There have been countless movies made with the Mary Shelley’s iconic Creature, or Victor Frankenstein (or some other Frankenstein) as a character. But every once in a while, Mary Shelley herself shows up on screen. One of the things I plan to do on this blog is to occasionally offer a brief review of one of those portrayals.
Starting at the beginning, there’s Elsa Lanchester in 1935’s ‘The Bride of Frankenstein,’ directed by James Whale. In the film’s unexpected framing device, Lanchester — becoming the first actress to ever play Mary Shelley — is charming and coy, but probably not at all like the real Mary. Still, there’s something delightfully bod about the scene, in which the sequel to 1931’s ‘Frankenstein’ is succinctly set up in a scene where Mary’s paramour Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton) and the grandiose Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) congratulate Mary on her terrifying story.
She then tells them that there’s more to the story than she included on the page. And the movie jumps to the final scene of the previous film, and then on, as Dr. Frankenstein whips up a female (Lanchester again, with the craziest onscreen hairdo until Princess Leia would come along) as a companion for the original Creature (Boris Karloff). The movie has some crazy stuff in it, particularly the goofy miniature people created by another mad scientist, and it’s the film in which the Creature has the classic meet-cute moment with the blind man (“Fire is good!”).
The whole film is classic camp, and the Mary scenes are as campy as the rest. And yes, technically, Lanchester, at age 33, was about fifteen years too old to play 18-uyear-old Mary. But as a cinematic introduction of one of the most influential writers in English literature, ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ at least got one thing right: Byron and Shelly repeatedly tell her how brilliant she is.