Gods And Monsters

I’m too big a fan of director James Whale (1896-1957) to take a film about him lightly, and I’m afraid this speculative 1998 movie about his last days won’t do. Yes, the man was gay, and Ian McKellen plays him with wit and flair, but reducing Whale to his gayness, which this quaint piece of cheese periodically does, robs us of too much. Like the other highlighted aspects of his character, career, and pastworking-class childhood, World War I, his Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, all presented in crude semaphorethis boils everything down to a few movie-familiar rudiments and ignores the rest; any five minutes of Whale’s The Great Garrick or The Old Dark House will tell you more about him, and certainly more of value, than all of this feature. Instead the film mainly replays Death in Venice and Sunset Boulevard, without either Wilder’s craft or the sensitivity of, for instance, Richard Kwietniowski’s Love and Death on Long Island. (There’s also a bitchy party supposedly given by George Cukor where a dead ringer for Elizabeth Taylor turns up.) The obligatory hunk is playednot very convincinglyby Brendan Fraser, though an unrecognizable Lynn Redgrave gives a more interesting performance as the obligatory German maid. Writer-director Bill Condon based his script on Christopher Bram’s novel Father of Frankenstein, which I hope is better. (JR)

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