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Elsa Lanchester

Elsa Sullivan Lanchester (28 October 1902 – 26 December 1986) was an English-American actress with a long career in theatre, film and television.

Lanchester studied dance as a child and after the First World War began performing in theatre and cabaret, where she established her career over the following decade. She met the actor Charles Laughton in 1927, and they were married two years later. She began playing small roles in British films, including the role of Anne of Cleves with Laughton in ‘The Private Lives of Henry VIII’ (1933). His success in American films resulted in the couple moving to Hollywood, where Lanchester played small film roles. It was her role as the title character in ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935), that brought her recognition.

Bride of Frankenstein (advertised as The Bride of Frankenstein) is a 1935 American horror film, the first sequel to ‘Frankenstein’ (1931). Bride of Frankenstein was directed by Jame Whale and stars Boris Karloff as The Monster, Elsa Lanchester in the dual role of his mate and Mary Shelley, Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein and Ernest Thesiger as Doctor Septimus Pretorius.

The film follows on immediately from the events of the earlier film, and is rooted in a subplot of the original Mary Shelley novel, Frankenstein (1818). On a stormy night, Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Walton) and Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) praise Mary Shelley ( Elsa Lanchester) for her story of Frankenstein and his Monster. Reminding them that her intention was to impart a moral lesson, Mary says she has more of the story to tell. The scene shifts to the end of the 1931 Frankenstein.

Villagers gathered around the burning windmill cheer the apparent death of the Monster (Boris Karloff, credited as “Karloff”). Their joy is tempered by the realization that Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is also apparently dead. Hans (Reginald Barlow), father of the girl the creature drowned in the previous film, wants to see the Monster’s bones. He falls into a pit underneath the mill, where the Monster strangles him. Hauling himself from the pit, the Monster casts Hans’ wife (Mary Gordon) into it to her death.

In the film, a chastened Henry Frankenstein abandons his plans to create life, only to be tempted and finally coerced by the Monster, encouraged by Henry’s old mentor Dr. Pretorius, into constructing a mate for him… enter Lanchester.

Preparation began shortly after the first film premiered, but script problems delayed the project. Principal photography started in January 1935, with creative personnel from the original returning in front of and behind the camera. Bride of Frankenstein was released to critical and popular acclaim, although it encountered difficulties with some state and national censorship boards. Since its release the film’s reputation has grown, and it is hailed as Whale’s masterpiece and albeit for a short time on screen, Lanchester’s most iconic role.