It was a dark and stormy night. Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Walton) and Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) heap praise on Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) for her story, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. She reminds them that the purpose of the story was to warn of the consequences of mortal men playing God. She says she has more of the story to tell, and we find ourselves at the end of the movie Frankenstein.
In 1899, the villagers gather around the burning windmill and cheer the death of the monster. Hans (Reginald Barlow), the father of the girl killed by the monster, descends into the flooded pit beneath the mill to see the monster’s bones. But the monster is alive and strangles him, then throws Hans’ wife (Mary Gordon) into the pit. Minnie (Una O’Connor) flees in terror.
Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), the monster’s creator, is returned to his fiancée Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) at Castle Frankenstein. Minnie’s warning goes unheeded. Henry is nursed back to health by Elizabeth, who fears Henry is still obsessed with creating life. He visits the laboratory of his mentor Doctor Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), who shows Henry the homunculi he has created. He wants to work with Henry to create a mate for the monster.
In the forest, the monster saves a young shepherdess (Anne Darling) from drowning, but she screams on seeing him and alerts two hunters, who shoot and wound the monster. A mob sets out to find him, capture and bind the monster, and chain him in a dungeon, but he breaks his chains, overpowers the guards, and flees into the woods. He hears a violin playing Ave Maria and finds an old, blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) who thanks God for sending him a friend. He shares a meal with the monster and teaches him to speak some words. Hunters stumble on the cottage, recognize the monster, and he sets fire to the cottage trying to defend himself. The hunters lead the hermit away.
Hiding in a crypt, the monster sees Pretorius and his helpers Karl (Dwight Frye) and Ludwig (Ted Billings) robbing a grave. The monster approaches Pretorius, who tells him of his plans to create a mate for him. Henry and Elizabeth, married now, receive Pretorius and learn of his plans. Henry refuses at first, and Pretorius calls in the monster, who asks for help. Pretorius enlists the aid of the monster, who kidnaps Elizabeth and blackmails Henry into helping. Gradually, Henry becomes excited at the prospect. As a storm rages, they bring the bride (Elsa Lanchester) to life with the use of lightning. They unwrap her bandages. The monster comes down the stairs after killing Karl and sees his mate. She screams at the sight of him and hisses at him, and he rages through the laboratory. The monster sends Elizabeth and Henry to safety and triggers the tower’s destruction, bringing it down on his head.
The film was directed by James Whale. It took a while to get the script in shape, but photography began in 1935 with most of the cast and crew from Frankenstein. With a few censorship problems, it was released to favorable reviews and popular acclaim. In fact, it is often considered superior to the first film, Whale’s masterpiece, and one of the greatest films of all time. The Hays Office objected to scenes they thought blasphemous, including one in which the monster tries to save a statue of Jesus from the cross. They censored some murders and Mary Shelley’s decolletage. As always with James Whale’s movies, there has been a lot of talk about gay symbology. There have been a number of attempts to re-do the story, which I am glad to say have come to naught.
The bride’s hissing was copied from that of the nasty swans of Regent’s Park. Whale and the studio psychiatrist picked 44 words for the monster’s vocabulary by studying the test papers of ten-year-olds. Makeup artist Jack Pierce, who had created the monster, did the same with his bride. Elsa Lanchester had to forego going to the bathroom because the costume was so difficult. Apparently, it took 17 women 12 weeks to make. The costume raised her five-foot-four height to seven feet. She had to be carried from place to place. Her hairdo, however, was a triumph, held together by a wired horsehair cage with lightning bolts on the side.
Franz Waxman wrote the score, with a theme for the monster, one for the bride, and one for Pretorius. Karloff broke his hip and Clive broke his leg. Marilyn Harris, who had played Maria, the girl accidentally killed by the monster in Frankenstein, appears in this film as an extra. They gave her one word to speak so she could be paid more. The tiny mermaid created by Doctor Pretorius was played by Josephine McKim, a gold-medal-winning Olympic swimmer. She was Maureen O’Sullivan’s body double in Tarzan and his Mate, in which she swam nude. Walter Brennan and John Carradine have uncredited speaking roles.