Gods And Monsters | 1998
A fictionalised account of the last days of gay Hollywood director James Whale (Ian McKellen), best remembered for the original 1931 film of Frankenstein and its sublimely dark, comic sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein.
The source novel, Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram, invents a hunky gardener Clay Boone (Brendan Fraser) as the catalyst for the ailing Whale’s final reckoning.
The film uses a similar property, but well away from the coast at 1220 Rancho Road north of Foothill Boulevard in Arcadia, a few miles east of Pasadena.
This location was discovered by the ever-resourceful set-jetter.com. I searched for years but was thrown off by the director’s commentary, which claimed the house used was in Altadena. By now, I really should know better than to take commentary tracks and studio press notes as gospel.
Walker’s Café, where Clay unwinds with a beer and gets his friends to watch The Bride of Frankenstein on TV is, on the outside at least, the real thing. Walker’s Café, 700 West Paseo Del Mar way down toward Point Fermin Park, San Pedro, survived until 2021 when, like so many businesses, it finally closed its doors. There’s a local campaign to see the place preserved and reopened.
It’s no stranger to the screen – this is where JJ Gittes (Jack Nicholson) keeps an eye on Water Commissioner Mulwray in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown – remember him leaving that watch under the car tyre?
Also in San Pedro is ‘Santa Monica Library’, where Clay looks up the details of his new movie director friend. This is the Library on the campus of San Pedro High School, 1001 West 15th Street.
Surprisingly, those oddly homoerotic murals of bare-chested working men, which seem to chime so much with Whale’s own paintings, were not added by the film’s Art Department. The series, Industrial Life in San Pedro, painted by Tyrone Comfort, were part of FD Roosevelt’s Public Works of Art Project in the mid-Thirties.
San Pedro High School is seen also in Howard Deutch’s 1987 teen drama Some Kind of Wonderful.
Whale boldly takes Clay as his plus-one to a high society garden party held by George Cukor (Martin Ferrero), where a ditsy Princess Margaret mistakes Whale for Cecil Beaton. Cukor’s spread is the Arden Estate, 1145 Arden Road, Pasadena – a frequently-used location seen also in the Marx Bros' Duck Soup and famously in TV's Dynasty.
The mansion is a private home, set well back and not visible from the street, but you can take a virtual tour.
Interiors and studio sets were shot at Lacy Street Production Center, 2630 Lacy Street at West Avenue 26, which stands across the LA River from Elysian Park. It’s a low-budget facility, most famous as the main setting for James Wan’s original Saw in 2004.