“The Bride of Frankenstein” was the sequel to the hit “Frankenstein”. It’s very rare that a sequel is more successful than the film that spawned it. But in this particular case a successful sequel was only possible because of the right director, a good story, a cast that has just the right chemistry, along with people behind the camera who know what they’re doing. For this film Whale did what he could to guarantee a film that would be a smash. He even stopped production from February 19 to March 2 1935 so he could use the actor O.P. Heggie to film the hermit sequence. Heggie was unavailable when filming began due to to the fact he was at RKO studios finishing another film. Whale wanted to make this a memorable film. To that end he wanted Colin Clive and Boris Karloff to reprise the roles they created in “Frankenstein”. He knew Mae Clarke was unavailable due to illness, and knew he would have to re-cast the role of “Elizabeth”. But he also knew what hadn’t worked in the first film. Edward Van Sloan who played “Dr. Waldman”, Frederick Kerr who played the original “Baron Frankenstein”, and John Boles as “Victor Moritz” were not asked to reprise their roles. Instead Whale decided to inject a bit of humour. To that end he added Una O’Connor and E.E. Clive to liven things up. He had worked with both actors when he directed The Invisible Man in 1933, and thought they would provide the “hoot” he wanted to have. And after seeing Ernest Thesiger act he knew he wanted him in the sequel.
Until the thirties she appeared on stage in Ireland and England. She appeared in the Hitchcock film Murder in 1930. She followed that up with a stage version of Cavalcade. She was asked to reprise her role in 1933. It was then she moved to Hollywood. Her comedic performance made a favourite of James Whale. He cast her in the The Invisible Man (1934) where she played the wife of a pub owner, and as the housekeeper in The Bride Of Frankenstein. In both she roles she’s opinionated, nosy, and quick to scream. She also did what she called “straight” roles. A year after immortalizing herself to millions of film goers in The Bride of Frankenstein she portrayed the mother of a captured member of the Irish Republican Army in the film The Informer. She also played Bing Crosby’s housekeeper in The Bells Of St. Mary’s.
In the fifties she endeared herself to thousands of theater goers when she portrayed Janet McKenzie in the stage version of Witness For The Prosecution from 1954 to 1956. In 1957 she would reprise the role she created in the film of the same name. Though it was a rather serious drama she brought a wonderful comedic touch to the production. The film also reunited her with Elsa Lanchester. Sadly it would be her very last film. In her late seventies she decided it was time to retire from the entertainment world, and to live a more sedate life. She passed away less than two years later in 1959.
E. E. Clive portrayed the burgomaster of the town. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a burgomaster is the chief magistrate of a town in some European countries in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland so we can assume the film takes place in one of these countries. Edward Erskholme Clive was born in 1879 in Monmouth England. He was an accomplished actor and director. He originally started out working towards a career in medicine. Having already completed four years of studies at St. Bartholomew's Hospital his ambitions changed direction at the age of 22, and he began acting. He moved to the states in 1912 and set up his own stock company in Boston. . In 1920s his repertory company was in Hollywood when one of his colleagues became Rosalind Russell. He worked in a number of Broadway plays.
His first role in films was in The Invisible Man (1934). He portrayed a simple English village policeman. James Whale was impressed with Clive, and kept him in mind for any future projects. When the time came to cast someone as the pompous incompetent burgomaster (mayor) of the town Whale knew just who to ask. It was a role that brought Clive a great many bit and character roles in the future. He frequently played butlers and lawyers. Clive passed away from a heart disorder in 1940, shortly after appearing in Pride and Prejudice with Sir Laurence Oliver and Greer Garson. According to the June 7th edition of The New York Times, published one day after his death Clive appeared in “1,159 Legitimate Plays Before Going Into Moving Pictures”.
Ernest Frederic Graham Thesiger was born in 1879. Initially he wanted to be an artist, but when that didn't work out as planned he switched to acting. He made his debut in Colonel Smith in 1909. He acted till the outbreak of World War I. He enlisted, but was wounded after seeing action overseas. He was sent home and discharged.
His first film role was in 1916 as one one of the witches in a spoof of Macbeth. Films were still regarded as a novelty, and he returned to the stage in a play that few, if any gave much of a chance. A Little Bit Of Fluff was more successful than anyone involved with the production, including Thesiger, could have dreamed. It ran for over 1,200 performances. Its success led to a film version in which Thesiger reprised his role. He became know for his comedy and his female impersonations. In 1919 he appeared in a seasonal production of The Merry Wives Of Windsor. Thesiger and Whale met during this play. Whale was riding high after directing Frankenstein,and requested Carl Laemmle to purchase the rights to J.B. Priestley’s worked called “Benighted”. The story brought together a strange collection of people together. Thesiger’s character was described as “A man so thin, with so little flesh...he was almost a skeleton”. Prior to doing the film, which was renamed The Old Dark House (1932), Thesiger had no reputation to speak of in Hollywood. But after his performance as Horace Femm in The Old Dark House his star was definitely on the rise. Boris Karloff and Thesiger did a film called The Ghoul (1933) in England cashing in on their popularity. Kathleen Harrison appeared in the film as well. Thesiger and Harrison would reunite twenty years later doing the film “Scrooge”, better known in North America as “A Christmas Carol” (1951).
The working title for the Frankenstein sequel was The Return Of Frankenstein. But James Whale had no intention of doing any film based on any of the scripts or script ideas he heard or read. Instead took the best parts from all the scripts and cobbled together a script that he liked. He wanted Thesiger in it, but the was no role suited to him. So Whale created Dr. Septimus Pretorius. Apparently Pretorius was based on a real life alchemist of the 16th century called Paracelsus, and a friend of Mary Shelley’s called John Polidori. In the film Pretorius was a former mentor of Henry Frankenstein, who, like Henry, was obsessed with the creation of life. He is a wee more obsessed as this tidbit of censored script demonstrates. He is explaining why he was “booted out”.
"Actually it was a very small matter, a question of taking a corpse out of the mortuary. You know how difficult it is to get cadavers for dissections...there was some trouble about it. It happened that the lady--oh, I forgot to tell you it was a lady--was in the habit of suffering from cataleptic fits. Her townspeople were quite aware of her malady, but on her first day here in our town of Frankenstein she was seized with a fit in the marketplace and, thinking her dead, they placed her in the mortuary!"
"But how terrible!" Henry exclaimed. "And she was not dead at all?"
"So they said. But how was I to know?'
"But there were signs, surely?'
Pretorius nodded nonchalantly. "To be sure--when one is looking for them. Curiously enough, I did think the body rather warm before I started dissecting."
Frankenstein was now thoroughly horrified at the recital. "And you paid no attention?"
"It never occurred to me to realize what had happened. And then, when she did recover, it was too late to do anything about it. You see, I had done quite a lot of dissecting before she screamed...Afterward, I did the only merciful thing."
Thesiger made a wonderfully creepy Dr. Pretorius. And the film shows it. But Thesiger longed for a return to the stage. The Bride Of Frankenstein was his last film produced in America.
In 1936 Thesiger was cast as the sculptor Theotocopolous for the film Things To Come which was based on the story The Shape Of Things To Come by H.G. Wells. However his performance was not appreciated by Wells and he was replaced by Cedric Hardwicke. But his services were retained by Wells for the film The Man Who Could Work Miracles. It was about this time Thesiger published a book on needlework, which was a life long hobby.
Most of his professional work centered of the stage, but he did appear in the occasional film. He appeared in The Man In The White Suit, Scrooge, The Robe, Meet Mr. Lucifer, and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961). By then he was Ernest Thesiger OBE – Order Of The British Empire. But he didn’t much chance to use the title. He died in his sleep shortly after completing The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone.