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The Old Dark House

USA 1932
produced by
Carl Laemmle jr for Universal
directed by James Whale
starring Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Lilian Bond, Ernest Thesiger, Eva Moore, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Elspeth Dudgeon, Brember Wills
screenplay by Benn W. Levy, based on the novel The Benighted by J.B. Priestley, makeup by Jack Pierce

Universal horror cycle

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Philip Waverton (Raymond Massey), his wife Margaret (Gloria Stuart) and their friend Penderel (Melvyn Douglas) as well as businessman Porterhouse (Charles Laughton) and his companion, the showgirl Gladys (Lilian Bond) all find themself stranded in an old dark house one stormy night, which would be bad enough as it is, but worse still is that the owners of the house, Horace (Ernest Thesiger) and Rebecca Femm (Eva Moore), seem to be borderline mad, and their servant Morgan (Boris Karloff), a mute brute, seems to be even madder and totally unpredictable, plus he becomes dangerous once he's drunk, and somehow he has just found the key to the wine cellar ...

And while against all odds and in the most unlikely place (the car shed), romance seems to be blossoming between Penderel and Gladys, Morgan starts to menace the others in the house, plus Philip and Margaret soon find out that Horace and Margaret and Morgan are not the only ones in the house, there's also Horace and Margaret's bed-ridden father Roderick (Elspeth Dudgeon), who might be just as mad as his kids but who at times talks sense, and somewhere, locked up in a room, there's also Saul (Brember Wills), a totally mad pyromaniac, who it seems just has to be locked up - but he's also the best friend of Morgan, and now Morgan is drunk he wastes no time and frees Saul ... who once free immediately wants to set fire to the house - ouch.

Somehow, in the finale all of the main cast find themselves locked away for some reason or another, all but Penderel, who suddenly has to face Saul on his own, and the two engage in mortal combat, in which it seems both are killed. When Morgan sees dead Saul, he forgets everything else and just carries his best friend away, while Gladys (she has meanwhile freed herself like all the others) is left to grieve Penderel - when she realizes he still breathes ... and the next morning when he has gotten better, Penderel proposes to her ...

 

Of course, it's quite obvious that The Old Dark House was shot towards the beginning of the sound era, certain limitations in cinematography and sound leave no doubt about that - but looking past these very obvious hints towards the film's production era, the film looks amazingly fresh even 75 years after its premiere, its dialogue is witty, its characters are colourful and beautifully fleshed out, the (mostly British) actors are uniformly excellent, some sexual allusions are quite as daring as anything in today's cinema (though the film never goes past allusions), and for some reason in director James Whale's hands, the old-fashioned (even by 1932's standards) story setup seems to be totally original and cliché-free. Simply put the film is an almost timeless blend of horror and black comedy, well written, well acted and elegantly directed - and what more yould you want ?

Totally recommended !

 

By the way: Originally this film was made as a showcase for Boris Karloff, then fresh from Whale's Frankenstein, but ironically, his role is the palest in the whole film - which is certainly not Karloff's fault though, he was an excellent actor in any role, it's just that the rather one-dimensional mute brute Morgan did give him little opportunity to shine. Still, there is no reason at all to watch the film only for Karloff !

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
-
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
Amazon!!!

 

 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD