Universal Monster Marathon – James Whale

If Universal ruled the early horror cinema, then the undisputed king of the genre was director, James Whale. He may have only made four horror movies but each of them is an undisputed masterpiece of the genre. Frankenstein (1931), along with its sequel,  is probably the best known of Whale’s horror movies. The movie made a mega star out of Boris Karloff but for all its visceral delights there is a sombre  beauty in each and every frame.

Whale was born in 1889 into an upper middle class English family and the young man was captured by the Germans while serving during world war one and it was during his captivity that he discovered his love for the theater, after putting on a show or fellow POWs. After the war Whale studied drama and soon became an actor, set designer and director. His first success as a director was with a stage play of Journey’s End. The play was so successful that it toured in the US and Whale fell in love with the country and decided to settle there.

Whale eventually found success in the cinema but his openly gay lifestyle (unsual in the 1920’s and 30’s) led to some of his films being viewed as containing homosexual subtexts.  His refusal to stay in the closet would eventually ruin his career. Critics have stated that Whale’s homosexuality is expressed in both Frankenstein and Bride as “a vision both films had of the monster as an antisocial figure in the same way that gay people were ‘things’ that should not have happened”.

His second horror movie was 1932’s The Old Dark House in which Whale’s one time lover was cast as Horace Femm. This movie was followed up by The Invisible Man and then, what may very well be the finest horror movie ever made, The Bride of Frankenstein.

Whale directed many more non horror movies that he did chillers, and yet they have been largely forgotten and it is for his horror work with Universal that he is chiefly remembered.

Whale committed suicide on 29 May 1957 by drowning himself in his backyard swimming pool.

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One Response to “Universal Monster Marathon – James Whale”

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