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James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters

James Whale directed some of the most stylish and unusual movies of the 1930s, but he was most successful in a genre he virtually invented.

For it was Whale who, in 1931, took a lanky, middle-aged actor and sometimes truck driver named Boris Karloff and cast him in one of the most widely-seen films in the history of the cinema--as the tragic, patchwork creature of "Frankenstein".

Based on the phenomenal success of "Frankenstein", Whale directed three more classics of horror, each more sophisticated and morbidly humorous: "The Old Dark House", "The Invisible Man", and "The Bride of Frankenstein".

Whale also directed grim war dramas, light comedy, adventure, and mystery. The original "Waterloo Bridge" was a James Whale production, as was the classic swashbuckler "The Man in the Iron Mask". He even made the definitive version of the Hammerstein and Kern musical "Show Boat".

However, Whale’s success was short-lived. With his troubled production of Remarque’s "The Road Back", he was pitted against ominous forces that didn’t want the film made. His career faltered and, being openly gay, he found work increasingly hard to get. He quit just ten years after the triumph of "Frankenstein", and died a suicide only months before the film’s eventual release to television.

"A New World of Gods and Monsters" is the definitive life of James Whale, taking him from the poverty of England’s Black Country to the squalor of a German prison camp, the excitement of London’s West End, and--ultimately--to Hollywood, where he profoundly influenced several generations of filmmakers.

Originally published by Faber and Faber, 1998. New edition published by University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

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