Best Supporting Actor of 1935 – Ernest Thesiger (The Bride of Frankenstein)

Best Supporting Actor: Ernest Thesiger (The Bride of Frankenstein)

Other Notable Performances:  Frank Morgan (The Good Fairy), Edward Everett Horton (Top Hat), Wesley Ruggles (Ruggles of Red Gap), Edward Arnold (Crime and Punishment), Stepin Fetchit (Steamboat Round the Bend), Guy Standing (The Lives of a Bengal Lancer), Henry B. Walthall (A Tale of Two Cities), W.C. Fields (David Copperfield)

Let’s do it like the Academy Awards and get the supporting acting categories out of the way first.

There were a number of fine supporting roles by actors in 1935, especially from comedic movies.  Frank Morgan in The Good Fairy and Edward Everett Horton in Top Hat exceeded their usual good work.  And Stepin Fetchit, a shamefully derided actor, delivered another fine performance in the Will Rogers picture Steamboat Round the Bend.  (Yes, we were meant to laugh at the racial stereotype of the lazy, dim-witted black man, but we are far enough away from the racist intentions of the filmmakers that we can assess Fetchit’s worth as an actor objectively.  It wasn’t his fault that these were the only parts being written for him and he was genuinely funny in spite of the perpetuated racism.)

But there is one supporting performance of 1935 that topped them.  This one is also a comedic performance, however, it is featured in the shock-fest (for 1935) The Bride of Frankenstein.  Ernest Thesiger flamboyantly plays Dr. Septimus Pretorius, gleefully perpetuating horrible acts.  Like Dr. Frankenstein, he creates life, but his work is limited and needs Frankenstein’s collaboration to fully complete it.  That Frankenstein doesn’t want to help doesn’t faze a man who isn’t afraid to play the evil card; Pretorius has other ways to compel the beleaguered doctor to cooperate.

Thesiger’s razor-thinly coded homosexual character is one of the great movie villains.  He is truly rotten, playing God in ways Freddy Frankenstein could have only dreamed when his heart was still in the monster making business.  But Thesiger’s Pretorius is also genuinely charming.  His mad scientist credentials don’t detract from his amiable personality and gracious sociability.  He is one of the few people not to be repulsed by the Monster’s appearance, probably because he robs graves in his spare time and picnics in crypts.  He is as happy to chat with the Monster as he is anyone else.  His own exclusion from society has made him open to accepting that which others fear and hate.  That he does it with panache is all the more captivating.  Sure he often has an ulterior motive, but that would never compel him to be inhospitable or ungracious.  He may be evil, but he isn’t rude.

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6 Comments

Filed under 1935, Yearly Best Performances

6 responses to “Best Supporting Actor of 1935 – Ernest Thesiger (The Bride of Frankenstein)

  1. Another thoughtful presentation here Jason!

    Well, for me it’s a flat-footed tie between Thesinger and W.C. Fields, the latter of whom you name as a runner-up. Thus, I can applaud your selection here withough the slightest qualification! And I love the way you describe the actor, and define his accomplishments with the narrative. Well-done!

    Of your runners-up, I have no issue at all with any of these (especially Morgan!), though I prefer Barton Churchill in STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND.

    And I’d definitely include these as candidates for runner-up positions:

    Louis Jouvet (La Kermesse Heroique)
    Charles Vanel (L’Equipage)
    Basil Rathbone (Anna Karenina)
    Charles Ruggles (Ruggles of Red Gap)
    Roland Young (David Copperfield)
    Lionel Atwill (The Devil is a Woman)
    Cedric Hardwiche (Becky Sharp)
    Charles Laughton (Les Miserables)
    Franchot Tone (Mutiny on the Bounty)
    Arthur Treacher (Remember Last Night?)
    Victor Jory (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
    Mickey Rooney (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

    • As always, thank you for your kind words. Once again you have reminded me that I meant to add someone that slipped my mind. I love Charles Ruggles in “Ruggles of Red Gap.” How did I forget him??

      Good call on Churchill. He does have a fun part in “Steamboat Round the Bend.”

      The rest are good selections as well, though I haven’t seen “L’Equipage” and “Remember Last Night?”

  2. Jason, this is an easy call. Thesiger can be chilling as well as campy. One of my favorite moments is when he simply tells the Monster, “Now,” after a failed negotiation with Dr. F. A single syllable states his mastery of both the Monster and the situation. To be honest, I’ve never really considered alternatives to Thesiger and regret my inability to suggest any here.

    • You’re right Samuel, this was an easy call. That he so easily transitioned between camp and malevolence is a tribute to his skill. The scene you mention is right on. He is trying to sweet talk Frankenstein and when that doesn’t work his entire demeanor becomes darker. Don’t regret not being able to suggest alternatives; Thesiger IS the choice.

  3. Ray Culkin

    who WAS the “Bride of Frankenstein?”
    Answer –
    valerie Hobson
    NOT Elsa Lanchester

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