It is a dark and stormy night and Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) is in a rhapsodising mood as the rain lashes and the thunder crashes. Present to hear all this are his good friend, the poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton) and his wife, Mary (Elsa Lanchester), who has recently written something of her own which has most impressed the two men. She cannot find a publisher, but as Byron enthuses, she explains that the story is not over and there is more to tell. For the Monster (Boris Karloff) did not perish as the windmill burned around him, he survived when he fell into a pool below...
It took James Whale four years to be persuaded to make a sequel to his classic Frankenstein, and the result was one of the most famous and respected follow-ups in movie history. Once it was established that the Monster had escaped the flames and his creator (Colin Clive was back too) was alive and recuperating, the big idea was for him to fashion a mate for his little boy. Well, big boy. And although he does eventually succeed, they all reckon without the pressing question: what if she doesn't fancy the pitiable Monster?
Karloff equalled his performance from the previous instalment, despite a development that he wasn't so keen on in that this time he got to speak. The star (top-billed this time) may not have liked the idea, but he got some iconic dialogue to go along with his never-bettered playing, though this time there was a different tone to the proceedings as Whale wanted to bring out more humour. In truth, he must have had a strange sense of humour as the laughs don't exactly come thick and fast, and the overall effect is more bizarre than anything else, placing the grotesquerie into sharp relief.
Crucially, though, this newfound jokiness did not harm the rest of the film, and nowhere was this more apparent than in the character of Dr Pretorius, a perfectly-cast Ernest Thesiger. It is he who brings Frankenstein around to the idea of creating the female equivalent of his Monster, and a richly eccentric personality he is too, prissy but steely and with a perverse desire to dwell in the realms of the blasphemous. Up until the final five minutes, it is a tie between Thesiger and Karloff as to who will run away with the movie - but we're reckoning without the Bride herself.
That religious angle is pretty blasphemous regardless, as the Monster is set up as a Christlike figure, believing himself rejected by his "father" as the locals "crucify" him - literally, at one point. And just as Christ was not allowed a better half, so the Monster fails to find love, the closest he comes to companionship is the blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) he seeks refuge with. The hermit, also a lonely soul, is delighted to have his companionship but tragically it is not to last. The search for acceptance that will never arrive, and knowing you will be better off dead for the good of mankind weighs heavily on the Monster's shoulders, yet although he would be back it's a pity that the Bride made her only appearance as she is a remarkable conception. Add to this a stark, fablelike look and the deep contrast black and white photography and you have a film that was a worthy successor to the original. Music by Franz Waxman, which was also great.