Gods And Monsters

Sir Ian McKellen is divine and Brendan Fraser is even more divine. This small scale movie has more impact, comedy, humanity, and power packed into it than most of the money-making blockbusters showing around the corner at other cinemas. From beginning to end, it's a treat; in other words, it's a film with some meat to it.

(c)copyright MSVP Publicity/Paradise Entertainment Nederland
Christopher Bram's fictional novel, Father of Frankenstein, which appeared on the shelves of bookstores in 1995 proved not only an enjoyable read of a fascinating story, but also left one with the feeling that it would make a terrific film. Well, it has done. It all developed from one curious and unsolved event. In 1957 James Whale's body was found in the swimming pool outside his home in California, reminiscent of William Holden's body in "Sunset Boulevard". Considering that, when he was younger, director Whale enjoyed a somewhat flamboyant and openly gay lifestyle, with beautiful young boys often adorning the poolside during nocturnal festivities and god knows what else going on, his death left the door wide open for supposition and rumor. Could he have enticed some attractive piece of rough trade to his home and met his untimely demise? (It is possible, you know. Think of poor old Ramon Navarro.)

James Whale, for those too young to remember, was the director of "Showboat" and "The Invisible Man" as well as the memorable "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein". Executive producer Clive Barker (yes, the one of "Hellraiser" fame) proved an important link in bringing this project to the screen. He has several traits in common with Whale, including the fact that they both originally hailed from the north of England. It is almost surprising how little time has passed between the publication of Bram's novel and the realization of this film project (,which proves not only that things can be done quickly, but extremely well when those behind the scenes have the necessary interest, desire, dedication and impetus to do them.)

(c)copyright MSVP Publicity/Paradise Entertainment Nederland
The story takes place at Whale's (Ian McKellen) home in Pacific Palisades shortly after he has had a stroke and returned from hospital. Whale's housekeeper Hannah (Lynn Redgrave) has hired a new gardener named Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser) for a small sum, to tend to the plants and lawn. Once Whale sets his eyes on this towering image of masculine beauty, he decides to begin a conversation (about his tattoo, of all things) which is the onset to what becomes the beginning of a relationship. Although starting as a cat and mouse game of ritual seduction, it soon becomes an intense story of a platonic love. The aging director, troubled by and fearful of his increasing loss of faculties necessary for any quality of life, begins to focus on the Adonis as his potential angel of death. Boone lacks the sophistication of the older man, but begins slowly to recognize a friend in him who can fulfill certain inner needs. With his bulky mass, his angular face, and his childlike naiveté, the gardener even bears a striking resemblance to the cinematic monster that Whale created years before.

Director Bill Condon has done a fine job of writing the script as well as realizing it. Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser give flawless performances, as does Lynn Redgrave as the housekeeper. The rest of the cast, which includes Jack Plotnick as the humorous starstruck student interviewer, Rosalind Ayres as Elsa Lanchester, Jack Betts as Boris Karloff, are equally matched. All elements of production contribute to this fine film, but special mention should be made of Richard Sherman's production design and Bruce Finlayson's costume design (which transport the viewer smoothly into the 50's without making an obvious point of it) and Stephen M. Katz's camerawork (which supports dramatic action at every turn).

How much do you want to bet that "Clayton Boone" becomes a new term in several languages?

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett