James Whale
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Attore e regista teatrale londinese, James Whale si trasferì a Hollywood per affrontarvi una breve carriera cinematografica (praticamente soltanto gli anni trenta), e, ritiratosi dagli schermi, si convertì alla pittura.

La sua più celebre fatica è l'adattamento del romanzo gotico- fantascientifico di Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1931). Il povero essere solitario del romanzo divenne così un efferato folle omicida. Il conte Frankenstein e l'assistente nano gobbo rimediano organi e membra nel vicino cimitero; e il gobbo ruba il cervello di un criminale dall'aula dell'università; nel laboratorio della torre compongono i vari pezzi e con l'ausilio di una macchina elettro-chimica tentano in una notte di tempesta di dar vita al nuovo corpo; in un caos pirotecnico di lampi e scoppi il mostro si anima .All'esperimento presenziano anche l'amico, la fidanzata e il vecchio maestro, preoccupati per l'accanimento con cui il giovane scienziato persegue il suo scopo. Il mostro muove i primi goffi passi: l'andatura lenta e legnosa di Karloff fissa una volta per tutte la disumanità del personaggio.

Viene rinchiuso in cantina, dove l'assistente si diverte a frustarlo e a tormentarlo con la luce della torcia, finché il mostro si ribella ed impicca il persecutore, ed evade approfittando dell'assenza del suo creatore convalescente per un esaurimento, uccide anche il vecchio maestro. Mentre nel villaggio si preparano le nozze dello scienziato, che è figlio del barone, e le strade sono in festa, il mostro vaga per la campagna; annega una bambina che gioca in riva a un lago e si spinge fino in paese; penetra nella camera della sposa terrorizzandola. Il villaggio interrompe la festa per organizzare la battuta che si conclude in un mulino, dove il mostro perisce tra le fiamme.

Ma anche il film rimane un duro apologo sulla giustizia e sulla solidarietà, benché qui importino più i lati orrifici, dal diabolico nano alla bimba in riva al lago.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1933) riesuma la creatura, che non è perita nel rogo, ma vaga per la campagna seminando la morte; un altro scienziato pazzo, incontrato in un cimitero, decide di dargli una compagna; costringe il conte a dargli una mano, facendo rapire dal mostro sua moglie; il mostro femmina risulta comunque troppo sensibile per resistere alla vista del compagno; questi, disperato e furente, lascia fuggire il conte ma fa saltare in aria gli altri due e se stesso. Un umorismo da commedia regge i fili della storia, che in certi punti sarebbe degna di una tragedia.

The Old Dark House (1932) era un thriller umoristico, ambientato in Galles

Karloff è il maggiordomo muto di una famiglia di eccentrici; un thriller espressionista a sfondo comico ambientato in una casa dove capita di tutto.

The Invisible Man (1933) tratta dello scienziato inventato da Wells, possessore di un siero che lo rende invisibile ma non dell'antidoto; semina il terrore per vendicarsi dell'ostilità popolare, la polizia gli dà una caccia spietata finché riesce ad ucciderlo. Il terrore, come un film di Lewton, è dato dal non vedere il mostro, dalla presenza che si intuisce ma non si vede.

Remember Last Night? (1935) is a comedy and a murder mystery that is not always plausible but intricate enough.

The rich young couple of Carlotta and Tony celebrate their wedding in a surrealistic rococo-style salon of their mansion with their rich friends. Bette, Vic's wife, who used to be a showgirl, is plotting something with the chaffeur, Flanagan, who hates Vic. Vic doesn't miss any opportunity to prove how unpleasant a man he is: in the middle of the party, he intimates to Tony that he has to pay back the money that he was loaned. The party gets wild and goes on till late. Everybody gets drunk. In the meantime, gangsters are plotting to kidnap Vic and blackmail his wife with the help of an French chaffeur. Tony and Carlotta are stopped by the police for speeding and drinking and driving, but they manage to escape. The following morning they wake up in their room, but they find a knife in the bathroom, blood in their car and Vic dead in the living room. They have no recollection of what happened. They think Vic's wife Bette also slept over, but instead in the guest room they find their friend Penny asleep, and she doesn't remember how she got there: she was as drunk as them. To figure out what happened, Tony calls their old friend Danny, a detective. In the meantime, Vic's chaffeur Flanagan disappears and someone tries to burn the bloody rug of the car. Danny loses his patience when all the people who were at the party repeat that they don't remember anything. Vic's wife Bette shows with Vic's friend Billy: they were also drunk and don't remember, but somehow Bette ended up sleeping at Billy's place. She is flabbergasted to learn of her husband's murder. Danny visits another house and finds out that the knife came from its kitchen: the chef remembers that Tony and Vic had an argument and Tony threatened him with that knife. They don't know it, but the chef is one of the gangsters who were planning to kidnap Vic. Bette finds mysterious cheques that Vic made out to a Gordon, whom nobody seems to know. By the time Danny returns, someone has stolen the cheques. Danny finds Vic's notebook, that lists a debt by Billy. Finally a potential motive: Bette slept at Billy's place, and Billy owed Vic money. Later, Bette attempts to commit suicide and is saved by Tony and Carlotta. Later, Carlotta finds the pistol that killed Vic: it was in Tony's dressing gown. Being obviously a very incriminating finding, they decide to hide it and not to tell Danny. Tony has already phoned a hypnotist, to see if he can rescue their memories. While hypnotized, Tony remembers how the crowd got back from the swimming pool and Vic and Penny decided to stay over. Having hypnotized everybody, the psychiatrist is ready to pronounce is verdict. He thinks he knows who the murderer is, but is shot by a bullet in front of everybody by someone who was outside the window. Danny finds something outside that belongs to Carlotta, coincidentally the only one who was not in the room. And Carlotta finds out that the pistol has been stolen. On the other hand, Tony finds a note written in Greek addressed to the French chaffeur, about a rendesvouz at the chef's wine cellar. Tony and Carlotta rush to the wine cellar and overhear the chef talking to a gangster. Tony realizes that the chef, the French chaffeur and this gangster had planned to kidnap Vic and probably killed him when he resisted. The chef catches them and is about to admit something, but the gangster kills him and runs away. Next, Danny and Tony find that the French chaffeur has been murdered too. They visit the dead man's mother, who pretens to be blind. But Danny easily forces her to confess that she is not. She claims that her son paid for an expensive operation. Danny and Tony find incriminating documents in the son's room. Back at Tony's mansion, Danny's assistan has arrested Flanagan, who was trying to enter the mansion. Danny now suspects that Flanagan was a partner in the murder of Vic and then killed the French chaffeur. But Bette in person stands up to defend him: Flanagan came back to get money from her, who, in reality, is his sister. She had him hired by her husband, who never knew the truth. Yet another theory falls apart. Billy, who is again the prime suspect, calls Jake, Penny's husband. Danny and Tony follow him. Billy mentions to Jake that he is the mysterious Gordon, and admits having stolen the cheques, out of fear that they would incriminate him. Jake knocks him out, then hides him in a closet. When Danny and Tony arrive, Jake pretends that there was a fight and Billy escaped after confessing that he was in cahoots with the French chaffeur to kill Vic. Billy, who has recovered, overhears him and tries to shoot Jake, but Tony sees the pistol and saves Jake. Billy commits suicide. Now it seems obvious that the case is closed: Billy owed Vic money and killed him. But Danny doesn't buy it: Billy could not have run away and hidden in the closet. Jake is the mastermind of the whole series of murders.
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