Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Old Dark House (1932)

Director: James Whale

Writers: J.B. Priestley, Benn W. Levy

Starring: Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Lillian Bond, Ernest Thesiger, Eva Moore, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Elspeth Dudgeon, Brember Wills

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Beware the night!

Plot: Seeking shelter from a pounding rainstorm in a remote region of Wales, several travellers are admitted to a gloomy, foreboding mansion belonging to the extremely strange Femm family. Trying to make the best of it, the guests must deal with their sepulchral host, Horace Femm and his obsessive, malevolent sister Rebecca. Things get worse as the brutish manservant Morgan gets drunk, runs amok and releases the long pent-up brother Saul, a psychotic pyromaniac who gleefully tries to destroy the residence by setting it on fire.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again?  Maybe.

James Whale made this picture shortly after releasing FRANKENSTEIN (1931).  It turned Boris Karloff into a star overnight after having made 85 films prior!!!  Now he's cast as the menacing butler but you'd hardly recognize the actor under the makeup (Jack Pierce again making that possible) and there's even an opening card that tells you that it is in fact the same actor in that role as was the role of Frankenstein's monster.  The cast does a fine job and there are some mild laughs (it's more amusing than funny) but the standout for my money was Whale's use of shadows, mirrors, camera placement, etc.  They really add to the atmosphere in spades and it's what makes this picture as good as it is.  Despite its mere 72 minute run time, it drags a bit but the cast brings the fun.  It's one of those picture where people fall in love in minutes and within hours are talking marriage.  You get that a lot in pictures from the 30s and 40s.  It's silly fun, though.  The extras on the Kino DVD include a commentary track by actress Gloria Stewart (you know, the old broad from TITANIC (1997)), another track with James Curtis and a 7 minute interview with Curtis Harrington who spends his time patting himself on the back for his friendship with James Whale and for possibly saving this film from destruction.  He's very proud of himself but if what he says is true, then he should be commended for saving this picture.  It's a good one.

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