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James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters
     

James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters

by James Curtis
 

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James Whale directed some of the most stylish movies of the 1930s, but he was most successful in a genre he virtually invented. Most famously in Frankenstein, but also in The Invisible Man and The Bride of Frankenstein, Whale created a new type of horror film -sophisticated, tragic, and morbidly humorous.Whale made grim war dramas, light comedy, adventure, mystery,

Overview

James Whale directed some of the most stylish movies of the 1930s, but he was most successful in a genre he virtually invented. Most famously in Frankenstein, but also in The Invisible Man and The Bride of Frankenstein, Whale created a new type of horror film -sophisticated, tragic, and morbidly humorous.Whale made grim war dramas, light comedy, adventure, mystery, and even a movie version of the musical Show Boat. However, his career faltered and, being openly gay, he found work increasingly hard to get. He quit his film work just ten years after the triumph of Frankenstein, and died as a result of suicide. James Curtis has written the definitive life of James Whale, taking him from poverty in rural England to the squalor of a German prison camp, to the excitement of London's West End, and ultimately to Hollywood, where he profoundly influenced several generations of filmmakers. James Curtis is also the author of W. C. Fields (2003) and Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges (1982).

Editorial Reviews

Scott Eyman
It is immaculately researched, smoothly written, honest without being lascivious, a model of its kind....I don't expect to read a better film book this year. -- Boston Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Shortly before his death, film director James Whale admitted that he'd looked in the mirror and realized that he'd launched "this horror" into the world that he couldn't stop. Was he referring to his creation of the classic film Frankenstein (1931) or its inferior off-shoots? Was he alluding to his inability (despite succeeding in mainstream genres) to transcend his reputation as a specialist in monster movies? Curtis (Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges) narrates in seamless detail how this innovative son of a West Midlands coal man rose from obscurity to acclaim as a British theater and Hollywood director. Trained as a West End actor and stage manager, Whale gained recognition for his rendition of the WWI war drama Journey's End. He traveled to Broadway and finally Hollywood to adapt Journey's End (1930) to the movies. Curtis charts Whale's triumphs as well as his failures, lending insight into the convoluted collaborative world of moviemaking in the days of Hays Office censorship. Many of Whale's mainstream films (Waterloo Bridge; One More River; etc.) disappeared while Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein never went out of circulation. Showboat (1956) marked the pinnacle of Whale's career and was followed by a gradual decline and slide into suicide. One comes away from this quixotic and compelling biography with the feeling that Whale, who was homosexual, not only reinvented the monster movie but also himself, and that his particular genius was often ill appreciated except in the one genre he disdained. 60 b&w photos. (May)
Library Journal
Since most film students today would probably not recognize the name of James Whale, this biography of the director of the groundbreaking film Frankenstein comes just in time. Growing up in the bleak industrial center of Britain, Whale rose to prominence early in the century as a set designer and director for the London stage. He emigrated to California just as Hollywood started making talkies and joined Universal Studios. Whale almost single-handedly created the previously unknown horror-film genre in the United States with his 1931 masterpiece of the tragic monster, starring a then-unknown Boris Karloff. Whale went on to direct The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, and Show Boat, among others. Despite the critical praise for these subsequent films, he was never able to surpass his early success, and he retired in 1940, a forgotten footnote in cinematic history. This well-researched film biography is an exhaustive study of the man's work, though not of his life, and is thus recommended for larger and academic collections, especially collections dedicated to arts and the cinema.Jeff Ingram, Newport P.L., OR
William F. Mann
"James Curtis has attempted, and largely succeeded, inpresenting Whale to us with the myths and latter-day gay obeisance stripped away. Whale was a highly original artists, who like many, failed to grasp the enduring significance of what came to be his masterpieces.... An expanded version of an earlir biography Curtis first wrote in 1982, James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters is a fascinating and exhaustive study of Hollywood's most unique move (and moster) maker." -- Lambda Book Report
Kirkus Reviews
A well-crafted, detailed biography of the director of such classics as Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and the 1936 version of Showboat. Though he is usually identified as a "horror film" director, Whale, in the best tradition of the old-time Hollywood directors, took on all genres, from war films to musicals. His directing career was relatively brief and late in life but, as Preston Sturges biographer Curtis (Between Flops, 1982, etc.) convincingly demonstrates, Whale, like Dr. Frankenstein, has been unfairly overshadowed by his creations. He had a real style, a precise directorial vision that inflected everything from shot selection to costumes and scenery. Whale came to film by accident. A POW during WW I, he participated in a number of prison theatricals and realized he'd finally found his milieu. At the end of the war, he used his substantial gambling winnings from rich officer prisoners, to stake an acting career. He enjoyed some minor success, but eventually turned to directing, again with little success, until the WW I drama Journey's End became a surprise hit. He would direct the film version as well and its worldwide boffo box office made him the new golden boy in Hollywood. A little more than ten years later, a string of flops spelled the end of his career. In a notoriously closeted town, Whale made no secret of his homosexuality and the fact that he lived with another man. Current critical theory demands that an artist's homosexuality be reflected in his/her work, and others, including Vito Russo, have argued, for example, that Frankenstein is about the tragedy of being in the closet. Curtis tends to dismissthis line of thought, arguing that the most significant celluloid aspect of Whale's homosexuality was his inability to direct passionate heterosexual love scenes. While this is not an in-depth, psychologically rich biography, and Curtis's writing tends to be wooden, as an account of Whale's work, it is first-rate. (60 b&w photos)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780816643868
Publisher:
University of Minnesota Press
Publication date:
09/15/2003
Edition description:
1
Pages:
480
Sales rank:
914,243
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)

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