“Our mad dream is only half-realised…”
Universal wanted a sequel to “Frankenstein” as soon as the movie enjoyed its massive success, but it took them 3 years to convince James Whale to direct it. It certainly paid off.
Of the movies in this series, this is the one I’ve seen the most times. It’s actually been difficult to step back and try to watch it in the context of its relationship to the other movies. I was possibly a bit harsh on “The Invisible Man” (though I stand by all I said about it) because of what I knew was coming up, but I realised that movie was significant in the making of this one. The balance of humour and horror which was previously misjudged has been absolutely nailed here. The key addition here is the gleefully evil Doctor Pretorius, who provides a much-needed counterpoint to Henry Frankenstein’s brooding. While Frankenstein is understandably reticent about resuming his experiments (I can’t blame him, being thrown off the windmill couldn’t have been fun), Pretorius jumps in like a child with a new toy. The scene where he unveils his first creations, miniature people in jars, to Henry is played just for comic effect, but somehow doesn’t feel out of place. I still can’t abide Una O’Connor’s shrieking, but at least there’s less of it this time.
There were quite few elements from the book which weren’t in the first movie, but are used here instead. The Monster learns to talk, makes friends with a blind man and demands a female companion from Frankenstein. This all gives Boris Karloff more to do than just repeat the same shuffles and growls, his monster continuing to grow intellectually and emotionally. His reaction to hearing music for the first time is genuinely moving, but my favourite scene has him sit down for a picnic in a crypt with a completely unperturbed Doctor Pretorius.
Unlike the first movie, the title creature doesn’t make an appearance until the final ten minutes, even then only briefly. It speaks to how well written and played the story is that you're never checking your watch to see how long it’ll be until she turns up. James Whale famously had Elsa Lanchester play two roles, as both Mary Shelley in the opening sequence and as The Bride at the end. While it’s a clever idea, unless you’ve been told you’d never recognise her in the second role, the “Bride” in the titles is credited to “?” (as Karloff’s monster had been in the first movie).
Universal continued to make makes sequels for years after this movie, but none of the principals returned. There was no need, as after this there’s nowhere else for the story to go or anything else to be said. Like “Aliens”, this movie expands on what has gone before while standing as a great movie in it’s own right.
Our next shaggy-dog story (sorry!): Lon Chaney Jr becomes "The Wolf-Man"!