James Whale, the director of that freakish pair of love stories, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, was found face-down in his Pacific Palisades swimming pool one morning in 1957. An apparent suicide, but, because Whale had never made much of a secret about being gay, rumors flew. Now, novelist Christopher Bram and director Bill Condon have come up with their own explanation for how Whale spent his last days on a planet he'd once so movingly horrified. The opposite of a tabloid hit job, Gods and Monsters is a ruminative look at the major themes of both Whale's memorable movies and memorable life. Stretching the syllables out like they were so much taffy, Ian McKellen plays the famous "die-reck-tore," and Brendan Fraser is the sensitive brute who mows Whale's lawn, trims his hedges, poses for sketches and, across great gulfs of age, class and sexuality, becomes his friend. Whale, stricken by a stroke, has what he calls "an electrical storm going on in my head," his whole life flashing before his eyes. And, at first, it appears that Fraser's Clay is the Angel of Death--the Frankenstein monster come to take his real creator away. But their relationship runs deeper than that, and so does this hauntingly touching movie.
McKellen is wonderful as a man facing the death of desire; and Fraser, with Encino Man and George of the Jungle behind him, adds to his creature-feature menagerie--rough trade, indeed.