Bridging the Bride of Frankenstein by Jon Farnm
NOTE: This article is based on The Bride of Frankenstein continuity script by William Hurlbut from the adaptation by Hurlbut and John Balderston and which was made available to me by the pentagram Library in Worcester Massachusetts. It was compared to the current cut which Universal claims has been transferred from their original studio vault negative. James Whale was notorious for changing the script during the shooting to suit his tastes, and consequently one cannot be absolutely certain if some of the dialog or action was actually filmed. Allan Asherman contributed some valuable information to this article and for that I owe him thanks. If one would like further details about the cut scenes from The Bride of Frankenstein, may I suggest the following delightful and fascinating books: It’s Alive! By Gregory Williams Mank, A.S. Barnes & Company, Inc. San Diego/New York, 1981 and The Frankenstein Legend by Donald F. Glut, The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Metuchen, New Jerssey, 1972.
An examination of the cut scenes from The Bride of Frankenstein in an effort to close the gaps in one of the finest horror films ever produced.
A little over fifty years ago in May of 1935 Universal released James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein which is considered by many to be even more impressive a film than Whale’s original 1931 classic Frankenstein. This sequel contained all the terrifying elements of a high-quality horror movie and, in addition, included passages of humor and pathos which captivated audiences and endeared the monster, played by Boris Karloff, to all. In spite of excellent reviews, Universal decided to prune The Bride of Frankenstein after a few initial screenings, and what has been shown since then is missing over fifteen minutes of original footage. The resulting choppy cuts in continuity and unexplained references to other events have changed the character development of some of the principals and deprived moviegoers of quite a bit of typical James Whale macabre wit and satire. Over the next few pages I would like to bridge the gaps created by these shorn clips so that you may judge for yourself whether the cuts tighten The bride of Frankenstein as Universal intended or if they weaken what many film connoisseurs consider is the finest horror movie of all time.
One of the first sequences to be drastically edited was the prolog in which Mary Shelley discusses her novel Frankenstein (and for the film’s purpose, the movie Frankenstein) with her husband Percy and traveling companion Lord Byron. While we hear her described as a pretty fragile angelic creature with a “bland and lovely brow,” cut portions of her narrative portray her and the others quite differently, albeit more accurately according to their biographies. When Lord Byron expresses astonishment that lovely Mary has “conceived a Frankenstein – a monster created from cadavers out of rifled graves,” she explains to him:
“We are all three infidels, scoffers at all marriage ties, believing only in living fully and freely in whatever direction the heart dictates…I say look at Shelley – who would suspect that pink and white innocence, gentle as a dove, was thrown out of Oxford University as a menace to morality, had run way from his lawful spouse with innocent me but seventeen, that he was deprived of his rights as a father by the Lord Chancellor of England, and reviled by society as a monster himself. I am already ostracized as a free thinker, so why shouldn’t I write of ‘monsters?”
Percy, then tells Mary that if her book is published, “…you will have much to answer for. People, yet unborn, will lie awake of nights, unable to close their eyes because of the dreadful visions your story conjures up.”
Lord Byron agrees: “It shall be published, if only to give the world a good shock! We’re all for shocking ‘em – eh, Shelley?” He then quotes a line from his work Epigram: “The World is a bundle of hay; Mankind are the asses that pull.” This reference to a famous poem by Byron and another poetic recitation by Mary are absent from the final print.
After Lord Byron recounts what has transpired in the original story, Shelley tells Mary that he thinks it a shame to end her story so soon, “…to kill off poor Frankenstein and burn up the Monster in that terrible fire at the mill. Staring off into space, Mary dreamily muses, “Fire is the most beautiful thing in the world! But who said the Monster was burned to death in it?”
Byron, his interest piqued, asks “Wasn’t it?” And Mary follows with a rather bizarre statement that makes absolutely no sense in the continuity of the story. She explains: “I’ve taken the rest of the story far into the future – and made use of developments which science will someday know – a hundred years to come. I think you will find the new horrors are far more entertaining, Lord Byron.”
Since we know that the film itself follows immediately after the ending of the original Frankenstein and continues in time for no more than several months at the very most, this last statement by Mary – taken from the continuity script – is somewhat of a mystery and may never have been filmed at all. Director James Whale deliberately avoided dates in The Bride of Frankenstein, giving his film a kind of ambiguous timelessness. While the dress of the characters appears to be early 1920s, Whale changed all references to cars and trains to carriages and described a telephone as an electrical machine. He may also have eliminated this reference to future scientific developments.
To summarize the cuts in the prolog, excising Mary’s comment about the future definitely was a wise decision. Personally, I feel that the omission of the other preceding quoted biographical sketches robbed us of some rather colorful character descriptions, even at the expense of slowing up the beginning of the film.
The next deletion occurs when Henry Frankenstein is carried back to his estate to die. As he regains consciousness and embraces his fiancée Elizabeth, “a sound of cries and low mumbled church prayers comes over.” A servant approaches Elizabeth and she asks, “What? What now! Can there be any more calamity in this house?”
In the distance at the top of the staircase, a priest and attendants enter the old Baron’s room. The servant announces, “It si the Baron, my lady – he is dead.” Henry tries to speak: “Wha-? My father - ?” but then faints again. With this scene removed, the only reference to Henry’s father’s demise (or that he existed at all, for that matter) is Doctor Pretorius’s greeting to Henry: “BARON Frankenstein, now, I believe.” – a line that causes some confusion in existing prints.
The encounter between the sinister Septimus Pretorius and the recovering Henry Frankenstein was heavily cut of some rather dull pretentious philosophical dialog. Pretorius has come to ask Henry for help in his continuing experiments in bringing life to the dead. When asked by Henry if he thinks the monster still lives, Pretorius babbles on at great length.
“I hesitate to say I know anything in this specific instance,” Pretorius remarks, “only as I am, an investigator myself in these esoteric matters. I might merely offer a general suggestion, Herr Baron. It is possible that you have ventured father than you think. Those who experiment in the creation of living organisms have been accused of impiety, even of blasphemy. Of course, as you and I and as all men of learning know, such accusations are only made by the narrow, the bigoted and superstitious – but the creation of these forms of life involves something more than a temporary disturbance of the regular courses of nature. In fact, I have reason to believe that under some circumstances one may create something which is, shall I say, immortal? Something which is practically indestructible!”
This rambling speech by Pretorius is a welcome cut. The malevolent doctor rarely spills out such verbiage elsewhere and certainly would never take so long just to say the Monster lives because he is indestructible, even with his highly touted degree in philosophy.
Henry claims that he saw his creation burned, but Pretorius argues “The clumsiness of your effort is your worst crime.” He then reminds Frankenstein that he had been a student under Pretorius, but then had run off by himself to work and had “…let the thing escape - ...let the stupid world know your crime is against science.”
In an earlier discussion of science, this time between Frankenstein and Elizabeth, Henry expresses an extraordinary feeling: “Can you realize, Elizabeth, what it means to a scientist to come so near the supreme mystery. Ambition like that is a kind of madness. …And that was in my brain – my very grasp, I conceived it – it was like being God.” This cut passage, considered too blasphemous in 1935, was similar to the “Now I know what it feels like to be God” which as scissored from the original Frankenstein.
Henry argues with Pretorius that his “…crime is against God,” not science. Pretorius contradicts him “Fiddle-sticks. It was I who have had to suffer for this bungling. It was because of you that I have been kicked out of the University. All your crime has been traced back to me, and as a result I am here knocking at your door – an outcast, my ambition ruined.” Pretorius then, with just a shadow of blackmail in his proposal, suggests that they work together again: “you as master and I as your faithful assistant – I regret that my necessity forces me to say your paid assistant…”
Later, Pretorius takes Henry to his laboratory and shows him the results of his experiments…miniature figures kept in glass bottles and which include a queen, a king, an archbishop, a devil, a ballerina, and a mermaid. A seventh creature was an in-joke reference by James Whale to his 1931 Frankenstein, but was cut from the final print as either too silly or too macabre. It was a baby in a high chair, played by Billy Barty made up to resemble an infant Boris Karloff pulling the petals off a flower. Pretorius remarks: “I think this baby will grow into something worth watching.” Only a long shot of Billy Barty waving from the high chair remains in prints today.
As Henry is about to leave, his imagination stirred by the idea of creating a mate for the Monster, Pretorius’s graverobbing assistant Fritz (or Karl, as he is now called in existing prints) peers in the door. Pretorius quickly covers the glass jars and shouts, “You hangman’s fodder! How dare you? How many times have I told you never to come into this room.” Fritz stammers, “I only wanted to ask…” Pretorius slams the door in his face and cries, “GET OUT!” Fritz screams and fees to the cellar room that he shares with another ghoul. He shakes his sleeping companion and says, “He is the Devil I tell you – and now he’s got a lot of little devils all in bottles no higher than that. It’s witchcraft! He ought to be burned at the stake!” The other grave robber mumbles, “Oh, go and buy your grandmother,” and turns over to go back to sleep. It is coincidental that the last sentence by Fritz is echoed later by Pretorius as he and Frankenstein prepare to create the Monster’s mate. Pretorius: “It is interesting to think, Henry, that once we should have been burned at the stake as wizards for this experiment.”
Like Elsa Lanchester who portrays both Mary Shelley and the Monster’s bride and like Una O’Conner who appears in the prolog as a servant in addition to her main characterization of the hysterical Minnie, Dwight Frye was originally cast in two roles. The first was Fritz, Pretorius’s ghoul, and the other was Karl, the village idiot who turns out to be not quite the fool everyone thinks he is. Two entire segments involving Karl, the simpleton, were filmed and then cut in order to tighten the story.
The first cut scene begins with Karl and the other villagers in the Burgomaster’s office shortly after the Monster has escaped from prison and gone on a rampage. The Burgomaster is taking testimony concerning murders attributed to the Monster, and the following action is quoted directly from the original script:
“The pompous officious Burgomaster sits at his chair of office. Beside are two village police, standing very straight and self important. The room…at a respectful distance…is partly filled with villagers, all white and panicky-eyed with terror.
The Burgomaster has a written list before him and to which he refers…a list of the slaughterings.
BURGOMASTER: Now then – I mean to get to the bottom of this monster business. I only want eye-witnesses and what they saw – No nonsense about what they think. (reading) Henry Kronstadt.
Henry, a big peasant youth, steps forward.
BURGOMASTER: Did you see your sister murdered?
KRONSTADT: No sir, but I saw her afterward, and no human man could have done it.
BURGOMASTER: There you are – you know nothing. Next, please, (reading) A young huntsman found strangled.
HUNTSMAN: No, sir.
No one is crowding forward. They are all shrinking back.
BURGOMASTER: That will do…that will do. Don’t crowd forward. Now then – (reading) the Neuman case – a double murder, wasn’t it?
Minnie, Henry’s housekeeper, steps forward. She has nosed in here too.
MINNIE: Yes, your Honor, the most horrible murders I ever did see – there was Mr. Neuman all hacked to pieces with a big axe and his poor wife upstairs lying across the bed – a sight to scare the devil himself.
BURGOMASTER: Tell me in detail exactly how the murders were committed.
MINNIE: Oh! I didn’t SEE it but it must have been horrible.
BURGOMASTER: (jumping up furious) There you are! Nobody’s seen anything. It’s all nonsense and poppy cock – probably some wild beast from the mountains and here you all are talking about Monsters and Devils like a pack of superstitious infidels! Clear the court – I won’t hear another word! (shouting) Clear the court, I say! Go home and get to work, all of you! And let me hear no more of this Monster business!
There is a stampede for the door as they all start to tumble out, leaving the Burgomaster muttering impotently, as he straightens up his official papers, clean pens, etc.
BURGOMASTER: Fools – stupid, ignorant fools – Monster, indeed. They can’t make a fool of me!
The Monster’s great shoulders appear in the window directly behind the Burgomaster. The Monster’s hand reaches slowly in and throttles the words as the Burgomaster is muttering them. The Monster drags the Burgomaster out through the window. This all happens swiftly. At first, those at the door – as they look back – are too startled to exclaim - then there is a wild screaming of horror – a stampede. The screams come over while the CAMERA is on the Monster’s actions. The Monster holds the struggling Burgomaster by his fist and cuffs him soundly; first from one side then the other – and drops him, then turns away.”
Among the fleeing villagers are Uncle and Auntie Glutz and their nephew Karl who, fascinated, keeps turning around to watch the attack on the Burgomaster. Irritated, the uncle reprimands his nephew: “Com, Karl – come you fool.”
The second cut sequence occurs as the uncle and aunt finally reach their cottage. The aunt asks: “Where is that good-for-nothing Karl?” Uncle Glutz replies, “Let him get murdered – a good riddance.” He then retreats to the bedroom and lifts the mattress of the bed. He produces a bag of money and adds another packet to the already bulging sack. Unbeknownst to the uncle, Karl watches from the window, a sly look on his face. The nephew silently slips over the sill and quickly strangles his miser uncle, steals some of the money, and exits out the window again.
He knocks at the front door. “Who’s there?” asks Auntie Glutz. “It’s only me, Auntie,” replies Karl. She opens the door and scolds her nephew: “Not one penny do you get.” Then calling to her husband, “Joseph, that good-for-nothing nephew is here again. Don’t you give him any more money,” as she enters the bedroom. There is a pause and then she screams, “The Monster! The Monster has been here!” There is a close-up of a grinning Karl as he follows her into the bedroom. He chuckles, “Very convenient to have a Monster around. This is quite a nice cottage – I shouldn’t be surprised if he visited Auntie TOO.”
Dwight Frye as Karl, the village idiot, had his entire role clipped from the finished print with the exception of a solitary shot of him standing against a tree as the townspeople pursue the Monster. Frye as Karl in the credits now refers to his meatier role of Pretorius’s assistant ghoul Fritz. Both the courtroom and nephew subplots do indeed slow up the story. With these two scenes cut, an overlapping scene involving the Monster and a band of gypsies had to be filmed after The Bride of Frankenstein premiered in order to restore continuity to the plot. But in addition to tightening the story, the deletion of the courtroom testimony scene served one other purpose. Certainly the description of all those senseless murders attributed to the Monster caused him to appear violently, inhuman, and had that scene remained it would have been considerably more difficult to feel sympathy and pity for the Monster in his touching encounter with the hermit…a classic sequence that is one of the best remembered in the entire movie.
Another minor cut in the film occurs as Henry and Elizabeth prepare to leave on a belated honeymoon and only minutes before the Monster kidnaps Elizabeth in order to force Frankenstein to create a female monster. Henry’s agitation and premonition of impending doom were trimmed considerably as indicated by the following dialog from the original script:
“HENRY: Why don’t they come?
ELIZABETH: Henry, why this sudden haste to get away? You really are not well enough to travel.
HENRY: I am well enough now…and it is imperative we leave tonight.
ELIZABETH: Wait at least until tomorrow, so that you won’t have the night journey.
HENRY: Where is the car? I must catch the midnight express for Vienna.
ELIZABETH: All this excitement is bad for your nerves…this shows you are not really strong yet.
HENRY: You don’t understand…there is danger…real danger…to you and to me. Don’t ask me what – but help me to get away.”
Suddenly, Doctor Pretorius intrudes upon the couple for a second time in the film. Henry’s hysterical emoting “There – I knew it! – Send him away – I won’t see him!” in existing prints now is clear, justifying Frankenstein’s state of mind as we can see from the preceding cut dialog.
The death of Fritz, the assistant ghoul, at the hands of the Monster during the creation of the bride is different from originally conceived. Existing prints show the Monster in a drug-induced sleep at the beginning of the sequence. In the script, however, the Monster remains drugged and doesn’t appear until after his mate has been brought to life. Fritz, standing excitedly on the parapet and managing the kites as the table bearing the female monster rises in the air, steps back, loses his balance, and plummets to the rocks below. Unhappy with this less than dramatic demise for Fritz, Universal decided to set the Monster loose on the parapet, to be attacked by a torch-wielding Fritz, which of course prompts the Monster to hurl his tormentor from the roof. This is an illogical and jarring addition to the continuity of the film since the Monster is not on hand for the actual birth of the bride, but appears later having presumably just awakened from his sleep.
Finally, the betrothal and destruction of the Monster and his mate went through several drastic changes. An early concept was to have Fritz cut out Elizabeth’s heart for use in the female monster. This idea was discarded as too macabre and was filmed instead with another ghoul releasing Elizabeth, who arrives at the laboratory only minutes before the Monster pulls the lever that blows up the structure, bringing down rocks and rubble upon the Monster, his mate, Pretorius, Henry and Elizabeth who is struggling to enter the locked lab door. After filming, Universal opted for a happy ending and reshot, having the Monster allow Henry to escape with Elizabeth. However, the destruction of the laboratory was too expensive to redo and if you look closely you can still see Henry and the Monster’s mate by the laboratory door as the explosion occurs.
In summary, the prolog cuts were probably good ones, keeping the right balance between getting to know a smidgen about Mary Shelley and not being overpowered by Byron’s pompousness. Keeping the courtroom scene would certainly have dragged down a fast-moving story, as would have the subplot of the Glutz family, in addition to changing the character of the Monster into a far less sympathetic creature. Other minor cuts have left gaps and inconsistencies in the story that may be more apparent to today’s sophisticated audiences, but which could conceivably be excused in 1935. But there is one elimination I find impossible to forgive, purely from an inquisitive point of view. It is a scene I have searched in vain to locate and one that I might sell my soul to see. Oh, to travel with Henry Frankenstein that night he visited the Pretorius laboratory and to peek into the seventh bottle for a glimpse of that baby!