Elsa Lanchester stands next to gods and monsters

28 October 2011

She was director James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935), of course, and she would have been 109 today if she were still alive. Elsa Lanchester, born on this day in 1902 and died in 1986. That hair and that wide-eyed horror at her condition is so memorable, as much to me as the original Frankenstein (1931)’s distress. She was created solely to be The Monster’s partner, his friend and bride; yet when she looks on him and realizes her fate, she cannot stop screaming.

I can’t ever think of these films without thinking of the film Gods and Monsters (1998), a vivid fictional account of James Whale’s later years as an aging gay man in Hollywood during the horrors of the 1950s, a man whose memories become confused with his films. One of the best gay films ever, and all the better for Ian McKellan’s magnificent performance. Yet I’ve always wondered what kind of a tale might be told not by the god or the monster, but the Bride whose creation — like Eve’s — so much presumed women’s compliance with male plans and fantasies.

4 Responses to “Elsa Lanchester stands next to gods and monsters”

  1. JE Says:

    Oooo! You should write it. That’s a fantastic idea. “Bride.” It’ll be what John Gardner’s “Grendel” was to “Beowulf”!

  2. Gratiana Says:

    Hi Didion,

    How luminous Elsa looks as the creature’s bride.

    And with the filmmaker’s rather ironically and symbolically having Elsa Lancaster also portray Mary Shelley as the film goes into the Frankenstein tale we get a sense that just as the bride could not control her fate, so too did Mary Shelley have to face criticism, rebuke, and disbelief that she–a woman–could write such a tale.

    Thanks for highlighting Elsa. She was definitely an unsung actress.

    Cheers! Grati ;->

    • Didion Says:

      I just watched the film again and it’s cheesy and terrible, yet somehow strangely compelling. It’s tragic that Lanchester only got a few brief moments as the Bride. But that weird intro with the Shelleys and Byron — how terrifically weird and wonderful.

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