Suggested by the original story written in 1816 by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and adapted by William Hurlbut and John Balderston, on April 19, 1935, producer Carl Laemmle Jr. resurrected Frankenstein’s monster.
But the title character of this sequel to Universal Pictures’ 1931 classic isn’t Boris Karloff’s sympathetic creature — it’s his mate — a character who only gets 4 minutes of screen time in a 75 minute movie.
“The Bride of Frankenstein” first emerged from her bandages 85 years ago today. It was actress Elsa Lanchester (who also played Mary Shelley at the beginning of the film) who brought the Monster’s undead bride to life.
I’ve covered “The Bride of Frankenstein” in depth on this blog before, back in 2015 for the film’s 80th anniversary, with the post “A Toast to Gods and Monsters“. Together, we went over the film from start to finish. But today, we’re going to talk about something that didn’t make it into the movie.
Have a look at this:
At first glance, anyone who has seen the film might feel confused. There’s something familiar about this striking image, but you also know that it most definitely was not in the film.
“Bride of Frankenstein” was originally titled, “The Return of Frankenstein”. The final film, which is now considered one of Universal’s best, was put through the wringer in terms of censorship.
This was the 1930s, and the rules about violence and other potentially offensive content in public entertainment were strict. (And unthinkably tame compared to today’s “standards”.) When the shooting script for Bride was submitted to the Production Code Administration in November of 1934, quite a few changes were demanded. Of course most of the trouble came from the violence and the killing. But there was another interesting and confusing subplot of censorship at work here.
Joseph Breen, director of the Production Code Administration, made many recommendations regarding what was appropriate and what wasn’t for Bride. At this time, if a script didn’t receive the PCA’s seal of approval, it simply wasn’t getting produced.
You’ll recall a particular line from the original Frankenstein film, one that at the time was considered very controversial: Dr. Henry Frankenstein screaming, “It’s alive! Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to BE God,” when his creation comes to life. That line made it into the first film, but for Bride, Breen warned of the “suggestion of irreverence, particularly with the use of the name of God.” Apparently that line about feeling like God had been offensive and considered “somewhat blasphemous” by movie-goers in 1931.
Director James Whale worked with Breen to tone down the “gruesomeness” of the film, and capitulated to many of Breen’s suggestions.
But it’s one suggestion in particular that I find baffling. That image above of the Monster embracing the life-size statue of Jesus on the Cross was a scene that Breen advised be cut from the film. Stumbling into a cemetery, The Monster sees the statue of Christ on the cross and mistakes it for a real man, suffering in a similar manner to how he himself had suffered previously in the film. The scene would have shown the monster trying to help Jesus off the cross.
This was another one of those things which the censorship board deemed to be “blasphemous”. Director James Whale wrote to Breen in defense of leaving the scene as-is, “Although the scene… as I explained to Mr. Sherlock [sic], was meant to be one of supreme sympathy on the part of the Monster as he tries to rescue what he thinks is a man being persecuted as he was himself some time ago in the wood, if you still find this objectionable, I could easily change it to the figure of death.”
Jon Towlson, author of the book “The Turn to Gruesomeness in American Horror Films, 1931-1936” discusses how Whale, receiving no further reply from Breen, went ahead and modified the scene anyway. The image above looks familiar because the film does retain the cemetery scene, and the statue of Jesus, but it just plays out differently.
It happens at the 45 minutes mark. The Monster has just been driven away from the blind hermit’s home, and finds himself in a cemetery as he’s fleeing from those pursing him. The Monster doesn’t even acknowledge the statue, but it just so happens to be situated behind an open crypt, which the Monster climbs down into and hides from the blood-thirsty mob.
Said Towlson, “Whale decided it best to make the change anyway, although in the scene as shot, he featured Christ on the Cross in the background, thereby allowing the association to be made between Christ’s persecution and that of the Monster.”
“Allowing the association to be made between Christ’s persecution and that of the Monster.”
Here’s where I start having a problem. This comment from Towlson jives with a number of similar opinions that I’ve read regarding this particular film and its predecessor, and the supposed correlation of the Frankenstein Monster and Jesus. There are articles out there which are claiming all KINDS of inferences and deliberate parallels and associations between the two. “Censors forced the deletion of these scenes, but they missed the most daring and controversial theme of all — a bold and subversive depiction of the Frankenstein Monster as Jesus Christ. Not as a Christ figure… but as Christ HIMSELF.”
You’re joking, right?
I’m sorry, but I won’t be providing a link to the source where I quoted that from, because honestly, I’m not in the business of driving traffic into situations where there’s bound to be an accident caused by negligence and ignorance. But suffice it to say, someone said it, and more than one “someones” ascribe to that same convoluted idea.
And I call BS. I think that’s a great big load of rubbish.
If you look at anything hard enough, you’ll start seeing things that aren’t there. It’s called Matrixing. You look up at the sky and wow — that cloud looks just like a cute widdle bunny rabbit!
Ooo, you see those craters on the moon… those four together kind of look like a face! It IS a face! OMG, aliens drew a face on the moon!!
Wilbur, come quick — the Virgin Mary’s face just appeared on my grilled cheese!
Honestly, you just can’t make this stuff up.
Guys, I can’t stress enough how frustrating it is when people want to read way too much into something that’s not meant to be dissected… but then when it comes to something which legitimately is symbolic, they are so quick to tell you you’re full of it.
First of all, before we go deep, I’d like to point out that there’s another really obvious reason why that giant cemetery crucifix looks familiar: It was featured in a cemetery scene in the first “Frankenstein” movie too.
Yes, indeed, there is Dr. Frankenstein and Fritz, grave-robbing in a cemetery, with the very same statue of Jesus on the Cross that we see years later in “Bride of Frankenstein”. Now, some people might be surprised to see a statue of Jesus in a cemetery, but… you really shouldn’t be. It’s pretty typical to find religious imagery in a graveyard. It’s also pretty typical for films to reuse existing props, because contrary to popular belief, money might be made from trees, but it sure doesn’t grow on them.
Now, are the Frankenstein films laced with something we should be paying closer attention too? You bet your bottom dollar they are. But we need to get our collective minds out of the devil’s gutter first, okay?
The censors in 1934 felt that a depiction of the Monster trying to help a crucified Jesus would somehow be inappropriate and “blasphemous”. I can only assume that much like people today, people back then were also completely blind to the actual moral message in these films — and their own religion.
If you read my post, “Feeding or Fighting the Monster Within: The True Message of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’“, then you already know that the Universal films were NOT the same as the original Frankenstein novel. The Creature of each is a totally different kind of monster. The Creature in the novel is NOT a sympathetic character because he chooses to be evil. The Creature in the classic films IS a sympathetic character, because he is completely a product of how he’s treated by others.
Boris Karloff’s Monster is innocent, and at the end of “Bride of Frankenstein”, he finds redemption. Because much like the book’s Monster, he reaches a point where he too must make a choice. But unlike Mary Shelley’s creation, Karloff’s Monster ultimately chooses ‘good’, not ‘evil’. This monster comes to realize that his anger and quest for revenge didn’t do him a lick of good. And at the end of the film, he chooses to spare Dr. Frankenstein’s life, and condemn Dr. Pretorius who was absolutely an evil man who thought he WAS God. He implores Frankenstein to go, “Yes, you go! You live! Go!” Then turning to Dr. Pretorius, he snarls, “You stay. We belong dead.”
Throughout Bride, we do find many touches of Christ’s message. The entire segment with the poor blind man is a lesson in morality unlike any other. (I covered that too in my other Bride post!) And what I see when I look at this magnificent unused image, and I contemplate what the film would have been with the original cemetery scene intact, is clearly very different than what a lot of other people see.
I don’t see the Monster as a stand-in for Christ. At all. I see the Monster as searching for, and in a manner attaining, the love that Christ has for us, and that we’re supposed to have for each other. The Monster’s interaction with the crucifix (and let’s not forget that he cared for the blind hermit — who had a crucifix hanging on the wall of his hut) really would have been a perfect demonstration of the Monster’s innocence and humanity.
Again, the difference between the movie monster and the book monster is that one does bad things because all he has received from others is hate. Yet despite the torment he has endured, he STILL continuously chooses to try and do the right thing. It isn’t the Monster’s fault that others ignore his hands, outstretched in love. He tries to show love and compassion, but it’s always rejected by others. When it’s not, though — like when he meets the blind man — how does he react? He embraces the love of another and shows love himself.
In that deleted scene, what is the monster’s FIRST instinct upon seeing the statue of a crucified Jesus? “He needs HELP! I must HELP Him!” How this could ever be construed as inappropriate or blasphemous is absolutely beyond me. In fact, what it tells me is that too many Christians don’t even understand their own Book. The censor, Joseph Breen, was an Irish Catholic, and I think his sense of “morality” was pretty messed up. And there’s no excuse for that. As a Christian, he should have known better. I’m very disappointed that he, and others like him, chose to read negativity into something that was actually quite profound and important. I look at this image and I read what could have been, and it kind of breaks my heart. And that’s the truth.
There is a lot of Christian morality in the background of these old Frankenstein films. Whether it be deliberate or not, doesn’t matter. What does matter is the lessons and morals that we the viewers can benefit from.
James Whale said that Bride WAS intended as a moral lesson. Elsa Lanchester as Mary Shelley says the same thing at the beginning of the film! And even without this sadly forgotten moment-that-might-have-been, I can still see some pretty awesome symbolism in the cemetery scene anyway.
Whale left in the crucifix. And placed it right by the crypt where the Monster escapes to safety.
Escapes to safety.
We don’t need the Monster to interact with the statue of Jesus to understand the potential meaning here. I think that the shot was set up this way to suggest that Jesus is a safe place to run to. This is just my opinion, but I don’t think it was a happy accident that Whale chose to stand that cross up, like a beacon, for the place that was safe. For the place that gave the Monster a moment’s respite from persecution. Would that we all viewed the Cross like this. Our safe haven, protecting us from harm.
Despite the heavy and often unnecessary censoring, “Bride of Frankenstein” remains one of Universal’s greatest monster films. And while I’m saddened to think that we never got to see Frankenstein’s Monster showing the ultimate expression of compassion to a crucifix in a cemetery, in the end, the film was exactly what it needed to be. There was a pretty drastic rewrite for the ending, one that I’m sure the director wasn’t too happy about. But it allowed proper closure for Universal’s version of the Frankenstein Monster. The Monster in the novel died a sad, lonely, vengeful and pathetic creature. But Karloff’s Monster came full circle in the end, embracing his humanity, and choosing to do right by everyone.
A redemptive ending was the least of what he deserved. Karloff’s Monster knew only a life of pain and suffering. Until he met the blind hermit, who showed him that good and evil… it’s a choice. A choice that WE must make for ourselves. In the end, the Monster chooses love, not hate. Despite what misery and torture he has suffered, he still finds the strength to choose good.
Would that each and every one of us strive to do the same.