Gods and Monsters
Behind every great movie about a famous director, is there another famous director?
Almost always — but not in the remarkable case of ”Gods and Monsters.” A meditation on the last days of English expat and Hollywood fright-flick auteur James Whale (he gave eternal life to ”Frankenstein,” ”The Bride of Frankenstein,” and ”The Invisible Man” in the ’30s), the picture was released last fall to wide acclaim. Most reviews rightly singled out the performers. Ian McKellen does masterfully varied work as the manipulative, failing, irrepressibly flirty gay movie director. Brendan Fraser, in marked contrast to his ”Mummy” sleepwalk, is a revelation as the gardener whom the suicidal Whale envisions as his liberator. Fraser employs an extraordinarily expressive vocabulary of awkward, birdlike postures to put across guilelessness. And Lynn Redgrave mugs deliciously as Whale’s housekeeper, a crucifix-wearing home edition of Igor (she’s always calling her boss ”master”) who could be a cousin to Cloris Leachman’s Frau Blücher in ”Young Frankenstein.”
Still, with ”Gods”’ video debut, the dialogue, even more than the actors delivering it, carries the most juice. Time, then, to amp up some accolades for writer-director Bill Condon.
Bill who? You know — the guy who beat out Elaine May and Terrence Malick for the Best Adapted Screenplay award in the final half hour of the Oscars, after Redgrave and McKellen lost in their acting categories. (Condon was so far back in the I’m-nobody section of the auditorium that his cast spent a long moment trying to spot him after his name was announced.)
Expertly stitched together from parts of Christopher Bram’s far more discursive novel, ”Father of Frankenstein,” Condon’s script is a tidy juggernaut of conversation — intense, chess-game conversation full of believable fits and starts. How he shaped it so well, and led his actors to find so many shifting currents in it, is what Mel Brooks would call a sweet mystery of life.