The overwhelming reception of Dracula (1931) was all the incentive Universal Studio executives needed to prepare another offering in what would eventually take shape as a legendary cycle of horror films, thought by many to be unsurpassed even to the present day. "We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation, life and death. I think it will thrill you. So if any of you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now's your chance to... Well, we've warned you." So begins Universal's 1931 adaptation of the famous Mary Woolstonecraft Shelly tale of scientific experimentation pushed to its moral limits. As a follow-up for the ravenous fans who clamored for more chills and thrills, the studio mounted a brooding, atmospheric production which transformed the name of an obscure contract player of British origin into a synonym of fright. William Henry Pratt, better known to millions as Boris Karloff, has terrorized moviegoers ever since he donned stitches, scars and electrodes as the hapless monster pieced together from corpses.
Karloff was engaged once again, as was Colin Clive (Dr. Frankenstein). Ernest Thesiger, an eccentric skeletal-looking actor, played the part of Dr. Praetorius, an unscrupulous scientist who blackmails the reluctant Dr. Frankenstein into creating a female companion for the monster. Elsa Lanchester was unforgettable in the dual role of Mary Shelly and the charnel house bride-to-be.
Wisely, director James Whale was cognizant that this production, more ambitious in scope than its predecessor, cried out for an extended musical treatment. Having met composer Franz Waxman at a Hollywood party and being familiar with his music composed for Lilliom, a French film of 1933, Whale invited Waxman to score the sequel to Frankenstein: "It was a 'super horror' movie and demanded hauntingly eerie, weird, and different music."
What resulted can be called, without reservation, the single most important effort composed for the cinema of the fantastic, a true pioneering achievement.
This suite has been reconstructed by Charles Gerhardt, Newton Wayland and Steven Bernstein from the original orchestrations of Clifford Vaughan. The various musical cues are played without pause:
Prelude: The opening consists of the Monster's theme, a five note motif played by the brass and a misterioso featuring low winds, which depicts Dr. Praetorius.
A Scherzando underscored Lord Byron vividly recalling the vivid details of Frankenstein for Percy and Mary Shelley in the film's prologue which recreates a stormy night in 1816 in Geneva. Mary Shelly is persuaded to resume her strange tale.
The Monster, now once again at large, wanders through the countryside (Pastorale), startles a shepherdess and is wounded by hunters. Irate villagers (March) pursue him and capture the poor creature, binding him crucifixion style.
During the climatic sequence of the film, an obsessive heartbeat (represented by timpani) accompanies ghostly string and wind sonorities as the female creature is "born" amidst blinding electrical effects and the tolling of mock wedding bells (Creation of the Female Monster).
The Bride of Frankenstein premiered on May 9, 1935 at the Roxy Theater in New York. It was an instantaneous success. Waxman's score earned him a contract with Universal Studios, who were so taken with his work they reused it, albeit somewhat altered, in countless subsequent productions, including Flash Gordon, Buck Rodgers, and Radio Patrol.
Back to index of works