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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 !