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Kennedy Center
'Gods and Monsters'
Movies and Memories

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 20, 1998

  Movie Critic

Gods and Monsters
Ian McKellen stars in "Gods and Monsters" with Lynn Redgrave. (Lion Gates)

Bill Condon
Ian McKellen;
Brendan Fraser;
Lynn Redgrave;
Lolita Davidovich;
Kevin J. O'Connor
Running Time:
1 hour, 45 minutes
Contains full frontal male nudity
Adapted Screenplay
James Whale, the father of such '30s fright classics as "Frankenstein," looks back upon his creations in "Gods and Monsters," a moving portrait of the artist as an old man. A fascinating account of his final days, the drama draws on the speculative novel by Christopher Bram, Whale's campy films, Hollywood legend and the mythical man himself.

Ian McKellen, who shares quite a lot with the openly gay, gracious Englishman, resurrects Whale with a flair and wit the director surely would have relished. In a performance of enormous complexity and nuance, emotions seem to race across McKellen's face like hurrying clouds.

Set 20 years after Whale's heyday, the film finds the director and the industry he served well beyond their prime. Whale, who got fed up with the business, is all but forgotten by his peers. His only companion is his fiercely devoted Austrian housekeeper (fussy, funny Lynn Redgrave), who ever disapproves of his lifestyle and his work. "Your movie, Mr. Jimmy, is not my teacup," she says as the pair watch "The Bride of Frankenstein" on TV.

Whale, who suffers a series of strokes over the course of the film, begins to confuse memories with the here and now, a condition that worsens with time. A quick-witted fellow nonetheless, Whale trades gibes with the closeted George Cukor and practices his sexual wiles on the guileless yard man (Brendan Fraser in a touching, unself-conscious performance). "I have no interest in your body, Mr. Boone, I assure you of that," teases Whale, who inevitably persuades him to pose semi-nude.

But the handsome hunk isn't named Clay for nothing, and Whale gradually begins to think of him as another of his creations, a hulking, good-hearted monster in need of human companionship. Whale sometimes confuses himself with the doctor who would play God. Occasionally, the pair replace their allegorical counterparts in black-and-white scenes from "Frankenstein" that writer-director Bill Condon has interwoven throughout the film.

Condon, whose previous films include the horror mediocrities "Sister, Sister" and the sequel to "Candyman," has matured overnight judging by this marvelous meditation on making movies, old memories and turning the corner of Sunset Boulevard.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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