Sunday, February 2, 2014

Review: Philip J. Riley's 'The Return of Frankenstein'


Bride of Frankenstein went through several iterations on its way to becoming the greatest monster movie ever made. Philip MacDonald, who’d later adapt Rebecca for Hitchcock and The Body Snatcher for Robert Wise, imagined Frankenstein’s invention of a death ray as an integral plot element of the sequel to James Whale’s 1931 smash. L.G. Blochman, who enjoyed greater success as a mystery novelist than a screenwriter, had a more fanciful vision in which the mad doctor and his bride Elizabeth leave their troubles behind to work as puppeteers in a traveling carnival. John L. Balderston, who’d adapted the original Frankenstein, got closest to the film we know and adore, though his screenplay was a much darker affair, more faithful to Mary Shelley with a meatier role for the Bride than Elsa Lanchester got to play in the finished film. There’s no Dr. Pretorius in his draft dated June 1934, no Minnie, no humor or homunculi. The Monster, however, does get to talk a lot more and a lot more articulately. He also gets to milk a cow and eat a muskrat. Plus, Fritz is back, because Balderston apparently forgot that the Monster wrung his neck in the first film. So much for continuity.

Philip J. Riley compiled MacDonald and Blochman’s treatments and Balderston’s complete screenplay in his recent book The Return of Frankenstein (this was the preferred title for a while since the producer’s realized the Bride wasn’t actually Frankenstein’s intended…though Balderston does have the Monster refer to himself as Frankenstein a couple of times! So much for knowing whom your main character is…). Like all entries in Riley’s “Alternate History for Classic Film Monsters” series (or the “Filmonster Series-Lost Scripts,” as it’s now called), The Return of Frankenstein is a juicy tidbit of film history cluing us in on what might have been. Sometimes the scrapped scripts are better than what ended up on screen, as was the case with Dracula’s Daughter, the most essential entry in Riley’s series. In the case of Bride of Frankenstein, we ended up with the very best monster picture imaginable, elevated incalculably by James Whale and William Hurlbut’s witty and imaginative revisions. The treatments and screenplay in this book aren’t nearly as much fun to read as Whale’s movie is to watch, but they are still fascinating, essential documents for any classic monster education. If nothing else, they really make you appreciate the depth of James Whale’s genius.

Get The Return of Frankenstein on Amazon.com here:

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