Universal’s magnificent The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) owed its success in no short measure to the music of Franz Waxman, who created a score that would become a yardstick for the genre and was mined by the Studio for many of its future fantasy productions – I well remember hearing it in the Flash Gordon serials that I enthusiastically followed as a child.
In Kenneth Alwyn’s recording we have the chance to hear much more of the film’s music than the ‘Creation of the Female Monster’ cue presented by Charles Gerhardt in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ the Franz Waxman compilation in Gerhardt’s Classic Film Scores series recorded in the 1970s for RCA Victor. A graceful minuet, pastoral music, a melancholic ‘Processional March’ (with the Ondes Martinot, here, suggesting the diabolical reason for its progress), storm music (a mix of Beethoven and Dukas), marvellous headlong excitement in ‘Village Chase’ and comical/lugubrious material – the quirky, inebriated ‘Bottle Sequence’ with organ gravitas and bugle calls - provide contrast to the monster music. And in the early cues like ‘Monster Entrance’, Waxman draws attention to the loneliness and isolation of Frankenstein’s creation in music that speaks of pathos as well as the grotesque and the horrific. Adding further characterisation, Waxman leaves us in no doubt how derisive are the female monster’s feelings for her supposed mate (‘Female Monster’).
But rightly, it is the incredibly imaginative and extraordinarily atmospheric music for the climactic "Creation of the Bride" cue and the succeeding ‘The Tower Explodes’ and ‘Finale’, that stick in the mind. Creepy, explosive, with breathtaking use of crescendo and ostinato timps, brilliantly evocative of electrical experimentation, yet also extraordinarily seductive, this is an orchestral tour-de-force unequalled in the genre.
On this occasion, I have nothing but praise for the Westminster Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendering of this Frankenstein music. Additionally they perform music from a comparative Universal horror rarity – The Invisible Ray made in the following year, 1936. This film starred Boris Karloff as a deranged professor who goes to Africa to discover a new element "Radium X" But his exposure to it renders him radioactive, and from then onit is death to whoever comes in contact with him. This album includes a 5-minute suite of Waxman’s music for the film including evocative, tongue-in-cheek African locale music with native drum rhythms and increasing tempi and a crescendo leading to a climax of discovery.
Richard H. Bush, in his illuminating notes, rightly pays tribute to the orchestration skills and taste of Clifford Vaughan who collaborated with Waxman on this and many other films. Vaughan was an organist and his expertise was tapped by Waxman for this score.
I will gloss over the remaining scores for these have been covered sufficiently in earlier reviews of other SILVA compilations. Suffice it to say that although these are very acceptable renditions in splendid sound, I still cherish the polished, well balanced and thrilling and romantic performances of Waxman’s music from Prince Valiant, Taras Bulba and Rebecca heard in the wonderful 1974 Charles Gerhardt compilation* with the crack National Philharmonic Orchestra (made up of the best players from all the London orchestras of the time) recorded in the magnificent acoustic of London’s Kingsway Hall, and supervised by the legendary Kenneth Wilkinson.
[*Charles Gerhardt’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’ – The Classic Film Scores of Franz Waxman (RCAVictor GD80708) comprises: Prince Valiant; A Place in the Sun; The Bride of Frankenstein; Sunset Boulevard; Old Acquaintance; Rebecca; The Philadelphia Story; and Taras Bulba]
Heartily recommended for the thrilling, evocative Bride of Frankenstein music.
Gary Dalkin adds:-
I was thrilled to finally get the chance to see The Bride
of Frankenstein on the big screen at a film festival in 2001. It was
unfortunately a disappointing experience, the film proving itself unworthy
of its classic reputation, being a tedious exercise utterly devoid of the
faux plausibility necessary for the suspension of disbelief, and thus
horror. More disappointing still, Waxman's legendary score is barely audible
in the film itself. What can be heard is more fantastical than horrific,
suiting the nature of the movie. It is only on disc that the score comes to
life - the recording in the film is execrable - and I have to agree with
Ian's comments that this is a superb, landmark work given a fine
performance. Though like Ian, I will always far more associate the music
with Flash Gordon, one of the first things I ever saw at the cinema as a
seven year old. My only disagreement is with Ian's claim that this is an
"orchestral tour-de-force unequalled in the genre"; just a few examples -
Dimitri Tiomkin's music for The Thing From Another World is alone far more
powerful, fantastical tour-de-force, while Bride score can not begin to
compete with such maelstroms as the major set-pieces from The Fury, John
Williams, or Hellraiser II: Hellbound, by Christopher Young.