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James Whale : A New World of Gods and Monsters Paperback – 24 Aug 1998
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You may not recognize James Whale, but you would surely recognize his most prominent contribution to American popular culture: Frankenstein's monster, as portrayed by Boris Karloff. Whale, a British expatriate who made his way to Hollywood just as films were making the transition to the talkies, directed both the original Frankenstein (1931) and its sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein (1936), for Universal Pictures. Afraid of being pigeonholed as a horror director (he also made The Invisible Man and The Old Dark House), he eventually insisted on more mainstream projects, including the musical Show Boat and The Road Back, a sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front which flopped at the box office. Today, The Bride of Frankenstein is considered to be his best film, a work that combines moments of genuine suspense with a thoroughly macabre sense of humour.
In 1982, film historian James Curtis wrote his first biography of Whale. James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters is not a revision of that book, however, but a substantial reworking involving much in the way of new research. Whale's life story is emblematic of an entire generation of European émigrés who made critical artistic contributions to American film only to find themselves in ultimate obscurity. Although recent fictional and truthful accounts of Whale's life have emphasized his homosexuality--even the jacket cover of this book cites it as the reason for Hollywood's eventual rejection of Whale--Curtis himself tells a more nuanced tale. Certainly, Whale made no attempts to hide his preference for men; at the same time, he made his sexual orientation neither a prominent feature of his personal life nor his movies. While it's possible that he was fired from Columbia Pictures in 1941 because of homophobia on the part of studio owner Harry Cohn, it should also be noted that it didn't take much to get on the bad side of Harry Cohn and that, perhaps more to the point, Whale hadn't had a significant commercial hit in five years.
Curtis's biography is filled with fascinating anecdotes from David Lewis, Whale's longtime companion, and several of the actors who worked with Whale, including Peter Cushing and Gloria Stuart (Titanic). It also has a rich appreciation of the artistic qualities of Whale's work. It is, in short, the sort of critical biography that any film director would hope to have. --Ron Hogan
"Immaculately researched, smoothly written, honest without being lascivious, a model of its kind." --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Dr. H. James Birx
716 888-2745 USA
Mr. Curtis gives us a lot of detail about James Whale's life and I sometimes found myself skimming a bit, particularly in the beginning of his career as an actor. We get a lot of information about the films Mr. Whale directed, including the story behind the fascinating effects in The Invisible Man. The book is illustrated with numerous photographs spread through the book and is well written, particularly when Mr. Curtis speaks of James Whale in his years of retirement. The book is a must for fans of the Frankenstein movies and people interested in Universal Pictures but for the person who knows James Whale only thought his horror films, this book with bring a much needed perspective on his life. I found myself wanting to see the James Whale films as I was reading, including Show Boat and his lesser known films. In sum, this is an interesting portrait of who James Whale was and what Hollywood was like in the 1930s.
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