Wednesday, October 10, 2018

THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) Blu-ray review

The Old Dark House (1932) d. James Whale (USA) (72 min)

Almost forgotten (and for a period of time considered “lost”) in the Universal collection of horrors, this gem of a flick is often overshadowed by its more popular monster rally brethren. Director Whale’s follow-up to Frankenstein is well worth seeking out for its sheer wackiness and gale-force acting from the entire ensemble, two of whom (Boris Karloff and Ernest Thesiger) would turn up again in 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein.

A torrential, wonderfully photographed rainstorm assembles a curious collection of stranded travelers (Charles Laughton, Gloria Stuart, Raymond Massey, Lilian Bond, and Melvyn Douglas) at the titular Pemm estate, and madness and mayhem ensue. Karloff receives star billing as Morgan, the mute shuffling butler hulking about the mansion, Thesiger (Bride’s Dr. Pretorius) and Eva Moore play out a quibbling sibling rivalry as the occupants, and Brember Wills turns in an electrifying performance as their pyromaniac brother Saul, locked away for the safety of all. Last, but certainly not least, there is the withered patriarch Sir Roderick (played by a female actress, Elspeth Dudgeon, billed as "John Dudgeon":).

While not especially scary, there is atmosphere to burn, endlessly quotable dialogue (much of it taken directly from J.B. Priestly’s source novel “Benighted,”) with the energy never flagging and each performance juicier than the next. When the end credits roll, one feels the exhausted thrill of a wild amusement park ride.

The Old Dark House was remade in 1963 by William Castle for a co-production between Columbia Pictures and Hammer Studios as a straight-up comedy starring Tom Poston, and it was this production that put the fate of the original film in limbo. With the performances rights having lapsed, Universal had little interest in preserving a picture which possessed no possibility for financial gain, allowing the original negative to deteriorate within its vaults. Enter Curtis Harrington, director of such low-budget Roger Corman efforts as Queen of Blood and Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (and close friend of Whale), whose efforts literally rescued this marvelously entertaining outing from the sands of time in the late 1960s.

In 2017, Cohen Film Collection released a 4K restoration of the revived prints struck by Eastman House on Blu-ray, armed with two full-length audio commentaries (one featuring star Gloria Stuart, who capped her illustrious career with her appearance as “Old Rose” in James Cameron’s Titanic, and the other by James Whale biographer James Curtis), as well as conversations with Boris’ daughter Sara Karloff (15 min) and another with Harrington (8 min), in which he discusses his efforts to bring The Old Dark House back into the light. (There is also a brief interview with Harrington included in the BD liner notes.)

The Old Dark House is available now on Blu-ray from Cohen Film Collection and can be ordered HERE:


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