It's A Miracle The Bride Of Frankenstein Ever Made It Past The Censors

There's a long history of horror films causing public controversy that stems back to the early days of the genre, including the Universal classic monster movies. "Bride of Frankenstein" was subject to so much meddling from the Hays Office that it's a wonder the film was not only released but kept its reputation as a historically classic film from the era of pre-war horror.

Even before the release of "Bride of Frankenstein, the original "Frankenstein" film was under threat of censorship. Although "Frankenstein" was a pre-code feature released in 1930 before the code went into full effect in 1934, state censor boards in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania had serious issues with the scene in which the monster accidentally drowns a little girl in a lake as well as Dr. Frankenstein's declaration comparing himself to God. Reissues of the film released after the Hays Code era cut these controversial moments, and the lost footage wasn't restored until home video releases in the 1980s and '90s. "Bride of Frankenstein," on the other hand, was subject to even more censorship by the strict and watchful eye of the Hays Code censors.

Beginning Issues

The struggle over "Bride of Frankenstein" started when the Hays Office objected to the film's original script written by John L. Balderston. Director James Whale, who was used to dealing with censors during his term directing the previous "Frankenstein," eventually rejected Balderston's work because he thought its tone was overly dreary. However, the ordeal was a sign of what was yet to come. Whale kept Balderston's opening, a conversation between author Mary Shelley, her husband Percy, and the poet Lord Byron. This scene drew the ire of Hays Code censors due to its implied condemnation of the sanctity of marriage. Specifically, the line "We are all three infidels, scoffers of marriage ties ..." was cut, and this is before the Monster even shows up!

Joseph Breen, head of the Hays Office, knew that he was going to be censoring the new "Frankenstein" picture based on how much controversy the first entry experienced. As he explains in a quote featured in film historian David J. Skal's book "Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture":

"Your studio is, of course, too well aware of the difficulty which attended the release of the first Frankenstein picture... based principally on the two elements of undue gruesomeness and alleged irreverent attitude..."

Breen referenced "ten separate scenes in which the monster either strangles or tramples people to death," though the final cut of the film shows Frankenstein's Monster strangle only one person at the beginning of the story. Besides the editing out of all this murder and infidelity, the censorship board also targeted instances of alleged blasphemy.

Crucifixions and Queer-Codedness

The censors were already monitoring "Bride of Frankenstein" for any signs of religious issues due to the infamous "Now I know what it feels like to be God" line in the original "Frankenstein." This time around, comparisons to God were cut out of the script while they were still in written form. In addition, a scene in which the monster runs through a graveyard and tries to "rescue" Jesus from a crucifix was ultimately scrapped. Interestingly, another scene in which the villagers tie the monster up to a pole was spared despite its obvious crucifixion imagery.

The most surprising slip past the censor board, however, was the homosexual subtext that Whale, who was one of the very few openly gay people working in Hollywood, cleverly hid. Skal mentions that the idea that Dr. Frankenstein's mentor, Dr. Pretorious, wants to create a new monster together certainly has its not-so-hidden messages about same-sex partnerships. If that wasn't enough, Pretorius mentions that while Dr. Frankenstein was "piecing together dead tissue," he was growing his homunculi experiments "as Nature does — from seeds," a bit of suggestive language to prove the point more.

An Uncensored Legacy

Even after the Hays Office finally approved "Bride of Frankenstein," the film still met backlash from individual states and countries abroad. Ohio, where the state censorship board demanded heavy cuts related to female characters, seemed particularly offended. China wanted to cut four important scenes, while Hungary, Palestine, and Trinidad straight-out banned the film. Sweden proposed editing a whopping 25 scenes out of the film — so much content that Universal refused to hold screenings there.

Still, "Bride of Frankenstein" has endured, becoming more iconic as film historians have analyzed the creativity with which James Whale slyly avoided the wrath of the censors. The film is a snapshot of an earlier era when filmmakers had to consider now outdated rules and practices when piecing together their works. Whale was still able to incorporate themes and imagery that technically broke no Hays Code rules, allowing room for plenty of analysis and thoughtful criticism. In particular, the film's slyly hidden gay subtext made for one of the earliest pieces of queer horror cinema. There may be sizeable amount of story ideas and footage that never saw the light of day in "Bride of Frankenstein," but that doesn't detract from the classic scenes that survived the Hays Code.