Dr. Bob's minions tire away endlessly to help the good Doctor in the name of science,
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Elsa Lanchester

By Melanie


This month, I want to talk about Elsa Lanchester. She didn’t have a career I followed as closely as some people I have talked about in the past year but she does have a place in my heart and, checking her filmography, I found there is at least one role I completely forgot about.

Of course, her most memorable film, and the one I first saw her in, was 1935's The Bride of Frankenstein. It was the very successful sequel to 1931's Frankenstein and it was an even better film than the original in many people’s opinions. Like everyone who has seen this movie, I loved this movie as a child. I didn't know back then that she played both the roles of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the Bride of the Monster. "The Monster's Mate," as it appeared in the credits, was listed as being played by "?" same as Boris Karloff's Monster in the original. I was always surprised that they decided to make the Bride of the Monster so attractive. I can only assume Hollywood decided it was better to not cover up her good looks.

Elsa Lanchester does a good job as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley at the beginning of the film, though this was a very small role. Her nonverbal acting as the Bride of the Monster is more memorable; it’s amazing how little screen time she had in the movie considering how much of an impact this role had on popular culture. While Frankenstein’s Monster had existed before and has been redesigned in so many films, very few have ever made him a living bride. Any time you see a female creature such as his wife or child (if you watched Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School), you see Elsa’s design. For a role that didn’t have much screen time and didn't typecast an actor, this role is immensely iconic, unlike almost any I can think of.

My 2nd grade teacher often showed Mary Poppins and I think it would be fair to say that I saw this film no less than 40 times in one school year. I still love this movie to this day and I never realized that Elsa Lanchester played Katie Nanna, the nanny the Banks children torment enough that she leaves at the beginning of the film. For the brief amount of screen time here (I’m noticing a pattern), she played a harsh woman; I don’t think I would have wanted her as a nanny either.

The next film I saw that she was in was The Inspector General with Danny Kaye. I loved Danny Kaye as a child but, unfortunately, I only got to see this film a few times. Elsa played Maria who was married to the corrupt mayor of the town and becomes very smitten with Danny Kaye’s Georgi, who is mistakenly believed to be the Inspector General. Elsa is rather funny in this movie as she attempts to flirt and convince Danny Kaye to take her away from her life. She comes across as both snobbish and rather charming, though that may just be Elsa Lanchester shining through. The Inspector General is currently in the public domain so it is fairly easy to find. I would recommend this movie to anyone who has not seen it.

Elsa also appeared as Jessica Marbles in Murder by Death, one of the greatest mystery comedies of all time. It was written by Neil Simon with a cast that included such icons as Eileen Brennan (remembered best as Mrs. Peacock from Clue), Truman Capote, Peter Falk (Columbo himself), Sir Alec Guinness, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, and James Cromwell to name a few. This is another film I highly, highly recommend. In the movie, Truman Capote’s character calls the greatest detectives in the world together to solve a case of murder. Each detective wants to solve the crime for honor, for glory, for money and for their own lives. Each character is based off of famous detectives such as the Thin Man, Sam Spade, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot and Charlie Chan. This film is hilarious; they even call out each of the characters for the stupid things they always do in their stories, keeping clues from the audience or making such crazy (yet correct) logic jumps that the audience could never have followed the line of reasoning.  Elsa Lanchester was wonderful in this movie. She had the perfect mix of comedy, intelligence and arrogance you would expected in one of the world’s greatest detectives like Miss Marple, which Jessica Marbles was based off of.

She also appeared in Terror in the Wax Museum as Julia Hawthorn. I wish I could remember more about this film. I know I saw it; I know I liked it but I have no memory of the film. I know I saw in in 2009 while Bob was watching films from the year he was born and this was one of my top picks.

I found out while writing this that she did a lot of fantasy films and shows designed for children; none of which I saw as a child. I think I need to track these down and show them to all my nieces, nephew and any child I have one day. She was also supposed to appear in House of the Long Shadows as Victoria Grisbane but, unfortunately, she was unable to travel to London to make this film due to her health. As much as I loved House of the Long Shadows, I think it would have been even better with her, as she would have fit in better with the aging horror icons she would have shared the screen with: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and John Carradine.

Though she had a wide career, I will always see her as the Bride of the Monster and I think that’s okay. No one has been able to make such an iconic character with so little time. You could ask people what Dracula or Frankenstein’s Monster looks like and you will get many answers. If you ask about what the Bride of Frankenstein looks like, everyone has the same image: Elsa Lanchester's.




Previously on Minion Musings...