Tuesday, April 23, 2013

James Whale - Director

"A director must be pretty bad if he can't get a thrill out of war, murder, robbery."
                                                                                                          James Whale-

A British-born actor, theater and film director, James Whale is perhaps best remembered for his contribution to the horror genre directing such classics as Frankenstein, The Brideof Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and a horror comedy film the Old Dark House. Whale discovered his creative side early in life and studied art but with the outbreak of World War I Whale enlisted into the British Army and became an officer. During the war he was captured by the Germans. It was during his time as a German POW that he developed a strong interest in drama. He lent his talents to the amateur theatrical productions which took place in the POW camp working as an actor, a writer, producer, and even set designer. After the war Wells attempted to find work as a cartoonist however he was unable to secure a steady income. It was then Whales began his theatrical career working as an actor, set designer and builder, stage director and director. In 1928 Wales took over the directorial reins of a then little known play called Journey's End.  It was the success of this play that brought Wells to the attention of film producers. His timing could not have been more perfect for it was during this time that motion pictures were making the transition from silent to talkies and the studios were feverishly hiring actors and directors with experience and dialogue. Whale’s first Hollywood contract was with Paramount Studios where he worked as dialogue director for the film THE LOVE DOCTOR (1929). Whale was then hired by British producers Michael Baleen and Thomas Welsh to direct the film version of Journey's End. With the success of Journey's End both in Great Britain and America Whale became one of the top British film directors. Whale would go on to direct a dozen more films for Universal Studios between 1930 and 1936, including such horror greats as Frankenstein(1931), The Old Dark House(1932), The Invisible Man(1933), and The Bride of Frankenstein(1935). It was during this time he developed a style noted for it's highly movable camera technique and  German Expressionism influence. Sadly, despite his success as a director, James Whales film career took a nosedive with the release of his film The Road Back (1937). The Road Back was a sequel to Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). During its production the German government which was under Nazi rule at the time asserted that the film gave an "untrue and distorted picture of the German people" and threatened to boycott all Universal films if the film was not altered to show a more favorable impression of  Germany.  As a result the studio execs caved in to Germany’s demands and ordered a reshoot of the film's scenes and a radical re-edit. Yet despite Universal's compliance with the Germans demands the film was banned in Germany anyway and the German government also persuaded China, Greece, Italy, and Switzerland to ban the film in their countries as well. The Road Back was a disaster for James Whale and marked the beginning of his decline as an A-list movie director. He was then assigned to direct a string of B- rated movies before retiring from film in 1941. With the outbreak of World War II, Whale volunteered his talents to make a training film for United States Army entitled Personnel Placement in the Army. He later teamed up with actress Claire DuBrey and together they created the Brentwood Service Players. Occupying the 100 seat theater the Brentwood Service Players would provide 60 seats free of charge to military personnel and the remaining seats were sold to civilians with the proceeds were donated to various wartime charities.

Whale returned to Broadway in 1944 as director of Hand in Glove, a psychological thriller. The play was a flop and ran for only 40 performances. Whale's final film as director was a short subject based on the one-act play Hello Out There. Whale returned to live in Hollywood in November of 1952 there he settled into a quiet routine with the exception of throwing all-male swimming parties at his home. Tragically on May 29, 1957, Whale committed suicide by drowning himself in his swimming pool. Initially, Whale's death was ruled an accident. It was learned decades later that Whale had left a suicide note which his former lover David Lewis withheld. Lewis finally released the suicide note shortly before his own death in 1987.

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