Gods and Monsters

The film Gods and Monsters, which won an Oscar for best screenplay, portrays the true story of the last days of James Whale, the director of the first few Frankenstein movies, based on Christopher Bram’s book Father of Frankenstein. The title is a line from the film Bride of Frankenstein, one of many clips from Whale’s films during the movie. Whale (played by Ian McKellen) has had a stroke recently and is convinced that he does not have long to live. Despite efforts of his moralistic and protective housekeeper Hanna (played by Lynn Redgrave), who would lose her lucrative job if Whale dies, he insists on living life to the full to the end, which came through suicide in 1957. However, since he is gay, Whale directs his attention to seducing males. He asks a gay biographer to strip, but the man is too campy to be of interest. Whale next ogles at gardeners on his property, and the money attracts one in particular, Clayton Boone (played by Brendan Fraser), to pose topless. Although the gardener is unaware that his face is strangely like Frankenstein, he soon finds out that Whale is gay, and he draws the line at sex with Whale while becoming his friend at a time when his heterosexual relationships are going sour. For Whale, this is a sign of the gardener’s latent homosexuality, and the gardener does not realize that he least providing Whale with enticing male companionship and unusual dialog, perhaps all that Whale could handle anyway. While the person-to-person plot develops, which is perhaps the essence of the film—a final seduction, however unsuccessful—, we learn that Whale’s openly gay lifestyle resulted in ostracism within Hollywood, whereas gay George Cukor (director of A Star Is Born and more than sixty other films) keeps his lifestyle in the closet Mondays through Fridays, has naked studs over for weekend swims, and prospers. Whale’s revenge at Cukor consists of bringing his gardener to a reception held by Cukor, who drools at the sight of Whale’s apparent “kept boy.” Gods and Monsters parallels the film version of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, wherein an elderly man goes on vacation knowing that his lifeforce is receding but enjoying his last days by flirting with a young boy at the beach, albeit without the satisfaction of having a single conversation exchanged between them. Moviegoers will perhaps better understand in more depth from Gods and Monsters than from any film yet made the tragedy that befalls a decent human being when he is cast in the role of “dirty old man” by conventional society. MH