idol was not entranced with the heavy make-up and love for
grotesquerie that marked Chaney's career" (Arthur Lennig, The
Count: The Life and Films of Bela "Dracula" Lugosi (New York:
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1974), p. 115).
20Both Glut, The Frankenstein Legend, p. 93, and Jensen, Boris
Karloff, p. 24, state the major problem with the test was Lugosi's
make-up, which he modelled on Paul Wegener's in The Golem and
insisted on doing himself. The result was a complete failure.
Gifford, Karloff, pp. 39-40, agrees on the failure of the make-up,
but says Jack Pierce, not Lugosi, devised it.
21Florey, p. 164. The original French reads as follows: "James
Whale, 1'as du Universal, demand a Carl Laemmle de lui laisser
filmer Frankenstein, don't on m'avait promise la realization. On donna
satisfaction a Whale, sans toutefois me mettre au courant de ce
changement. Pour me d6dommager, et arreter le flot de mes protes-
tations, Laemmle Junior me charge de l'adaptation et de la mise en
scehe de Double assassinate dans la Rue Morgue apres Poe." The
translation in the text is mine.
Whale himself said,
I chose Frankenstein out of about thirty stories because
it was the strongest meat and gave me a chance to dabble
in the macabre .. I thought it would be an amusing
thing to try and make what everyone knows to be a physical
impossibility into the almost believable for sixty minutes.
Also, it offered fine pictorial chances, had two grand 22
characterizations and had a subject that might go anywhere.
At this time in 1931, Whale had directed only one picture for
Universal, Waterloo Bridge (Journey's End had been made for Tiffany-
Gainsborough), which had been a modest success (the New York Times
called it a "praiseworthy" picture),23 and he was hardly in the
position to demand anything he wanted, Florey's designation of him
as the "ace of Universal" notwithstanding. Probably, Laemmle,
Junior, wanted Whale to direct Frankenstein because he desired a
British director for the job, and he had admired the way Whale had
conveyed "British atmosphere" in Waterloo Bridge.24
Originally, Laemmle had wanted Leslie Howard for the title role,
but Whale brought in his friend, Colin Clive, from Journey's End.
Bette Davis, who had appeared in Waterloo Bridge, was briefly
considered for the role of Elizabeth Frankenstein, but the more
established Mae Clarke got the part. Three other important roles
were filled by John Boles, Edward van Sloan, and Dwight Frye (van
Sloan and Frye had had major roles in Dracula), leaving only the
part of the Monster to be cast. For this all-important role,
2"James Whale and Frankenstein," New York Times, 20 December
1931, sect. 8, p. 4.
23Mordaunt Hall, "When Love is Blind: Waterloo Bridge," New
York Times, 5 September 1930, p. 7.
24Gifford, Karloff, pp. 37-38.
Whale selected a journeyman actor, forty-two years old, who had
already appeared in over sixty films since beginning his film career
in 1920. His name was William Henry Pratt; his stage name was Boris
Karloff.25 According to Karloff, Whale simply approached him one
day at lunch in the Universal commissary and asked him to test for
25The best book on Karloff is undoubtedly Paul Jensen, Boris
Karloff and His Films. Denis Gifford, Karloff, provides good
information oon the films, especially regarding cast lists, synopses,
and credits. Peter Underwood, Karloff: The Life of Boris Karloff
(New York: Drake Publishers, 1972), deals with the bographical
facts well, but makes no attempt to analyze the films. Richard
Bojarski and Kenneth Beale, The Films of Boris Karloff (Secaucus,
N. J.: Citadel Press, 1974), also contribute interesting back-
ground material on the films. Of lesser value in every respect is
Cynthia Lindsay, Dear Boris: The Life of William Henry Pratt,
A.K.A. Boris Karloff (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975).
26Lugosi's story that he recommended Karloff may, I think, be
safely considered a fabrication. Over the years, Karloff has told
this story numerous times and, although there are minor alterations
in the various retellings, the main facts are always consistent.
See Beck, pp. 113-114; Brosnan, The Horror People, p. 44; Gifford,
Karloff, p. 39; Jensen, Boris Karloff, p. 24; and Lindsay, p. 54.
Karloff himself wrote of t-his momentous meeting in the following
manner: "My big break came when I was downing a sandwich-and-tea
lunch in the Universal commissary. After a string of sweet-and-
kindly roles, I had played the diabolical Galloway, the convict-
killer, in The Criminal Code. Someone tapped me on the shoulder
and said, 'Mr. Whale would lTike to see you at his table.' .
'We're getting ready to shoot Frankenstein,' Whale said, 'and I'd
like you to test--for the part of the Monster.' It was a bit
shattering, but I felt that any part was better than no part at
all" (Boris Karloff, "Memoirs of a Monster," Saturday Evening Post,
v. 235 (3 November 1962), p. 79).
In an interview, Whale explained his reasons for choosing
Karloff. "Boris Karloff's face had always fascinated me and I made
drawings of his head, adding sharp, bony ridges where I imagined
his skull might have been joined. His physique was weaker than I
could wish, but that queer, penetrating personality of his, I felt,
was more important than his shape, which could easily be altered"
('3ames Whale and Frankenstein," New York Times, 20 December 1931,
sect. 8, p. 4).
The man responsible for Karloff's brilliant make-up was Jack
Pierce, an ex-professional baseball player, who headed Universal's
make-up department. Before designing the make-up, Pierce spent
several months researching the project. His description of his
work is not only interesting in its own right, but also demonstrates
the extraordinary patience and dedication of the Hollywood actors/
actresses and technicians of the studio years.
My anatomical studies taught me that there are six ways
a surgeon can cut the skull in order to take out or put
in a brain. I figured that Frankenstein, who was a
scientist, but no practicing surgeon, would take the
simplest surgical way. He would cut the top of the skull
off straight across like a pot-lid, hinge it, pop the
brain in, and then clamp it on tight. That is the reason
I decided to make the Monster's head square and flat like
a shoe box, and dig that big scar across his forehead
with the metal clamps holding it together.
Those two metal studs sticking out of the Monster's
neck .are inlets for electricity. .Remember,
the Monster is an electrical gadget. So Karloff .
carries a five-pound steel spine to represent the
rod which conveys the current up to the Monster's brain.
I read that the Egyptians used to bind some crimi-
nals hand and foot and bury them alive. When their blood
turned to water after death, it flowed into their extrem-
ities, stretched their arms to gorilla length, and swelled
their hands, feet and faces to abnormal proportions. I
thought this might make a nice touch for the Monster. .
So I fixed him up that way. Those lizard eyes of his are
rubber, like his false head. I made his arms look longer
by shortening the sleeves of his coat, stiffened his legs
with two pairs of pants over steel struts, and by means
of asphalt walker's boots gave him those Newfoundland dogs.
I cover Karloff's face with blue-green greasepaint which
photographs gray. I blacken his fingernails with shoe
polish. It takes me four hours to build him up every
morning and two hours to tear him down every night.27
27"Oh, You Beautiful Monster," New York Times, 29 January 1939,
sect. 9, p. 4.
As Carl Laemmle, Junior, aptly understated, "Karloff's eyes
mirrored the suffering we needed."28
Frankenstein was shot in August-September of 1931 and released
in December. Before its final release, two important changes were
made. The more serious, artistically, was the cut in the sequence
where the Monster accidentally drowns the little girl, Maria. The
other revision provided for a happy ending by allowing Henry
Frankenstein to live, rather than die as he was slated to do in the
Although Karloff insisted that he was the instigator of the
cut in the drowning scene,29 Laemmle, Junior, was almost certainly
the perpetrator. He became alarmed when the film was previewed in
Santa Barbara because a large number of the audience, apparently in
reaction to the violence and Karloff's horrifying make-up, walked
out.30 This so concerned Laemmle that he made the cut and ordered
the ending revised. He need not have worried. Financially,
Frankenstein became one of the most successful films of all time.
It was made for approximately $250,000 and eventually grossed about
$13,000,000.31 In comparison, Star Wars, the highest grossing
28Underwood, p. 67.
29Beck, pp. 114-115, and Glut, The Frankenstein Legend,
30Underwood, p. 68.
31Many sources verify these general figures. For this specific
reference, see Thomas G. Aylesworth, Monsters From the Movies
(Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1972), p. 34.
movie ever, was made for $9,500,00032 and, as of August, 1978, had
grossed $258,000,000,33 a highly respectable return of more than
twenty-five times its production cost. However, Frankenstein has
returned more than fifty times its production cost!
The critics immediately realized that Frankenstein was a
different kind of film, but the source of its powerful effect eluded
them. The New York Times commented on the "disturbing nature" of
this "artistically conceived work,"34 and the New York Daily News
stated that it was a tale which "clutches at you icily and holds
you."35 Even the jaded audience of Hollywood was jolted. The
talented screenwriter, Frances Marion (Dinner at Eight, The Champ,
Camille), wrote in her autobiography that it was "a curious fact,
but scarcely anyone young or old in the audience viewed the picture
without some nerve-tingling reaction."36 It is now appropriate to
explore the reasons for this "nerve-tingling reaction" produced by
32"Star Wars: The Year's Best Movie," Time, v. 109 (30 May
1977), pT .--_ .
3Bill O'Hallaren, "Behind the Scenes at Battlestar Galactica,"
TV Guide, v. 26 (16 September 1978), p. 34.
34Mordaunt Hall, "Frankenstein," New York Times, 5 December
1931, p. 21.
35Quoted in Bojarski and Beale, p. 63.
3Frances Marion, Off With Their Heads! A Serio-Comic Tale of
Hollywood (New York: Macmillan PublishT-ngCo., 1972), p. 231.
Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is a young scientist obsessed
with the desire to create life. Aided by his hunchbacked assistant,
Fritz (Dwight Frye), he robs graves to obtain needed body organs.
Instructed to steal a brain, Fritz mistakenly takes an "abnormal"
one. Alarmed by Henry's condition, his fiancee, Elizabeth (Mae
Clarke), best friend, Victor Moritz (John Boles), and ex-professor,
Dr. Waldman (Edward van Sloan), visit his laboratory on the very
night that Henry is planning his grand experiment. During a raging
storm, Henry successfully harnesses electrical energy and creates
an artificial man (Boris Karloff). The Monster is kept in a dungeon,
where Fritz tortures him with torches and whips. Breaking free, the
Monster kills Fritz and is subdued by Waldman and Henry. After this
incident, Henry collapses and is taken home by his father, Baron
Frankenstein (Frederick Kerr), and Elizabeth, leaving Waldman to
cope with the Monster. On Henry's wedding day, the Monster strangles
Dr. Waldman and escapes. He accidentally drowns a little girl, Maria
(Marilyn Harris), and enters the Frankenstein mansion where he con-
fronts Elizabeth, but does not harm her. Henry joins the villagers
in hunting for the Monster. During the hunt, the Monster encounters
Henry alone, overpowers him, and carries him to an abandoned wind-
mill. Henry and the Monster fight on the roof and Henry is hurled
to the ground. The villagers set fire to the windmill and burn it
down, supposedly destroying the Monster. In the film's original
ending, Henry dies also, but, in the altered version, he lives.
The primary governing pattern of Frankenstein is Whale's light-
darkness contrast and his alliance of fire with this contrast.37
The film proper38 opens during a funeral in a graveyard at dusk.
The somber tone is set at once. At first, the screen is blank and
only the sound of weeping is heard on the sound track. Then, while
a priest intones a prayer for the dead in the background, the camera
focuses on the hands of the gravedigger as he lowers the coffin into
the grave and slowly pans over the faces of the mourners, coming to
rest on a statue of Death. A tolling bell is heard in the distance.
As the weeping figures leave, the gravedigger begins to shovel dirt
into the grave. The only sound is the ominous thudding of the dirt
onto the coffin. The weeping, the prayer, the tolling bell, and
the sound of the dirt are aural symbols of death which complement
the visual symbols of the graveyard, the statue of Death, the dark-
ness, and the coffin. Fire becomes allied to death when the grave-
digger, his task completed, strikes a match to light his pipe. But
fire does not represent only death; it is also a symbol of life, for
Henry uses Heavenly fire, lightning, to create the Monster. Like
Whale's other major symbolic element, hands, fire carries both
positive and negative connotations: it may create or it may destroy.
37For many of the ideas associated with the motifs of light,
darkness,and fire, I am especially indebted to R. H. W. Dillard,
Horror Films (New York: Monarch Press, 1976), pp. 13-28.
38There is a prologue during which Edward van Sloan steps
from behind a curtain and warns the audience that this tale "may
shock you. It might even horrify you."
When the gravedigger leaves the cemetery, Henry and Fritz enter
to steal the body. Henry wears partially light clothes (a white
shirt), Fritz wears dark ones, thus tying Fritz more closely to the
death-darkness motif than Henry. Later in the film, when Fritz
enters the brightly-lit lecture hall in his dark clothes to steal
the brain, he passes his hand in front of his face twice, as if to
ward off the light. Significantly, Henry and Fritz are introduced
by moonlight while Elizabeth and Victor are introduced by the
artificial light of candles and lamps, "fire tamed to civilized
uses,"39 making them representatives of ordinary life and light, as
opposed to Henry's identification with death and darkness. Although
R. H. W. Dillard says that Dr. Waldman is also introduced by lamp-
light,40 he is actually first seen under an electric light, the
highest form of artificial light, allying him with "white" or "good"
science in contrast to Henry's practice of "black" or "bad" science.
In a conversation with Dr. Waldman, Henry says that he wants to find
the secret of what "changes darkness into light" and, in the first
part of the film, he is groping through a metaphorical darkness
(scientific ignorance) toward what he considers the higher light of
scientific knowledge (the creation of life). However, in the process
of his quest, he forgets that, in common with all men, he possesses
a dark side. Like Jim in Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim, Henry is unpre-
pared to deal with this darkness.
39Dillard, Horror Films, p. 16.
The pattern of light, fire, and darkness continues throughout
the film. Fire as a life-giving force is demonstrated in the
powerful creation scene. In this sequence, Henry resembles Captain
Ahab in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, as he defies the lightning by
capturing its creative principle (fire) and bringing his own creation
to life. Just as Ahab grasps the main-mast links during the typhoon,
Henry grips the controls of his laboratory apparatus while the
lightning crackles menacingly overhead. Implicitly, Henry echoes
Ahab's shout to the heavens, "I now know thy right worship is defiance."41
Robert Zoellner's "entropic paradigm," which he applies to Ahab, of
"light coming out of darkness doomed to return to darkness"42 works
as well for Henry. From out of the darkness of the storm comes the
creative force of lightning, "the most active and meaningful fusion
of light and fire,"43 to bring into existence a creature of darkness
(the Monster is always dressed in dark clothes), who is doomed to
return to the darkness of the grave from whence he came.
The Monster's fear of fire is closely tied,first,to his violent
origins, and, second, to the Promethean overtones of the film. Born
in a traumatic flashing of fire and light, the Monster seems to
41Herman Melville, Moby Dick (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and
Winston, 1948), p. 498.
42Robert Zoellner, The Salt-Sea Mastodon: A Reading of Moby
Dick (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press,
1973), p. 197.
43Dillard, Horror Films, p. 18.
subconsciously remember the shock of his birth and the fire's role
in that birth. In addition, Henry is, as the subtitle of the novel
states, a modern Prometheus. According to Greek mythology,
Prometheus created man and, realizing that he was inferior to the
animals in strength and cunning, stole fire from Heaven for man's
protection.44 Prometheus also taught man the arts of Hephaestus and
Athena, which included agriculture and handicrafts.45 Henry steals
fire from Heaven to create life, but he uses the fire to control the
Monster, not to protect him. Unlike Prometheus, Henry is not
interested in teaching the Monster; his great goal, laudable enough
in theory, is to do something no man has ever done--create life.
But he is unprepared to deal with the results of his creation. He
is, as Richard Chase notes of Ahab, a false Prometheus.46 Prometheus,
a God himself, provided a "divine spark" to create man, but Henry, a
mortal, cannot provide such a "spark" for the Monster, and the
Monster recognizes that he is not God-made but man-made.47 Thus,
44Apollodorus, Gods and Heroes of the Greeks: The Library of
Apollodorus, trans., Michael Simpson Amherst, Mass.: University
of Massachusetts Press, 1976), p. 32.
45Plato, "Protagoras',' in The Dialogues of Plato, 4th edition,
v. I, trans. B. Jowett (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1953), pp. 146-147.
46Richard Chase, Herman Melville: A Critical Study (New York:
Macmillan Publishing Co., 1949), p. 47.
47As the Monster develops intellectually, he becomes conscious
of his origins. In The Bride of Frankenstein, when Dr. Pretorius
asks him if he knows who e Ts and who Henry is, the Monster replies,
"Yes. Made me from dead."
fire, to the Monster, does not represent divinity, but his human,
non-divine origins, and this knowledge is reflected in his fear of
Visually, the creation scene is notable for its pictorial
depiction of the Monster as a new Adam. As the table on which the
Monster is strapped is lowered to the floor, Whale cuts to a close-up
of his hand, hanging in a limp, flexed position, remarkably similar
to the position of Adam's hand in Michelangelo's painting, "The
Creation of Adam," on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. But it is not
God's hand that has animated the Monster, but man's in the person of
Henry Frankenstein. And Henry is not a rational, but a crazed,
pseudo-God; as the Monster's hand moves indicating life, Henry
screams repeatedly, "It's alive! It's alive!"48 This "Adam" will
never inhabit a Garden of Eden, but a world of pain and fear.
An excellent example of Whale's use of the light-dark opposition
(and of his fluid editing style) occurs in the famous scene of the
Monster's first appearance. A shot analysis of this scene follows:49
Setting: Henry Frankenstein's laboratory. Henry and Dr.
Waldman are present.
48In a scene deleted from the present version, Henry's God-
like aspirations are explicitly noted. As he screams, "It's alive!
It's alive!" Victor rushes to him and says, "Henry, in the name of
God!" Henry replies, "Oh, God--Now I know what it feels like to be
49There is no standardized format for a shot-by-shot analysis.
I have elected to follow the method employed by Roy Huss, "Almost
Eve: The Creation Scene in The Bride of Frankenstein," in Focus on
the Horror Film, eds. Roy Huss and T. J Ross (Englewood Cliffs,
N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972), pp. 74-82.
1. Long shot of a door. The door opens and the Monster
backs into the room.
2. Medium shot of the Monster. His back is still turned.
Slowly, he turns to his left to face the camera.
Quick cut to:
3. Close-up of the Monster's face from his neck up.
Quick cut to:
4. Extreme close-up of the Monster. His face fills the
screen. During this series of cuts, there is total
silence on the sound track.
Comment: Despite the overfamiliarity of the Monster today,
this sequence of shots remains, as Drake Douglas
says, "one of the most frightening moments in screen
history." In Ivan Butler's words, Karloff's
"gaunt features and dark socketed eyes have a true
charnel-house appearance."1l This stylistic tech-
nique of introducing a main character by means of
extremely quick cuts is one which Whale will repeat
in his other horror films. The extreme close-up
serves to shock the audience, to emphasize the
profound isolation of the Monster (a theme which is
also important in Bride and The Invisible Man), and
to indicate the generaT feeling of claustrophobia
and enclosure which is so important to an effective
5. Long shot of the Monster. Henry approaches from the
left and faces the Monster. He beckons the Monster
Henry: "Come in, come in."
Henry backs away to the right and the camera pans with
him. He stops before a chair and motions for the
Monster to sit.
50Drake Douglas, Horror! (New York: Collier Books, 1966),
51Butler, p. 48.
Henry: "Sit down, sit down."
The Monster obeys.
Henry (to Waldman): "You see, it understands. Watch."
6. Low angle long shot of a shuttered skylight. Henry
opens the skylight.
7. Medium shot of the Monster on the chair. Slowly, the
light from the skylight crosses his face.
8. Close-up of the Monster's face. He raises his head
slowly and begins to rise.
9. Medium long shot of the Monster. He rises, still
looking up, moves jerkily forward, and raises his
hands toward the light.
10. Medium close-up of the Monster's head and upraised arms.
Waldman: "Shut off the light!"
The Monster tries to "catch" the light in his hands.
Henry closes the skylight. The Monster lowers his
Comment: Significantly, it is Henry, at Waldman's urging, who
shuts out the light. Whale implies that, in spite
of the Monster's dark beginnings, he might be able
to lead a normal life, to reach the light, if man
would only give him a chance.
11. Medium long shot which includes all three characters.
The Monster gestures helplessly at Henry.
Henry: "Sit down. Go and sit down."
The Monster backs to the chair and sits.
12. Close-up of the Monster's yearning face. The camera
tilts down to his futilely gesturing hands.
This entire sequence is masterfully done. The light serves
as a "symbol of reason and grace from which he [the Monster] is
forever barred"52 because mankind will not allow him an opportunity
of "catch" the sunlight; the Monster becomes an "emblem of fallen
and unredeemeed man";53 and the scene as a whole "brilliantly
characterizes the Monster and functions as a small scale allegory
of man's efforts to grasp the intangible unknown and of his be-
wilderment at a Creator who keeps him from it."54 Typically,
Whale also uses this scene for emotional effect by leaving one
unsure of what to think or feel. One's first reaction is revulsion,
for the Monster is truly a thing of death, a "charnel-house" being,
but the revulsion changes to sad sympathy because he is also pathetic
in his helpless, questing innocence, expressively and eloquently
articulated by his gesturing hands.
Immediately after this sequence, Fritz enters brandishing a
torch, and the Monster is conveyed back to the dungeon, where
Fritz tortures him with the torch and a whip. The dungeon set and
lighting are pure Expressionism (as is Henry's laboratory, aptly
described as "a jumbled collection of massive off-plumb walls,
crazily tilted beams, and oddly-cut windows")55 composed of
John Baxter, Sixty Years of Hollywood (New York: A. S.
Barnes, 1973), p. 90.
53Dillard, Horror Films, p. 19.
54Jensen, Boris Karloff, p. 31.
5Tropp, p. 87.
weirdly askew walls and slanted windows, without a single right
angle. In the background is a small barred window, through which
rays of sunlight struggle to enter, but they cannot reach the
Monster. The only time that the Monster walks in sunlight re-
sults in catastrophe: the drowning of Maria. The drowning is
not the Monster's fault, but the consequence of Henry's shirking
of responsibility for his creation. The Monster, dimly intuiting
that water is the natural antagonist of the fearful fire, naturally
regards the lake as an unmitigated good. He has never been taught
that water can kill, and the price of his knowledge is the death
of little Maria.
The pattern of light and dark continues in the scenes at
Baron Frankenstein's mansion. Although Martin Tropp says these
scenes "seem dragged in for no purpose whatsoever,"56 their in-
tent is quite clear and very effective, namely, to contrast the
"serenity of the real world with the nightmare world of labora-
tories, gibbets, and graveyards."57 The Baron represents the
status quo. His house is filled with light (significantly,
candlelight and lamplight, not electric light; the Baron is no
believer in science), not darkness. When Elizabeth and Victor
try to explain Henry's prolonged absence as being due to his
experiments, the Baron's reaction is immediate and conventional:
"There's another woman and you're afraid to tell me. Pretty sort
of experiments these must be." Despite the staid orthodoxy of the
56Ibid., p. 93.
5Everson, Classics of the Horror Film, p. 45.
Baron's attitudes, there is something reassuring about his common-
places when set against what are obviously acts of madness in
Henry's "nightmare world."
The most- brightly lit scene in the film occurs at the Baron's
after Henry has been brought home. Henry and Elizabeth are relaxing
on the terrace, talking of their approaching wedding. But, as
Dillard notes, fire--and, therefore, danger--are present even in
this peaceful scene, since Henry is smoking a cigarette.58 Further,
as Henry leans over to kiss Elizabeth, the smoke from his cig-
arette drifts between them. Thus, the fire figuratively divides
them even in the safety and comfort of the fixed social order which
is the Baron's world. Even as Henry and Elizabeth kiss, the Monster
is walking in the sunlight toward his fateful encounter with Maria, and,
in a masterful stroke of editing, Whale unites these two scenes.
He cuts away from Henry and Elizabeth to the wedding celebration in
the village. The camera begins a tracking movement through the
frolicking villagers while lively dance music reverberates on the
sound track. Suddenly, there is a quick cut to the Monster walking
in the woods. The camera movement remains the same, tracking along
with the Monster, but the polka music is replaced by the foreboding
sound of the Monster crashing through the underbrush. Deftly,
Whale makes the point that even in the midst of light and life, dark-
ness and death are never far away.
58Dillard, Horror Films, p. 22.
As the film progresses, the Monster grows stronger and
stronger, particularly (and appropriately) at night. Just be-
fore Dr. Waldman is about to begin his dissection, he notes in
his journal that it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep
the Monster under sedation. Significantly, the time is 7:30 p.m.,
twilight. Waldman has waited too long; the Monster revives and
strangles him. The final pursuit of the Monster takes place at
night and, during this pursuit, he confronts Henry alone. Brushing
aside Henry's symbol of power and authority, the torch, the Monster
easily overpowers him. The ending of the film brings together the
fire, darkness, and light motifs. Light is noticeable by its absence,
for the climax occurs, fittingly, at night; the Monster was created
from the darkness and is returned to the darkness, In another
suitable image, the scene is lit only by the fire from the villagers'
torches; fire was responsible for the Monster's birth, and it is
now the cause of his death.
Fire, light, and darkness are the most important symbolic
elements in Frankenstein, but they are certainly not the only ones.
Whale's use of flowers, dogs, and, especially, hands also deserves
Flowers function in the first part of the film as symbols
of beauty, life, and happiness. The Baron's home is filled with
flowers, the Burgomaster brings a bouquet to Elizabeth, and the streets
are decorated with flowers for the wedding festivities. Flowers
also represent tradition and continuity; the orange blossoms which
Henry and Victor wear for the wedding have been preserved in the
Frankenstein family for three generations. But this :symbol shifts
during the Monster's encounter with Maria. In her childish
innocence, Maria has no fear of the Monster; she only wants
him to play with her. They throw flowers into the water and
watch them float. Maria shares her flowers with the Monster,
and, from this point to the end of the film, flowers are associ-
ated with ugliness, death, and sorrow rather than beauty, life,
and happiness.59 After throwing in all the flowers, the Monster
throws Maria into the lake, hoping to see her float also, but,
instead, she drowns. The scene as it now stands ends with the Monster
reaching out for Maria. This notorious excision is truly a terrible
mistake.60 The scene, apparently cut because Laemmle, Junior, con-
sidered it too violent, now connotes a crime of sexual perversion,
since the next sequence shows Maria's father carrying the bedraggled
5Whale's use of a shifting symbol is analogous to James Joyce's
use of the bird-flight motif in A Portrait of the Artist as a
Young Man (New York: Viking Press, 1964). Initially, birds and
flight symbolize Stephen Dedaulus' sense of fear and guilt--"a
heavy bird flying low through the grey light" (Joyce, p. 22);
later, birds and flight represent Stephen's feeling of freedom
and happiness--"a hawklike man flying sunward above the sea"
(Joyce, p. 169).
60According to Glut, The Frankenstein Legend, p. 113, and
Jensen, Boris Karloff, p. 3B, eight shots are missing from the scene.
They both reproduce material from a cutting-continuity script,
which I assume they obtained either from Universal Studios or
the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but, since they
do not document their source, I cannot be sure. My attempts to
acquire copies of the script were thwarted by copyright restrictions.
According to Glut, The Frankenstein Legend, p. 113, the footage
is available in "cer-Tain re-r ase prhits," but Richard Anobile,
James Whale's Frankenstein (New York: Universe Books, 1974), p.
b, was unable to obtain t he footage while preparing his shot-by-
shot reconstruction of Frankenstein and theorizes that the missing
frames no longer exist.
body of the dead child through the village. Thus, the emotional effect
works against the sympathy and pathos which Whale has carefully built
up for the Monster.61 Ivan Butler, who has seen the missing portion,
says, "Karloff's final departure, wringing his hands in an agony of
dawning comprehension, is as moving a moment as any on the screen."62
However, if the drowning scene is marred, the episode which follows
definitely is not. The walk of Maria's father through the village with
the dead girl in his arms is an exact and artful reversal of the previous
camera track through the celebrating villagers. In the earlier sequence,
the camera movement was from screen left to screen right;
61Karloff steadfastly maintained that he insisted the cut be
made and Calvin Thomas Beck, pp. 114-115, records how Karloff ex-
plained his reasoning: "'That was the only time when I didn't like
Jimmy Whale's direction. We were on our knees opposite each other
when the moment came that there were no more flowers. My conception
of the scene was that the Monster would look up at the little girl
in bewilderment and, in his mind, she would become a flower. With-
out moving, he would pick her up gently and put her in the water
exactly as he had done the flowers--and, to his horror, she would
sink. Well, Jimmy wanted me to do that,' Karloff motioned violently
over his head with both hands, 'over my head, which became a brutal
and deliberate act. By no stretch of the imagination could you
make that innocent. The whole pathos of the scene, to my mind,
should have been completely innocent and unaware. But the
moment you do that,' he motioned again with his arms, 'it's a
deliberate thing; and I insisted on that part being removed.'" (Beck's
emphasis) As I have noted above, Laemmle almost surely removed the
frames for his own reasons, although Karloff probably thought his
opinion mattered. In retrospect, it appears fortunate that any of
the scene was retained, since Karloff indicates that everyone except
Whale opposed Maria's death. In an interview shortly before his
death, Karloff quotes Whale as follows: "'The death has to take
place,' he [Whale] said. He fumbled for his words as he tried to
convey why to us, because in a strange way we were all very hostile
about it. And I think we understood why then, although I don't
now" (Tom Hutchinson, Horror and Fantasy in the Movies (New York:
Crescent Books, 1974), p. 42).THutchinsoiTs emphasis)
62Butler, p. 41.
now the movement is from right to left along the same route. As
Maria's father passes each group of jubilant townspeople, the
dancing and music gradually cease until there is total silence on
the sound track.
With the shift in symbolic context, the flower-bedecked halls
of the Baron's mansion become an ill omen. After Elizabeth tells
Henry of her fear that "something is coming between us," she picks
up a bouquet and paces back and forth in her bedroom. Suddenly,
the Monster enters and confronts her. When Henry and Victor, responding
to her screams, burst in, Elizabeth has fainted and the flowers
are strewn all over the room. Whale uses this reversal of flowers'
traditional symbolic meaning to graphically demonstrate that the
Monster, a creature of ugliness and death, cannot be joined to
beauty and life. Also, the impossibility of the Monster having a
"normal" emotional relationship with women is conveyed by Maria's
drowning and the frightening of Elizabeth. The Monster is, thus,
totally alone and isolated, incapable of surviving in a society
which places so much value on outward signs of transient beauty
(e.g., flowers) and "normal" male-female (i.e., handsome man-
beautiful woman) relationships.
In addition to flowers, Whale's use of dogs is interesting
and effective. In the opening graveyard scene, the baying of
dogs is heard in the distance, associating them with death and
darkness, and with the unnatural experiments of Henry Frankenstein.
The dogs' persistent howling throughout the film becomes emble-
matic of the abnormality of Henry's ideas. While Henry and
Elizabeth talk on the terrace, two large dogs lie at their feet,
apparent representatives of the security and material comfort of
the Baron's world. However, due to the dogs' earlier associations,
*their presence in the scene, like the smoke from Henry's cigarette,
strikes a note of foreboding. In the final pursuit of the Monster,
the yelping of the dogs is constantly heard, as they become fig-
uratively "hounds of Hell" (emphasized by several close-ups of the
hounds) chasing the Monster to his doom.
Throughout Frankenstein (and Bride), an important recurring
motif is Whale's use of hands. The first shot in the film is a
close-up of the gravedigger's hands lowering the coffin into the
grave and, shortly afterward, Henry's hands are highlighted as he
raises the casket from the grave. These two early instances form
a prolepsis of the way hands will be used in the film, that is,
as agents of destruction and creation. As with fire, hands have
both positive and negative connotations.
In the creation scene, the first indication that the Monster
is alive comes when he moves his right hand. This movement is
exactly repeated when Dr. Waldman is about to dissect the Monster,
but it now becomes a movement of death (Waldman is strangled), not
Hands as instruments of creation are emphasized when Henry
stares at his hands prior to the Monster's creation and says,
"The brain of a dead man waiting to live again in a body I made with
my own hands. With my own hands." Likewise, hands as implements
of destruction are stressed when, just before setting out to hunt
down the Monster, Henry states, "I made him with these hands and
with these hands, I will destroy him."
In the scene with Maria, her hands represent light and life,
while the Monster's signify darkness and death. Briefly, the
creature of darkness is joined to the sunlight world by touching
hands with Maria. But this link, as fragile as the flowers which
Maria hands the Monster, is soon broken, for man denies the Monster
entrance to the light world.
Whale also uses hands to express certain character traits, a
method often effectively employed in literature.63 In this respect,
Henry and the Monster are similar to Wing Biddlebaum in Sherwood
Anderson's "Hands." Due to a traumatic, unjustified, child-molester
charge in his youth, Biddlebaum is an emotional cripple. Although
his hands have remarkable dexterity (he can pick up bread crumbs
and carry "them to his mouth one by one with remarkable rapidity"),64
he is unable to use them to communicate his emotions and feelings,
fearing that his actions will be misinterpreted. Whenever his
gestures become too expressive, he tries to hide his hands in his
pockets or behind his back. When Henry first considers his
creation of the Monster, he looks at his hands with awe and pride,
6A good example is Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Pip
is first made aware of his inferior social status by Estella's
comments about his rough hands; Jaggers' use of his hands conveys
his air of authority and dominance; ?nd Joe's hands are dexterous
when he is comfortable in his blacksmith's shop, but clumsy when
he is ill at ease in Pip's London apartment.
64Sherwood Anderson, "Hands," in Winesburq, Ohio (New York:
Viking Press, 1958), p. 34.
but, after Elizabeth has been attacked, he speaks of them with
fear and loathing as if, like Wing Biddlebaum's hands, they
had betrayed him. Since the Monster is mute, his hands are
virtually his sole means of communication and, although they
"speak" eloquently, this is overlooked by Henry, Waldman, and
others who see only the ugliness of his face and figure. Thus,
the Monster too, in his inability to convey his feelings, is linked
This idea of linking and joining is also explored by Whale in
his employment of linked or paired characters. The two most
obviously paired characters in Frankenstein are Henry and Fritz.
In a very real sense, Fritz is a part of Henry, an "embodiment of
his twisted emotions."65 At the beginning of the film, as Fritz
rises to look over the cemetery fence, Henry, as if speaking to
himself, cries, "Down, down, you fool!" Henry uses Fritz as his
arms and legs, while he (Henry) supplies the intellect. Only in
the opening sequence does Henry join in any physical labor, the
robbing of the grave. Afterwards, he has Fritz cut down the hanged
man, sends him to steal the brain, and repeatedly orders him to
scurry up and down the laboratory stairs. In three instances,
Fritz can be seen looking through barred enclosures, symbolically
trying to break free of Henry's mind: in the opening scene, he
peers through the cemetery fence railing; before breaking into the
lecture hall, he is seen watching through the window; and,
65Tropp, p. 91.
when Elizabeth, Victor, and Dr. Waldman come to the laboratory, he
opens the door and gazes at them through a narrow grating. When
Fritz is killed by the Monster, Henry collapses and Waldman, in
an amusing and suggestive line, tells him, "Come, pull yourself
together." But, when Victor, Elizabeth, and the Baron arrive, Henry
breaks down again and mumbles deliriously over and over, "My poor
Fritz, my poor Fritz." The most convincing evidence that Fritz is
a part of Henry occurs just prior to the creation scene. Arranging
the situation for the maximum theatrical effect, Henry seats Eliza-
beth, Victor, and Dr. Waldman in a semicircle to watch his bravura
performance. Victor has just called Henry "crazy," and he now
responds, "Quite a good scene, isn't it? One man crazy, three very
sane spectators." However, there are clearly four, not three, spec-
tators. Henry has forgotten Fritz, his embodied demon; the dark
side of his personality has broken free and is no longer under his
control (significantly, when Henry tells Fritz to stop tormenting
the Monster with fire, Fritz disobeys).
Henry is also joined to his creation, the Monster. The tie
between the Monster and Henry is, of course, subject to a Freudian
interpretation. Although I do not intend to deal with specific
Freudian implications in Frankenstein, it should be noted that
other critics have done so. For instance, Margaret Tarratt sees
the Monster as the personification of Henry's "repressed sexual
desires, the impulses of the id,"66 and thinks that Henry's sexual
drive is the "estranging factor" between him and Elizabeth.67
Walter Evans believes that the Monster is an "embodiment of Frank-
.enstein's sexuality"68 and that, in order to enter into a normal
sexual relationship with Elizabeth, Henry must give up his
"dangerous private experiments" (i.e., masturbation).69 Evans'
general theory on the appeal of horror movies is that they "mirror
the sexual traumas of adolescence,"7 and fulfill adolescents'
"need for rituals of initiation, and for puberty rituals specif-
ically.'"71 Harvey Greenberg states that the real purpose of Henry's
investigations is "the resolution of his sexual ignorance and angst,"72
and that his research, entered into because he is afraid of a
sexual relationship with Elizabeth, is a masturbatoryy metaphor."73
For Greenberg, the "appeal of the monster movie may, at least in
66Margaret Tarratt, "Monsters From the Id," in Film Genre:
Theory and Criticism, ed. Barry K. Grant (Metuchen, N. J.:
Scarecrow Press, 1977), p. 168.
Ibid., pp. 173-174.
6Walter Evans, "Monster Movies: A Sexual Theory,"
Journal of Popular Film, v. 2 (Fall 1973), p. 359.
Walter Evans, "Monster Movies and Rites of Initiation,"
Journal of Popular Film, v. 4 (Spring 1975), p. 124.
Ibid., p. 137.
72Harvey Greenberg, The Movies On Your Mind (New York:
Saturday Review Press, 1975Trp. 208.
7Ibid., p. 209.
part, be traced to our fascination with the child-like innocence of
these fearsome creatures."74
Whether or not one accepts a Freudian critical position, it
is undeniable that, as in the novel, creator and creation are inex-
tricably linked.7 Henry recognizes this when he states, "I made him
with these hands and with these hands, I will destroy him." As Henry
faces his creation alone on the mountain, their unity is shown in a
four-shot sequence: a medium shot of Henry is followed by a medium
shot of the Monster, then a close-up of Henry is followed by a close-
up of the Monster. The shots are of the same duration and the two
characters have the same expression on their faces. Later, in the
windmill, Whale uses the same technique to stress the bond between
them. Alternating shots show Henry and the Monster staring at each
other through the turning gear of the windmill. Once again, their
expressions are identical. In these scenes, Whale vividly demonstrates
that the Monster is Henry's Doppelganger, his "double."
74Ibid., p. 213.
75That the Monster and his creator are linked in the novel was
first implicitly recognized by Eino Railo, The Haunted Castle: A
Study of the Elements of English Romanticism (London: George Routledge
and Sons, 1927), pp. 311-312, and Richard Church, Mary Shelley (London:
Gerald Howe, 1928), p. 54. More explicit discussions of this point may
be found in Harold Bloom, "Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus: A
Review," Partisan Review, v. 32 (Fall 1965T, pp. 611-618; Lowry Nelson,
Jr., "Night Thoughts on the Gothic Novel," Yale Review, v. 52 (December
1952), pp. 243-248; Muriel Spark, Child of Light: A Reassessment of
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Hadleigh, Essex, Eng.: Tower Bridge
Publishers, 1951), pp. 134-149; and William Walling, Mary Shelley
(New York: Twayne, 1972), pp. 39-40.
An important thematic element, one which is developed more
fully in Bride, is religious and Christian symbolism. For instance,
the opening grave-robbing scene is clearly meant to be a reverse
(and perverse) Resurrection. As Henry and Fritz enter the cemetery,
they pass between a large cross serving as a grave marker, a
statue of Death, and a statue of the crucified Christ. As they
begin to work, the cross and the Death statue are seen in the back-
ground. Then one of their shovels is placed vertically in the
ground and a coat and hat are hung on it. As the coffin is raised,
Henry pulls a stake from the grave and plants it at a horizontal
angle to the shovel, thus forming another cross. Now, the grave
marker cross is on the left of the screen, the shovel and the stake
are in the center, and the statue of Death is on the right. The
coffin stands in a tilted upright position and Whale cuts to a close-
up of Henry gripping the casket. He says, "He's just resting,
waiting for a new life to come." The scene, thus, becomes an echo
of the Crucifixion, a parody of the Resurrection, and a subtle bur-
lesque of the Trinity. In Bride, this religious parallel is strength-
ened as the Monster is explicitly identified with Christ.
Since Carlos Clarens describes Frankenstein as a film "un-
relieved by humor,"76 a word should be said about Whale's use of
comedy. Certainly, the comic scenes in Frankenstein are not com-
parable to the sophisticated black humor of Bride, or the sardonic
dialogue of The Invisible Man, but the film is not totally devoid
76Clarens, An Illustrated History, p. 63.
of light moments. For example, at the beginning of the film, as
Henry digs feverishly in the grave, he throws a spadeful of dirt
directly into the face of the statue of Death. This shot is not
only humorous, but also reinforces the idea of a reverse Resurrection.
All the Baron's scenes provide contrast and relief from the
somberness of the graveyard and laboratory scenes. His previously
mentioned discussion with Elizabeth and Victor in which he believes
Henry's absence to be due to "another woman," his scene with the
Burgomaster ("Nothing the Burgomaster has to say can be of the
slightest importance"), and his reaction at seeing a burning torch
on the floor of Henry's watchtower laboratory ("What a forsaken
place. Are you trying to burn it down?") exemplify the comic relief
provided by the Baron.
Even Fritz is used for humorous purposes, albeit in a more
farcical manner. In the brain-stealing scene, he runs into a
jangling skeleton and is so shocked by the sound of a gong that he
drops the "normal" brain and is forced to substitute an "abnormal"
The most wryly amusing scene is Whale's "grotesque variation"
on the "knocking at the gate" episode from Macbeth (Act II,
77Without doubt, this scene is the weakest in the film. Con-
ceived by Florey, p. 164, it appears to have been retained by Whale
because he had a liking for broad comedy (as evidenced by the scenes
with Una O'Connor in Bride and The Invisible Man) as well as subtle,
sophisticated humor. Fortunately, Whale's direction and Karloff's
acting stress motivations such as fear of the unknown, a desire for
self-preservation, and the problem of a new mind in a fully-grown
body--rather than the influence of an "abnormal" brain--for the
Monster's actions. Still, the scene could have been cut with no
loss to the film.
scene iii).78 Both scenes take place at night; the setting for
Macbeth is a castle, for Frankenstein a castle-like watchtower. Just
as Macbeth has committed an unnatural act in killing Duncan, so Henry
is about to perform a crime against Nature, but one involving birth,
rather than death. Fritz parallels the role of the sleepy, drunken
porter as he hobbles down the stairs mumbling to himself, "Can't
have people messing about at this time of night. Got too much to
do." As the gate in Macbeth is metaphorically the gateway to Hell,
so the door in Frankenstein is an entry to a place where hellish
proceedings are underway. The entrance of Victor, Elizabeth, and
Dr. Waldman contrasts the ordinary, respectable world with Henry's
unnatural one, just as Macduff and Lennox's entrance forms a con-
trast to the abnormal atmosphere created by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
The funniest episode in this scene occurs when, in a long shot, Henry
is seen stalking across his lab muttering under his breath, as if the
knocking were only interrupting a casual domestic chore, "Of all the
times for anybody to come."
When the Monster dies in the burning windmill, the movement
of the film from a break in the natural order through a period of
chaos to a restoration of order is complete. Henry has disrupted
nature by his unnatural creation of a creature of darkness. This
creation has resulted in chaos, sorrow, and--for Fritz, Dr. Waldman,
78Jensen, Boris Karloff, p. 34, mentions this "grotesque
variation" in passing, but does not follow up with any discussion
of the parallels.
and Maria--death. Now, order has been restored, but it is not a
very hopeful order; rather, the restoration is a pessimistic one.
This overall pattern is visualized in Henry's fall from the top of
the windmill. He falls onto one of the windmill's blades and breaks
its normal clockwise movement. For a moment, the blade moves counter-
clockwise, then dumps Henry and resumes its normal movement. Signif-
icantly, however, this normal movement is soon ended as the wind-
mill is destroyed by flames.
Quite obviously, the film has prepared us for Henry's death.
His bond with the Monster, Elizabeth's premonition that "something
is coming between us," and Henry's instructions to Victor (who also
loves Elizabeth) before he goes to hunt the Monster, "I leave her
in your care, whatever happens, in your care," are harbingers of
Henry's death. Fortunately, the tacked-on ending is so plainly
false that it does not destroy the power of the film. As R. H. W.
Dillard states, "the last real scene in the film was at the burning
windmill, the last real shot a descent away from that windmill."79
Dillard, Horror Films, p. 27. Dillard's comment on the
same page that "Orson Welles copied this shot scrupulously
at the end of Citizen Kane" is open to question. Welles' final
sequence involves three-dissolves, all of which move consistently
down and away from Xanadu. Whale's final sequence is a series of
six shots (only one is a dissolve), alternating shots of the wind-
mill with shots of the Monster trapped under a fallen beam.
Welles may well have obtained his basic idea from Whale, but there
is no evidence of a "scrupulous copy." In this instance, I believe
Dillard has stretched a point in order to better accommodate his
thesis; namely, that both Frankenstein and Citizen Kane "close with
the burning of a great man's dream" (Dillard, Horror Films, p. 27).
However, ;even.. the present ending holds out little hope for
the Baron or Henry. In the last scene, Henry is seen only as a
figure in the distant background, and he and Elizabeth do not share in
the Baron's toast, "Here's to a son to the House of Frankenstein."80
Security, comfort, and order are no longer possible for any members
of the House of Frankenstein, for, beneath the fiery hell of the'
burning windmill, the Monster waits to rise again.
Humanity fares. poorly in Frankenstein. It is the key to
Whale's "dignity of [thematic] treatment81 that he does not shirk
from showing the bias and insensitivity of the "normal" people.
The simple villagers are easily transformed into a raging lynch mob,
more like a pack of crazed dogs than the hounds themselves; Baron
Frankenstein is an old man living in a static past; Dr. Waldman
is a good scientist, but blind to the Monster's plight; Henry is
a weak person unable to accept responsibility for his creation; and
Elizabeth and Victor are well-intentioned, but ineffective (neither
proves capable of deterring Henry from his mad dream). In The
Bride of Frankenstein, Whale's bleak view of mankind is continued
80There was a sound practical reason for not showing any
close-ups of Henry in the ending scene: Colin Clive had already
returned to England when the scene was shot. Just before leaving,
he made the following comments: "I think Frankenstein has an in-
tensely dramatic quality that continues throughout the play and
culminates when I am killed by the Monster I created. This is
a rather unusual ending for a talking picture, as the producers
generally prefer that the play end happily with hero and heroine
clasped in each other's arms" ("Clive of Frankenstein," New York
Times, 15 November 1931, sect. 8, p. 6).
81Butler, p. 50.
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN
It may be that I'm intended to know
the secret of life. It may be part
of the Divine Plan.
Alone, you have created a man. Now,
together, we will create his mate.
Dr. Pretorius (to Henry
Alone, bad. Friend, good.
Shall we put the heart in now?
Henry Frankenstein (to
We belong dead.
The Monster (to Dr.
Pretorius and the Bride)
Background: The Bride of Frankenstein
A sequel to Frankenstein was planned by Universal as early as
1933, but problems such as deciding upon a title and choosing a
cast delayed its making. Originally, the title was The Return of
Frankenstein; this was shifted to Frankenstein Lives Again!, changed
to The Bride of Frankenstein, then changed back to The Return of
Frankenstein.1 When shooting began in January, 1935, the script
Donald F. Glut, The Frankenstein Legend: A Tribute to Mary
Shelley and Boris Karloff (Metuchen, N. J.: Scarecrow Press, 1973),
was still called The Return of Frankenstein, but when the film was
released in April, 1935, the title had been finalized as The Bride
The perplexity over the title was due to the studio executives'
natural fear that the public would be confused as to whether "bride"
referred to Henry's wife or the Monster's mate. However, by 1935,
the name, Frankenstein, had become inextricably linked with the
Monster in the audience's mind and there was no problem with
According to R. C. Sherriff, Whale was initially not eager to
direct a sequel. Sherriff quotes Whale as saying in 1933,
They're always like that. If they score a hit with a
picture they always want to do it again. They've got a
perfectly sound commercial reason. Frankenstein was a
gold mine at the box office, and a sequel to it is bound
to win, however rotten it is. They've had a script made
for a sequel and it stinks to Heaven. In any case, I
squeezed the idea dry on the original picture, and never
want to work on it again.
2Paul Jensen, Boris Karloff and His Films (New York: A. S.
Barnes, 1974), p. 81.
Interestingly, as early as the first film, the identification
of Frankenstein with the Monster was beginning. In an interview,
Karloff said, "Often when 'Frankenstein' was called--Mr. Whale would
only call us by our names in the script--I would respond. Colin
Clive would not reply at all. Yet, of course, it should have
been the other way about" (Tom Hutchinson, Horror and Fantasy in the
Movies (New York: Crescent Books, 1974), p. 19).
4R. C. Sherriff, No Leading Lady: An Autobiography (London:
Victor Gollancz, 1968), p. 269.
Whale went on to make The Invisible Man in 1933, but obviously
changed his mind about a Frankenstein sequel, proving in 1935 that he
definitely had not "squeezed the idea dry."5
As usual, casting proved a problem, but a minor one compared
to the difficulties encountered with Frankenstein. Colin Clive
and Boris Karloff were signed to continue their respective roles.
In 1933, Bela Lugosi had been slated to play the mad scientist,
Dr. Pretorius, but, when the film was not made at that time, he
backed out.6 The part was given to Whale's friend from England,
Ernest Thesiger, who had appeared in The Old Dark House in 1932.
Mae Clarke was unavailable for the role of Elizabeth, and the part
was taken by young Valerie Hobson.7 For the key role of the Bride,
I have not been able to establish what "script" Whale is
referring to in the textual quote. Since each major studio
employed scores of writers to work on many different projects
(ranging from rough drafts to final products) at the same time,
any of the writers in the screenplay department could have done
the script. John L. Balderston, who co-authored the Frankenstein
screenplay with Garrett Fort and Francis Edward Faragoh, and
William Hurlbut ultimately received credit for Bride's script,
although many of the ideas were Whale's. Balderston later dis-
owned the film, stating that he wrote it as a satire and Laemmle,
Junior, changed it into a horror film (Denis Gifford, Karloff:
The Man, the Monster, the Movies (New York: Curtis Books, 1973),
p. 206)T. -
Glut, The Frankenstein Legend, p. 121. Arthur Lennig, The
Count: The Life and Films oBeTa "Dracula" Lugosi (New York:
G. P. Putnam iSons-, 1974), p. 158, states that "Universal .
had vague plans to star Karloff and Lugosi in it [a sequel to
Frankenstein] but the project was postponed."
Ms. Hobson (only eighteen when she made Bride) later married
John Profumo, the key figure in the sex scandal-which was a major
factor in toppling Harold MacMillan's English government in 1963.
Whale selected Elsa Lanchester,8 the wife of British actor Charles
Laughton, who had made his American film debut in The Old Dark House.
Dwight Frye returned to portray Karl, Dr. Pretorius' assistant, and
Una O'Connor was added as Minnie, a servant of the Frankensteins.
The parts of Victor and the Baron were left out entirely.
Jack Pierce again performed the make-up chores. He altered
Karloff's appearance to conform with the Monster's having been
burned in the fire, and the Monster's clothing was also torn and
burned. As Paul Jensen notes, this was the only time in any of
the Universal Frankenstein films9 when the survival of the Monster
(he falls through the floor of the windmill into a flooded cellar)
8Pierce gave Ms. Lanchester a Queen Nefertiti-style hair-
do, stitched scars on her neck to show where the head had been
attached, designed shoe lifts to raise her 5'4" height, and
wrapped her so tightly in bandages that she could not move, had to
be carried around the set, and fed liquids by tube. Ms. Lanchester's
wry reaction to her situation was a typical bit of British under-
statement: "It would have been easy to grow hysterical" (Denis
Gifford, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (London: Hamlyn
Publishing Group, 1973, p. 17T).
In addition to Frankenstein and Bride, there were six other
Universal films involving the Monster. Whale was not connected
with any of them. Karloff played the Monster once more in Son of
Frankenstein (1939), directed by Rowland V. Lee. Son of Frankenstein
is quite effective in its own right, creating a nightmare world of
constant rain and darkness, and featuring excellent performances by
Bela Lugosi as Ygor (a shepherd with a broken neck), Lionel Atwill
(a one-armed police chief), Basil Rathbone (Henry Frankenstein's
son), and, of course, Karloff. From this point, however, the films
go rapidly downhill. The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) and Frankenstein
Meets the Wolf Man (19437 both have effective moments, but neither
comes c-oTse--to ma-~tching the power of the original films, while House
of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945) are mindless works
wTth plots which defy synopsis. Universal's last entry in the series,
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), was actually a well-
done spoof, paving the way for such modern parodies as Mel Brooks'
Young Frankenstein (1974).
was, at least, possible.10 This close attention to plot detail
demonstrates the truth of R. C. Sherriff's assertion that "Whale
was a perfectionist. He would spend time on small details that
most people would have thought too trivial to worry about."ll
The actual shooting of the film encountered difficulties
immediately when Karloff dislocated his hip in a fall and required
massage and infra-red heat treatments after each day's work.12
Amazingly, filming was not interrupted, although Karloff lost
twenty pounds during the thirty-two days of shooting.13
Originally, Bride was approximately ninety minutes long, but,
for final release, it was trimmed to about seventy-five minutes.
Most of the excised portions were from a sub-plot involving the
homicidal maniac, Karl (Dwight Frye).14 Karl survives in the
present version as an assistant to Dr. Pretorius, but his part
has been considerably reduced.
Jensen, Boris Karloff, p. 89.
11Sherriff, p. 148.
12Jensen, Boris Karloff, p. 89.
1Ibid. The filming was enlivened by such entertaining in-
cidents as the following, related by Karloff: "The watery
opening was filmed with me wearing a rubber suit under my
costume to ward off chill. But air got into my suit. When I
was launched in the pond, my legs flew up in the air, and I floated
there like some sort of obscene water lily while I, and everyone
else, hooted with laughter. They finally fished me out with a
boathook and deflated me" (Boris Karloff, "Memoirs of a Monster,"
Saturday Evening Post, v. 235 (3 November 1962), p. 80).
14Richard Bojarski and Kenneth Beale, The Films of Boris
Karloff (Secaucus, N. J.: Citadel Press, 1974), p. 102.
As in Frankenstein, the conclusion of Bride was revised. The
most gruesome (but dramatically most appropriate) ending called for
Karl to kill Elizabeth and have Henry unknowingly use her heart
as the animating force of the Bride.15 This version never reached
the filming stage, but one in which Henry and Elizabeth are both
killed in the laboratory explosion (Elizabeth escapes from Karl's
clutches and arrives at the laboratory just as it explodes) was
actually shot. When it was decided that they should live, the
set had been destroyed and was too expensive to rebuild, so the
scene was edited to make it appear that Henry and Elizabeth escape.
Universal gambled that everyone would be watching the collapsing
laboratory equipment, and would not notice that Henry was present.16
The gamble succeeded; however, in the two brief shots which re-
main of the laboratory's exploding interior, Henry can be clearly
seen (if one looks closely) in the lower left hand portion of the
screen. The studio also removed the "happy ending" from the still-
circulating prints of Frankenstein, since in Bride, Henry is shown
reviving after being carried home (the epilogue was restored when
Frankenstein was released to television in the 1950's).
When Bride was released, the reviews were enthusiastic. The
acute critic, Otis Ferguson, reviewed Bride in conjunction with
John Ford's The Informer and felt that Bride was the superior
15Gifford, A Pictorial History, p. 115.
16Bojarski and Beale, p. 102, and Glut, The Frankenstein
Legend, p. 131.
work, concluding that "a great deal of art has gone into the
planning and taking of whole portions of this film."17 Time found
the movie "fully the equal of Frankenstein"18 and the New York
Times stated that "James Whale has done another excellent
job; the setting, photography, and make-up contribute their
important elements to a first-rate horror film."19 The contemporary
critics have not been the only ones impressed with Bride. Among
present-day writers on film, John Baxter, Calvin Thomas Beck,
John Brosnan, Carlos Clarens, Radu Florescu, Denis Gifford,
Donald Glut, Charles Higham, Frank Manchel, and Ed Naha all
believe Bride to be Whale's best film, and William K. Everson says
Bride is "by far the best of Universal's eight Frankenstein films"
and "probably also the best of the entire man-made-monster genre
from any period."20 The reasons for such widespread acclaim will
now be examined.
1Otis Ferguson, "Two Films," New Republic, v. 73 (29 May
1935), p. 75.
1"The Bride of Frankenstein," Time, v. 25 (29 April 1935), p. 52.
19Frank S. Nugent, "The Bride of Frankenstein," New York Times,
11 May 1935, p. 21.
2See John Baxter, Hollywood in the Thirties (New York: Paper-
back Library, 1970), p. 90; John Brosnan, The Horror People (New
York: St. Martin's Press, 1976), p. 50; Carlos Clarens, An
Illustrated History of the Horror Film (New York: Capricorn Books,
1968), p. 68; Radu Florescu, In Search of Frankenstein (Boston:
New York Graphic Society, 1975T, p. 193; Gifford, Karloff, p. 55;
Glut, The Frankenstein Legend, p. 132; Charles Higham, The Art of
the American Film: 1900-1971 (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1973),
p. 160; Frank Manchel, Terrors of the Screen (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.:
Prentice-Hall, 1970), p. 7 -0;Ed-Naha, Horrors: From Screen to
Scream (New York: Avon Books, 1975), p. 27; and William K. Everson,
Classics of the Horror Film (Secaucus, N. J.: Citadel Press, 1974),
Analysis: The Bride of Frankenstein
In a prologue, Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) and Percy Shelley
(Douglas Walton) convince Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) to
continue her story of Frankenstein. The scene shifts to the
burning windmill where Maria's father (nameless in Frankenstein),
Hans (Reginald Barlow), and his wife (Mary Gordon) stand watching
the smoldering ruins. Hans falls through the floor and is strangled
by the Monster (Boris Karloff), who has survived by falling into
the flooded cellar. The Monster climbs out and throws Hans'
wife into the cellar. Back at the Frankenstein home, Henry (Colin
Clive) is found to be alive. While recuperating, he receives a
visit from his old professor, Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger),
who tells Henry of his own experiments in creating life. Intrigued,
Henry goes with Pretorius to his lodgings, where Pretorius pro-
duces his collection of six small homunculi and asks Henry to
collaborate with him in constructing a "mate" for the Monster.
Meanwhile, the Monster rescues a shepherdess (Ann Darling) from
drowning, but is set upon by the villagers, captured, and im-
prisoned. He breaks free and terrorizes the village. Wandering
through the countryside, he is befriended by a blind hermit (0.
P. Heggie), but this idyll is interrupted by two hunters who
attack the Monster and drive him away, destroying the hermit's
hut in the process. The Monster staggers into a cemetery, enters
an underground crypt, and encounters Pretorius, who is robbing
graves. Pretorius decides the Monster can be of use to him in
dealing with Henry. Next, Pretorius goes to the Frankenstein
mansion and, when Henry informs him that he has changed his mind about
their collaboration, he orders the Monster to kidnap Elizabeth (Valerie
Hobson) in order to ensure Henry's cooperation. Pretorius' assistant,
Karl (Dwight Frye), murders a young girl to obtain the needed fresh
heart and, in a spectacular scene, Henry and Pretorius create a Bride
(Elsa Lanchester) for the Monster, but she rejects him. The grief-
stricken Monster destroys the laboratory, killing himself, the Bride,
and Pretorius, but he allows Henry and Elizabeth to escape.
The prologue, while not part of the main thrust of the film, is
an interesting display of Whale's talents. First, on the plot level,
it functions nicely to review Frankenstein (scenes from the earlier
film are intercut with Byron's description of them). Second, the
crashing thunder and flashing lightning set an ominous tone for
the remainder of the film. Third, Whale uses the opening to
subtly satirize Byron, Shelley, and, by extension, the Romantic
movement; the high-key lighting and the gliding camera movements
serve to emphasize what Whale sees as the surface gloss and super-
ficiality of Byron and Shelley. Fourth, and most important, the
sequence stresses Mary Shelley's link with her literary creation.
By using the same actress to play both Mary Shelley and the Bride,
Whale indicates his belief that "Mary Shelley had something in
common with the dreadful creature of her imagination. James
Whale felt that frustration and wrath in a woman often lay under an
excess of sweetness and light."21
21Elsa Lanchester, "Letter to the Editor," Life, v. 64 (5 April
1968), p. 21.
From the nineteenth century prologue, the film suddenly jumps
forward almost one hundred years.22 We are back at the burning
windmill and the Monster's first appearance is a chilling one. Hans,
Maria's father, falls into the flooded cellar. At first, only the
fMonster's right hand can be seen behind a beam, then his scarred,
burned, hate-filled face slowly emerges. He moves swiftly forward
and strangles Hans. The Monster then rises from the watery cellar
and extends his hand through the floor opening. Hans' wife, thinking
it is her husband, grasps his hand and pulls him up. The Monster
responds by throwing her through the opening. Immediately, we know
that this is a very different, very dangerous Monster, one no longer
ignorant or innocent.23 Whale artfully conveys this fact by intercutting
22The time of the Frankenstein films has been a source of
confusion. The clothing appears roughly contemporary, but the
settings seem nineteenth century. There are no automobiles, only
carriages. In Dr. Pretorius' grave-robbing scene, the date on a
casket is 1899. In Frankenstein, a hanged man is cut down from
a public gibbet, and, according to Glut, The Frankenstein Legend,
p. 147, the practice of leaving hanged men on display had been aban-
doned in Europe before 1900. In Bride, Henry talks with Elizabeth
on a telephone (called an "electrical machine" in the film). Glut,
The Frankenstein Legend, p. 147, says that the telephone was
patented in 1876 (of course, this means little; a scientist of
Pretorius' ability would certainly be capable of besting Alexander
Graham Bell). Far from detracting from the films, I feel this
ambiguity involving time contributes to the mysterious, mythic,
"time-lessness" of the legend.
23In an interview, Karloff emphasized that both he and
Whale thought of the Monster as originally innocent: "Whale and
I both saw the character as an innocent one. I tried to
play it that way. This was a pathetic creature who had
neither wish nor say in his creation. The most heart-
rending aspect of the creature's life, for us, was his ultimate
desertion by his creator. It was as though man, in his blundering,
searching attempts to improve himself, was to find himself deserted
by his God" (Gifford, Karloff, p. 45).
shots of an owl watching the murders. The owl is a bird of prey
(loss of innocence) and is traditionally associated with wisdom
(loss of ignorance); it is also a nocturnal animal, and, thus, rein-
forces the darkness motif.24 Significantly, Hans and his wife are
the first persons the Monster has cold-bloodedly slain. His other
killings were motivated by fear (Fritz) and self-preservation (Dr.
Waldman), or were accidental (Maria), but this "new" Monster seethes
with hate for mankind.
As the Monster wanders away down the hillside from the wind-
mill, he exemplifies one of the main structuring patterns of Bride--
its use of vertical (up and down) movement. (R. H. W. Dillard dis-
cussesthis pattern exhaustively in reference to Frankenstein, but
he does not mention Bridej25 From the burning windmill,
Henry is carried down to his home. The Monster rises up from the
water, then throws Hans' wife down into the cellar. The shepherdess falls
from a ledge down into the pond, and is rescued by the Monster who lifts
her up out of the water. The Monster is chased up a hill where he
is captured by the villagers, hoisted ju onto a pole, and dumped
down into a cart. He is then taken down into a dungeon-like jail,
but he escapes and goes up into the street. He finds temporary
In medieval Europe, owls were considered omens of ill
fortune and were often crucified alive on barn doors (Cards of
Knowledge (Lausanne, Switzerland: Editions Rencontre, 1976),
s.v. "Little Owl"). This fact buttresses the religious symbolism of later
scenes, in which Whale plainly intends to identify the Monster with
25R. H. W. Dillard, Horror Films (New York: Monarch Press,
1976), pp. 28-31.
sanctuary when he goes down into the crypt and, when he kidnaps
Elizabeth, he carries her up to a mountain cave. The Bride is
created by being raised up into the sky on a glittering (obviously
phallic) electrical device (as the device is raised, Karl cries out
with sexual suggestiveness, "It's coming up!") and then lowered
back down into the laboratory.
The vertical pattern is also used for humor. For example,
Pretorius' tiny king climbs up out of his jar, is picked up with
tweezers, and put back down into the jar.26 When Pretorius brings
the Monster to see Henry, the Monster reverses the line from Frank-
enstein and tells Henry, "Sit down!"
As with Frankenstein, the general movement of Bride is down-
ward, and, also as in Frankenstein, upward movements are concluded
by downward ones. Thus, in the cataclysmic ending, the Monster
blows up the tower and it collapses in a final spectacular down-
ward movement of destruction. Also crashing down is Pretorius'
insane dream of creating a master race.
The vertical movement of Frankenstein and Bride is not solely
a structuring pattern, but also a metaphor for the height of Henry's
aspiration, his desire to do something no one else has ever done--
create life. And, since the upward movements are followed by down-
ward ones, the entire pattern forms a prolepsis of Henry's future.
The up and down structure is not the only resemblance between
Frankenstein and Bride. For instance, the use of paired characters
26This is an "in joke." The king is dressed exactly like
Charles Laughton (Elsa Lanchester's husband) in his Oscar-winning
role of Henry VIII.
occurs also in Bride. Thus, Pretorius may be seen as the dark side
of Henry's nature. It becomes obvious early in the film that Henry
is basically unchanged and, therefore, susceptible to the lures of
his baser instincts (i.e., Pretorius). Elizabeth begs him to for-
get the past, and he replies,
Henry: Forget! If only I could forget, but it's never
out of my mind. I've been cursed for delving
into the mysteries of life. Perhaps death is
sacred and I've profaned it. (Suddenly his face
lights up) Oh, what a wonderful vision it was.
I dreamed of being the first to give to the
world the secret which God is so jealous of--the
formula for life. Think of the power to create
a man. And I did it. I created a man and, who
knows, in time I could have trained him to do my
will. I could have bred a race. I might even
have found the secret of eternal life.
Elizabeth: Henry, don't say those things, don't think
them. It's blasphemous and wicked. We are
not meant to know those things.
Henry: It may be that I'm intended to know the secret of
life. It may be part of the Divine Plan.
Given this situation, Pretorius has little trouble convincing Henry
to join in creating a mate for the Monster. Henry tries to subdue
his dark side, forcing Pretorius to kidnap Elizabeth, but, once
caught up in the frenzy of the creation, Henry is as eager as ever.
During the creation scene, Whale unites Henry and Pretorius by
a series of tilted angle shots; a shot of Pretorius leaning
right will be followed by a shot of Henry leaning left to form a
group of reverse or "mirror" images. The same feverish excite-
ment appears on both faces.
Of course, Henry and the Monster continue to be linked. Even
the Monster, in his new-found wisdom, is aware of this bond. When
Pretorius asks him if he knows who Henry Frankenstein is, the
Monster replies, "Yes. Made me from dead." The clearest indication
that Henry and the Monster are united comes when the Monster is sent
by Pretorius to abduct Elizabeth. As the Monster opens the door,
Elizabeth says, "Is that you, Henry?"; Whale then cuts to a shot of
the Monster entering from behind Elizabeth. Thus, when Elizabeth
calls for her husband, she is answered by his creation, emphasizing
the ineradicable tie between creator and creation.
Another motif carried over from Frankenstein is Whale's use
of hands. The first view we have of the Monster focuses on his
hand, and his hand is immediately seen again in close-up as he
reaches up from the cellar to grasp Hans' wife. The first sign
that Henry is alive comes when Minnie sees his hand move. In
a macabre touch, a dismembered hand hangs from the ceiling in
Pretorius' laboratory. Hands are also very important in the
Monster's meeting with the hermit (this scene will be analyzed
in detail below) and in the creation scene. In the creation
sequence, Whale employs repeated close-ups of hands to bring
together all the threads of the plot, emphasize the creative-
destructive dichotomy, and stress Bride's link with Frankenstein.
Thus, the hands of Henry and Pretorius, as the creators, are
emphasized time after time; the hand of the Bride is highlighted
as she "comes to life"; the hands of the Monster are empha-
sized as he attempts to woo and caress his mate; and the Monster's
hand is seen in close-up as he pulls the lever which destroys
the tower. As Roy Huss notes, the repeated close-ups of hands
"function both as synecdoches (the part standing for the whole)
and as litotes (dramatic understatement). "27
A most important theme in Bride (and another echo of Frankenstein)
is Whale's use of religious symbolism. The Monster's rise
out of the flooded cellar from his supposed tomb becomes a second
perverse Resurrection for him, one destined to be much more destruc-
tive than the first. However, the most specific religious imagery
occurs when the Monster is captured by the villagers. Cornered on
top of a small hill, he is tied to a pole and hoisted aloft in a
"scene reminiscent of a Breughel Golgotha."28 As he hangs in the
air (Whale emphasizes his agony by cutting to closer and closer shots),
his form closely resembling Christ on the cross, his captors revile
him and pelt him with sticks and stones. He is then toppled into
a cart as a peasant jabs him with a pitchfork. Taken to the jail
and chained to a huge chair (in a nice contrast, the chair is a
throne-like affair, more suited for kings than prisoners), his hands
are immobilized by metal rings. The rings are pounded into the
wood like nails and Whale cuts from a close-up of the rings to a close-
up of the Monster's grimacing, pain-wracked face. This comparison
of the Monster to Christ is both blatant and quite deliberate.
After the Monster escapes, he wanders into an Expressionist
cemetery filled with tilted crosses, slanted tombstones, and leaning
Roy Huss, "Almost Eve: The Creation Scene in The Bride of
Frankenstein," in Focus on the Horror Film, eds.Roy Huss and T. J.
Ross (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972), p. 78. Huss'
article is an excellent analysis and is highly recommended.
2Harvey Greenberg, The Movies on Your Mind (New York: Saturday
Review Press, 1975), p. 215.
statues. In a rage of pain and fear, he pushes over a statue of
some religious figure (it appears to be a bishop or a cardinal) and
seeks refuge in a crypt. As he descends, a statue of the Crucifixion
looms in the background. Just before he vanishes from view, the
Monster turns his body so that he is facing the same direction as
the statue, and stretches out his arms to balance himself on the
sides of the tomb; in this posture, his figure exactly copies the
Crucifixion statue. In the underground tomb, the Monster finds a
brief respite. As Martin Tropp observes, he is indeed a reverse
Christ, for "rather than Harrowing Hell, the Monster finds a home in
the world of the dead."29
In Bride, character development is more significant than in
Frankenstein. The Monster's evolving awareness has already been demon-
strated in the opening scene. Also important to the Monster's growing
self-knowledge is the pastoral scene, the movie's most brightly-
lit sequence (the rest of the film is shot in a kind of twilight
gray resembling a Gustave Dore engraving). In this scene, the
Monster wanders through a sunlit wood. Flowers are in bloom, the
trees have leafy branches, and the chirping of birds is heard.
There is a small stream, a waterfall, and a shepherdess tending
her flock. Whale cuts from close-ups of the lambs to close-ups
29Martin Tropp, Mary Shelley's Monster: The Story of Franken-
stein (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976), p. 107.T The Monster's
identification with the dead is bolstered by the fact that he
gains physical strength underground. When he is carried to the
subterranean prison, he offers only token resistance. But, once
underground, he suddenly acquires renewed vigor, breaks his bonds,
tears the door off its hinges, and rampages through the village.
of the Monster to show that he, too, is--or, at least, could
become--a "lamb of God." As the Monster goes to the stream to
drink, he sees his face reflected in the water. He hesitates
a moment, then smashes the reflection, vaguely perceiving that
this face makes him a hated pariah. Suddenly, the shepherdess
loses her balance and falls from a ledge into the stream. Instantly,
the Monster evidences his increased knowledge and awareness by
plunging in and rescuing her. When he threw Maria into the water,
he did not realize its destructive potential; now, he does. By
rescuing the shepherdess, he exactly reverses (and atones for)
his action with Maria, indicating that, although he is no longer
completely innocent, he could be redeemed by human kindness and
love. But this possibility is promptly dissipated by the revival
of the shepherdess, who screams in terror upon seeing the Monster's
face. Two hunters enter and shoot the Monster. Wounded in the arm,
he stumbles through a barren, surrealistic landscape, pursued by
the villagers. There are no flowers, the trees are branchless,
and the only sound is the baying of dogs and the yells of the
peasants as they engage in the "pagan sport of a mountain man-
hunt."30 The starkness and bareness of the countryside stress the
isolation and alienation of the Monster, as well as forming an
effective counterpoint to the preceding pastoral scene.
30"James Whale and Frankenstein," New York Times, 20 December
1931, sect. 8, p. 4. Whale made this statement in regard to
Frankenstein, but it seems even more applicable to Bride.
After escaping from his underground incarceration, the Monster
encounters the blind hermit in a sequence which has been described
as "one of the most sensitive and curious in the monster cinema."31
A shot analysis of this scene follows:
Setting: The hermit's hut.
1-2. Medium shot of the hermit playing "Ave Maria" on his
violin (1), followed by a close-up of the Monster
outside looking through the window (2). He is
obviously moved by the music.
3. Close-up of the hermit. His hands are highlighted.
Comment: This shot is a good example of Whale's use of
lighting and camera placement to make his point.
The scene is lit so that the hands are brighter
than anything else in the frame, and the camera
is placed so that they are near the center of
the frame; thus, the shot emphasizes and prom-
inently features the hands.
4-9. Alternating medium shots of the Monster and the
hermit. During the sequence, the Monster throws
open the door and enters the hut.
10. Medium shot of the hermit.
Hermit: "Who are you? I think you're a stranger
to me. I cannot see you. I cannot see
The hermit moves toward the door.
11. A slightly closer medium shot of the hermit.
Hermit: "You must please excuse me, but I'm blind."
31Chris Steinbrunner and Burt Goldblatt, Cinema of the
Fantastic (New York: Saturday Review Press, 1972), p. 101.
Comment: The use of a shot followed by a slightly closer
shot (as in shots 10 and 11), or one from a
slightly different angle, is a favorite tech-
nique of Whale's. He uses-it to upset audience
expectations, to keep them from relaxing and,
thereby, dissipating the tension.
12-16. Alternating close-ups of the Monster and the
Hermit: "Come in, my poor friend. None will hurt
you here. If you're in trouble, perhaps
I can help you. But you don't need to
tell me about it if you don't want to."
Comment: In this sequence, Karloff artfully portrays the
Monster's feelings. He is obviously touched, but
also seems puzzled. It is literally the first time
that any adult has displayed kindness to him. Unsure
how to react, his bewilderment shows.
17-19. Slightly varied medium shots of the Monster and the
hermit. The hermit leads the Monster into the house.
As the hermit pulls the Monster into the room, his
hands are highlighted as in shot 3. In shot 19, the
hermit guides the Monster to a chair.
Hermit: "Sit down."
The Monster obeys and the hermit places both hands
on the Monster's shoulders.
Hermit: "I don't understand. Can you not speak?
It's strange. Perhaps you're afflicted, too.
I cannot see and you cannot speak. Is that
it? If you understand what I'm saying, put
your hand on my shoulder."
32This is a variation of G. W. Pabst's "cutting on movement."
Pabst discovered that, if a cut were made during an act of motion
(the movement of an arm or leg, the opening of a door, etc.), the
cut would usually go unnoticed by the audience. For a discussion
of Pabst's concept and its implications, see any good film history
text, such as Arthur Knight, The Liveliest Art: A Panoramic History
of the Movies, revised edition-TNew York: Macmillan Publishing Co.,
1978), pp. 51-55.
The Monster lifts his right hand and drops it heavily
on the hermit's left shoulder.
Hermit: "That's good."
Comment: For the first time, the Monster hears the words,
"Sit down," spoken in a gentle tone. In the hermit's
hut, the command and the downward movement do not
have negative connotations.
20. Medium shot of the hermit and the Monster from
behind the Monster. He tries to rise.
Hermit: "No, you stay here. I'll get you some
The hermit moves to a kettle hanging over the fire in
the background and begins to ladle out soup into a
Hermit: "We shall be friends."
Comment: This shot is an excellent example of Whale's
understanding of when not to cut. For the maximum
emotional effect of the scene, it is important that
both the Monster and the hermit be in the frame
when the hermit declares that they shall be "friends."
21-23. Two medium shots of the hermit giving soup to the
Monster (21-22), followed by a close-up of the
hermit (23). In shot 21, a crucifix on the wall
is visible for the first time.
Hermit: "I have prayed many times for God to send
me a friend. It's very lonely here and its
been a long time since any human being came
into this hut."
Comment: The pathetic ironies of this speech cannot be
missed. The creature whom the hermit is depending
upon to ease his loneliness is not a "human being"
at all. Indeed, when human beings eventually enter
the hut, the idyll will be destroyed.
24-27. Medium shots of the hermit and the Monster, as the
Monster hungrily drinks the soup.
Hermit: "I shall look after you and you will comfort
me. Now you must lie down and go to sleep."
28-35. A series of close-ups of the Monster and the hermit,
combined with medium shots which include both
characters. The "Ave Maria" is heard on the sound-
track as the hermit prays.
Hermit: "Our Father, we thank Thee that in Thy
great mercy, Thou hast taken pity on my
great loneliness and now out of the silence
of the night hast brought two of Thy lonely
children together and sent me a friend to
be a light to mine eyes and a comfort in
time of trouble. Amen."
In shot 35, the crucifix in the background suddenly
lights up. The remainder of the scene fades, leaving
the illuminated crucifix (in the top center portion
of the screen) shining.
Comment: The "Ave Maria" and the hermit's prayer are, in the
context, supremely ironic. It is obvious that these
two "lonely children" will not be able to share
happiness in this world due to man's interference.
In shot 34, a single tear rolls down the Monster's
cheek. This tear will be matched by another which
is shed just prior to the Monster's destruction of
the laboratory. Now it is a tear of joy, then it
will be a tear of sorrow.
The last eight shots (28-35) are perfectly
balanced by Whale. There are two close-ups of the
Monster (31, 34), two close-ups of the hermit (29,
32), two low angle medium shots (28, 33), and two
high angle medium shots (30, 35). This rhythmic
balance helps the sequence achieve its maximum
emotional impact of touching warmth. As Michael
Gould says, "the blind fiddler, who shows the
Monster goodness, imbues his scene with such
emotional truth that the crucifix in the cottage
lights up with a sympathetic vibration."
This touching scene is followed by a serio-comic one in which
the hermit teaches the Monster to talk. In a sequence with obvious
religious overtones, the hermit, dressed in what appears to be a
monk's robe, gives the Monster a "Last Supper" of bread and wine.
33Michael Gould, Surrealism and the Cinema (New York: A. S.
Barnes, 1976), p. 55.
He teaches the Monster that "bread" is "good," "wine" is "good,"
"alone" is "bad," and, most importantly, that "friend" is "good."
He also gives the Monster a cigar and, in an amusing touch, plays
a rollicking tune on his violin while the Monster smokes and keeps
time to the music with his hands and feet. But, just at this
moment, the outside world intrudes in the form of two hunters who
are lost in the woods. Seeing the Monster, they attack him; in
the ensuing struggle, a bundle of reeds is knocked into the fire-
place and the Monster is driven from the cottage by his old
nemesis, fire. As he staggers out the door, he cries in a
pathetic voice, "Friend? Friend?"
The entire Monster-hermit episode is filled with ironies.
As noted above, the Monster is still capable of being redeemed by
love and human decency. The hermit is the perfect choice to be the
instrument of this redemption since he is innocent and pure, and,
although blind, is the only human who "sees" beneath the surface
to the innate goodness within the Monster. However, it quickly
becomes obvious that there is no possibility of the Monster being
redeemed or leading a happy life. The only "friend" he has found
is an afflicted outcast like himself, and society does not tolerate
such outcasts for long. As long as the Monster and the hermit are
isolated in the hut, their happiness is assured, but their haven
is a frail defense against the outside world ,and, as soon as
representatives of that world enter, their peaceful existence is
destroyed, just as the hut itself is demolished by fire.
From his meeting with the hermit, the Monster gains not only
a knowledge of speech, but also a darker knowledge; namely, that
humanity despises him because, through no fault of his own, he
"disturbs the balance of respectable society by looking like and
being a monster."34
Karloff was opposed to having the Monster speak,35 yet surely
this is a logical character development as his newly-awakened mind
matures. As Paul Jensen notes, the Monster's "hesitancy of action
and dimness of mind [in Frankenstein] are replaced [in Bride] with
awkwardness and awareness."36 The Monster's growing maturity
culminates in the creation scene when he, not the humans, asserts
the proper moral priorities by telling Pretorius, "We belong dead,"
and then destroys the tower, implicitly recognizing that "there
can be no place in the land of the living for creatures of death."37
In contrast to the Monster, Henry Frankenstein gains no self-
knowledge during the course of the film. In his first scene, he
reminisces about "what a wonderful vision it [the creation of life]
34Stanley Solomon, Beyond Formula: American Film Genres (New
York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976), p. 134.
3Karloff explained his reasoning in the following manner:
"Speech! Stupid! My argument was that if the monster had any
impact or charm, it was because he was inarticulate--this great,
lumbering, inarticulate creature. The moment he spoke, you might
as well take the mick or play it straight" (Brosnan, The Horror
People, p. 50). Considering his opposition to Whale's inter-
pretation of the role, Karloff's impeccable performance is even
36Jensen, Boris Karloff, p. 36.
37Tropp, p. 104.
was," and in his other scenes, he appears as a weak, vacillating
man. In his first conversation with Pretorius, Henry tells him,
"I'll have no more of this Hell-spawn," but quickly changes his
mind when Pretorius informs him that he, too, has created life.
Henry eagerly asks, "When can I see it?" and despite his initial
protestations, agrees to help Pretorius create a mate for the
Monster.38 Under Elizabeth's influence, Henry changes his mind
again and refuses to cooperate. However, in the creation scene,
Henry shows as much zeal as Pretorius. As Roy Huss has shown in
his previously mentioned essay, Whale handles this scene with
great skill, using shots of Henry and Pretorius racing back and
forth across the laboratory to convey an air of freneticism, and
tilted camera angles to stress the "tilted," unbalanced minds of
the scientists and the distorted nature of the experiment. As the
frenzied activity reaches a peak, Henry shows his total commitment
to the project by saying eagerly to Pretorius, "Shall we put the
heart in now?"39 Ironically, at the end, Henry is saved from
the consequences of his folly by the Monster, who tells him, "You
go, you live."40
38Jensen, Boris Karloff, p. 82, states that it is "odd" that
Pretorius should propose creating a mate before he knows the
Monster is alive, but this is Jensen's error. In the first con-
versation between Pretorius and Henry, Pretorius plainly makes
reference to "your Monster still roaming the countryside" before
he suggests creating a woman.
39Oddly, Huss, p. 78, attributes this important line
mistakenly to Pretorius.
40However, this irony is surely unintended since Whale wanted
Henry to die in the explosion also. Certainly, the Monster has as
much reason to hate Henry as Pretorius.
Elsa Lanchester as the Bride has a small (although important)
part, which she imbues with "dramatic sparks as though through her
frizzed-out hair."41 The introduction of the Bride is a variation
of the Monster's introduction, and may be described as follows:
Setting: Henry's laboratory, just after the successful
creation of the Bride.
1. Medium long shot of the Bride with Henry on her right
and Pretorius on her left. The Bride wears a long white
gown draped over her bandages.
Comment: The Bride is flanked by her symbolic parents, "as
if posing for an official wedding photograph."42
The long, loose-flowing gown is a perfect choice
of apparel because it simultaneously suggests a
wedding dress, a laboratory smock, and a shroud.
Quick cut to:
2. Medium shot of the Bride from straight ahead. Her
hair protrudes straight up in a parody of Nefertiti.
Comment: The use of the Nefertiti hair-do is not simply a
visual device. Nefertiti and her husband, Ikhnaton,
are thought by some scholars to have been brother
and sister.43 Similarly, the Monster and his mate
are both "children" of Henry Frankenstein, and,
Quick cut to:
3. Medium close shot of the Bride.
Quick cut to:
4. Low angle close-up of the Bride. The stitches in her
neck are emphasized. She turns her head jerkily to
look left, then right, then up.
41Hutchinson, p. 42.
42Huss, p. 82.
43Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1969 ed., s.v. "Ikhnaton," by
Margaret Stefano Drower.
Pretorius announces grandly, "the Bride of Frankenstein," to the
accompaniment of wedding bells on the sound track. The Monster
enters and gestures to the Bride, but, terrified of him, she
shrieks and runs to her "father," Henry. Henry leads her to the
Monster, who touchingly tries to woo her by stroking her hand, but
she screams again and retreats. The Monster, recognizing his total
isolation, says, "She hate me, like others," and destroys the
laboratory. If one looks closely at the destruction scene, the
Bride may be seen running to, rather than from, the Monster, as the
tower collapses. Thus, although she refuses the mate selected for
her, she joins him in death. Hence, in a supreme irony, the two
monsters, not man, make the correct moral choices, the Bride by
rejecting the future planned for her, and the Monster by recognizing
that they "belong dead."
The most interesting character in Bride is Dr. Pretorius. His
name is obviously important since, in his initial appearance, Minnie
repeats it four times, Henry says it twice, and Pretorius himself
states it twice. Pretorius combines the Latin for leader praetorr)
with that for law (i0s). He wants to be a dictator whose word is
law. In this desire, he is "a perfect parody of a would-be Hitler"44
who will stop at nothing to obtain his ends. To gain these ends,
Pretorius uses Henry to help him create life and, when Henry refuses
to cooperate, uses the Monster to kidnap Elizabeth. He pretends to
44Tropp, p. 104.
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