Gods & Monsters: 20 Years Later?

 DATELINE:   Fraser, Olyphant, or Caviezel?

Whale & Monster

As part of our continuing shock at how many years have passed since certain minor classic films have been around, we were stunned to note that it is nearly that long since Ian McKellan played the director of Frankenstein, in 1957, before his suicide.

James Whale was gay, and the Bill Condon film is based on novelized account of his last days in 1957 and is titled Gods and Monsters. Partly owing to John Hurt playing a literary critic stalking a teen heart-throb in Love and Death on Long Island the year before, we had McKellan with a sunset crush on his gardener.

How true is it all?  At least we were not treated to one of those disclaimers, “Based on a true story.”

Whale had long since left the Hollywood sound stage, partly owing to box office poison. He had made some literate and funny horror films that stand the test of time: Frankenstein and Bride thereof.

With his mind slipping away from a stroke or some form of Alzheimer’s Disease, he puts his attention on Brendan Fraser, a most handsome young yardman with a flat top hairdo that is just too preciously reminiscent of the Monster designed by Whale in 1931.

Fraser, at the time, was part of a trio of actors who could have been interchangeable in the role: Timothy Olyphant and Jim Caviezel were the other two. All the same age and style.

McKellan is, as always, brilliant and plays off Lynn Redgrave as his unattractive housekeeper. He puts the moves on the unwilling Fraser, but it is all subterfuge to force the homophobic former Marine into killing him and putting him out of his misery.

A coda to the sensitive, episodic incidents in Whale’s final days, is perhaps the weakest link in the movie as Condon had no idea how to end it, that is otherwise a powerful biographical movie.

Ian McKellan’s Best Parts

DATELINE: Playing the Part

McKellan with Milo Parker Mr. Holmes, of course!

When the Great Thespian gathers together his early autobiographical photos and files, you know you are in for a treat. Ian McKellan sits down for a life achievement interview. It’s called McKellan: Playing the Part.

Now he has been great fodder for TV laugh talk shows for years, mostly owing to his dry wit and coming out at age 50 as a gay man during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

His great roles are in films like Gods and Monsters, Apt Pupil, and Richard III, though he is best loved for his superhero movies and Harry Potter junk. He is a good sport about the green screen stuff, but it’s not really acting to him.

We do see him in many rare behind-the-stage clips and playing Shakespeare on TV. He was quite a good-looker as a young man, though no one ever told him so, he admits.

He grew up at college with the likes of Derek Jacobi and Corin Redgrave. It was heady company. He admits his life has been one mostly of life in the company of strangers. Heavens, he must have relied on much kindness.

Like many middle-class Brits, he had to learn a posher accent and quickly discovered the best way to do it was hanging out at theaters. He started young, watching backstage, and appearing in any and every play as a teenager.

An interesting sidelight is that Milo Parker (costar of Mr. Holmes with McKellan) plays the actor as a boy. We presume Mr. McKellan had something to do with this casting. He thought he should have won something for Mr. Holmes—but forgot he already won a Screen Actors Guild award for something or other.

McKellan influenced many actors and stage people over the years. He has always taken some pride in that aspect of his life, which has been solitary without family or children, a conscious decision of a gay man. He has made the acting profession his family.

 

 

Mr. Holmes: Treatment of Elderly Holmes Astounds

DATELINE: New Movies, Old Heroes

With all the new Featured imageand revised Sherlock Holmes films and television series overwhelming those devoted to the Doyle canon, what a breath of fresh air to find ourselves facing a brilliant new movie last night: Mr. Holmes with Ian McKellan playing Sherlock at 70 in flashbacks, and 93 in 1947.

In no mean feat, McKellan manages to play the active Holmes, unable to solve his final case, driving him into retirement, having eschewed Watson. His new housekeeper’s young son seems to urge him to come out of retirement at 93—but Holmes is dubious.

Interesting and subtle difference between a spry Holmes failing in his last case at 70 and quitting–and doddering and with senility and memory loss at 93–emerge in McKellan’s sharp performance. Even Holmes with Alzheimer’s is better than most detectives with all their faculties.

With all his favorites dead and gone, he lives as a beekeeper in Sussex (true to stories) and now regrets he did not solve his last case–and decides to do so before he dies.

Holmes must come face to face with the horrors of 20th century progress—from Hiroshima to bad movie depictions of him. He attends a showing, unnoticed, and disdains the movie.

Fascinating and ultimately moving portrait of Holmes, the film directed by Bill Condon is absolutely true to original stories (unlike one highly touted American series).

Amusing trivia abounds, but this film is more than clever. It is deeply moving and transfixing as we watch the ravages of old age upon an icon.

The teenage star of YOUNG SHERLOCK, Nicholas Rowe, returns to the screen to play the movie version of adult Holmes! Clever movie with many Hitchcock references and Holmes touches.

Whether this turns into a franchise of old Sherlock stories depends entirely on the decision of Ian McKellan.