A review of the ' Bride of the Monster '
By Gary D. Rhodes with Tom Weaver. Albany, Ga.: Bear Manor Media, 2015, 288 pages. $24.95.
Everything and anything you'd like to know about Edward D. Wood Jr.'s sci-fi/horror epic BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1956) is now available thanks to this typically exhaustive, large-format paperback from renowned Bela Lugosi expert Gary Don Rhodes and Tom Weaver, who's made a career of shedding light -- warts and all -- on the movies and personalities that have formed the obsession of us "Monster Kids" for generations.
The book is the fourth in the "Scripts from the Crypt" Collection Weaver is editing for Bear Manor Media, which has emerged in recent years as a primary source of information on little-known and arcane film and television studies. Previous entries in this series include Curt Siodmak's BRIDE OF THE GORILLA (1951), Jack Pollexfen's THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN (1956) and THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON (1959), directed by and starring Robert Clarke. The fifth "Scripts from the Crypt" volume, ED WOOD AND THE LOST LUGOSI SCREENPLAYS, was released May 26 and focuses on the two scripts Wood wrote for Lugosi but were never produced, THE GHOUL GOES WEST (a.k.a. THE PHANTOM GHOUL) and THE VAMPIRE'S TOMB.
Ostensibly, the main feature of ED WOOD'S BRIDE OF THE MONSTER is a reproduction of the shooting script for what became Lugosi's last starring feature; as pointed out by the authors, the odd footage of the onetime screen Dracula that Wood used for PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, which Rhodes proves was first distributed in 1958 and not the following year, as reported by most reference sources, "doesn't count." But the book also offers a rewarding production history by Rhodes, fun facts from Weaver, and fascinating features from contributors Michael Lee and Dr. Robert J. Kiss on, respectively, BRIDE being the only Wood film to merit an original music score (think about it) and the distribution record of the film upon its release.
There are also equally absorbing appendices ranging from a biography by Kiss of Ben Frommer, the guy who played the tramp in the police station scene of BRIDE (and who cabbaged his biggest line of dialogue from his friend Lawrence Tierney's DILLINGER, 1945) to the script of "The Bela Lugosi Revue," a show the actor performed at a Las Vegas night club in 1954. Inclusion of the program from a St. Louis stage production of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE the same year raises a question to challenge the authors and their research skills: is Ken McEwen, who was hero Mortimer Brewster to Lugosi's villainous Jonathan, the same Ken McEwen who was associate director and occasional actor on the gothic daytime television drama DARK SHADOWS, which borrowed so much from DRACULA? Just wondering.
Rhodes, whose TOD BROWNING'S DRACULA (2014) is about the last word on the film that made Lugosi a star, informs and entertains with his account of BRIDE's bumpy production. Although he ran into the same frustrations as other scholars in separating fact from fancy about Wood, Rhodes provides about as complete a history of BRIDE and its genesis as one could ask. Especially significant is the credit afforded to Alex Gordon, who as an aspiring filmmaker in early '50s Hollywood, provided the basis for BRIDE with the original scenario THE ATOMIC MONSTER, which almost got on the production slate at Allied Artists as a reteaming of Lugosi with Boris Karloff.
Jack Broder's use of that title for his 1953 Realart reissue of Lon Chaney Jr.'s MAN-MADE MONSTER (1941) led to the project being known as BRIDE OF THE ATOM when Gordon and Wood later collaborated on the script. Weaver attributes the better parts of the screenplay that became BRIDE OF THE MONSTER to Gordon's contribution. But by the time BRIDE first hit theaters in January 1956, mostly in double feature situations, Gordon (1922-2003) had parted company with his ex-roommate Wood and become a successful producer at American International Pictures.
Intriguing, too, is the authors' stance that BRIDE is the closest to a professional project as any Wood-directed film (1954's JAIL BAIT, which Wood also co-wrote with Gordon, comes in a close second). Faint praise, perhaps, given all the disrespect BRIDE has earned for its impoverished budget, but it is a better looking, shot and put-together endeavor than Wood's other horrors of the '50s, PLAN 9 and NIGHT OF THE GHOULS. BRIDE lacks the patchwork inclusion of unrelated scenes Wood worked into the continuity of those films to pad the running time. Remember, too, its original music (by Frank Worth) in place of the usual library cues Wood normally used to save money.
And Lugosi makes the most of his mad scientist role of Dr. Eric Vornoff. Despite his declining health, he gives as solid a performance as could be hoped. Lugosi's famous "home" speech, one of Wood's (or Gordon's) more inspired pieces of scripting, remains as affecting as ever with the actor's heartfelt delivery. As Weaver notes, "Lugosi may have ended his starring movie career on a sour note, but at least it was a sour high note."