A Movie A Day: THE BLACK CAT (1934)
Supernatural? Perhaps. Baloney? Perhaps not.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next installment of A Movie A Day: Halloween 2010 edition!
[For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf or streamed via Netflix Instant and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day.]
Another day another movie called The Black Cat. If you were with us for yesterday’s review of Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat you’ll remember I wasn’t too hot on the movie. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it. Disappointed? Yeah, a little bit.
Both films are very loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story of the same now, but the 1934 film starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff has a much nicer title card for it. “Suggested by the Immortal Edgar Allan Poe Classic.”
This is a much better film than Fulci’s, but oddly enough Fulci’s is closer to Poe’s original story. That’s not to say that Fulci’s film is a good adaptation, fuck no. But it does have some of the more striking aspects of Poe’s story… the image of the hanging cat burned into a wall and the Tell-Tale Heart-ish finale.
In fact, I’m finding it difficult to believe that this film was even suggested by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. Boris Karloff (or simply KARLOFF as he’s credited) is a Satanic Priest/brilliant architect living in the Carpathian Mountains and he owns a black cat. And Bela Lugosi has a deathly fear of cats. When Lugosi first sees Karloff’s cat he reacts rather poorly. In fact, he grabs a knife from a nearby table, throws it and kills the cat.
Yeah, I was surprised, too.
You see Lugosi isn’t playing the villain. No, sir. Karloff is the obvious villain here. Lugosi is a war vet who has been tracking down his old friend who stayed behind during the war and married Lugosi’s wife.
Lugosi’s in the right the whole movie and when he’s introduced to us on a train at the beginning he’s nothing but charming. Sure, a tad creepy… he is Bela Lugosi afterall… but a nice guy.
He meets a honeymooning American couple on the train, gets to know them a little, shares a bus with them after getting off the train and then is involved in a fatal accident. The girl is hurt, her husband is okay, Lugosi is fine, of course, but the driver is dead. He has no choice but to bring the young couple to Karloff’s house.
It’s at the house where this young couple is caught in a civil battle of mostly good vs. totally evil.
You know, thinking back on it now I think Richard O’Brien must have watched this a lot as a kid because that’s totally the framing of Rocky Horror. Instead of Frank N Furter we have Frank N Stein. Too much? I’m sorry, I’ll try to stay away from the puns…
It’s not long before we’re let in on Karloff’s role as High Priest of a Satanic Cult. That would explain why he has a dozen beautiful (and dead) women preserved in glass coffins on display in his dungeon.
Lugosi almost comes off like God in a Wager With The Devil story in that he’s trying to save this couple, get them out of the house now that the woman has recovered and Karloff wants to use her in his ritual. He doesn’t come out and say it, but it’s pretty damn clear she’s to be sacrificed. What does Lugosi do? He bets the girl’s life on a game of chess. Should he lose, he’ll stand by as Karloff and his cult kill this girl. If he wins they get to leave.
I won’t explain much more, but I will say the chess game doesn’t really matter. The revenge Lugosi’s after is fresh on his mind and he doesn’t intend to let the young woman get murdered.
And it’d be a crime to spoil the end of the movie because it gets crazily harsh for a 1934 film. Some crazy shit happens.
Lugosi is on fire in this flick. As much as I love Karloff, he’s out-paced by Lugosi here. There’s a sequence when Karloff delights in showing off the preserved body of Lugosi’s wife where I swear to God we see Lugosi’s soul crumble before our eyes in a close up. Fantastic work.
Karloff himself is his usual great and with a very iconic look to boot, but the very nature of his character gives him less meat to play with.
This was their first (of eight) on screen collaborations and what a dynamite pair. Sure, the first time I saw them together in a scene I heard Ed Wood (Karloff? Siiiidddeekick?) in my brain and smiled, but watching them is bliss. You can tell they’re poking each other a bit, testing the fences, pushing each other as actors. I don’t know how friendly they were in real life, but this movie felt like they were amiable competitors.
The rest in the cast I could take or leave, to be honest. The honeymooners, as played by David Manners and Julie Bishop in the very standard, for the time, lovey-dovey aw shucks American types… you know, who like to put their cheeks together, sigh and look out into the distance. They’re fine, but didn’t really stand out. It’s not their movie, it’s Karloff and Lugosi’s show.
Final Thoughts: You don’t get crazy killer undead cats, but you do get Satanists, torture, a Black Mass, a crazy revenge story, preserved dead women in glass coffins, Karloff playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on the organ (seriously, it’s totally on the nose, but so awesome to see Karloff playing what’s now iconic Halloween music) and a tremendous brawl (with a helluva conclusion) between two of horrors biggest and most enduring icons. Very happy with this flick!
Currently in print on DVD: YES
Currently available on Netflix Instant: NO
Thursday, October 21st: THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963)
Friday, October 22nd: DOLLS (1987)
Saturday, October 23rd: SILENT SCREAM (1980)
Sunday, October 24th: SCREAM OF FEAR (1961)
Monday, October 25th: THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971)
Tuesday, October 26th: THE OMEN III: THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981)
Wednesday, October 27th: THE EVIL (1977)
Only 11 more days! Tomorrow we hit up an early horror comedy starring a ton of horror stars, including Peter Lorre, Vincent Price, Karloff, Basil Rathbone and more! Directed by the great Jacques Tourneur and written by the equally great (in another medium) Richard Matheson: The Comedy of Terrors! See ya’ then!
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Previous AMAD 2010’s:
- Raw Meat (1972)
- Ghost Story (1981)
- Two on a Guillotine (1965)
- Tentacles (1977)
- Bad Ronald (1974)
- The Entity (1983)
- Doctor X (1932)
- The Return of Doctor X (1939)
- The Tenant (1976)
- Man in the Attic (1953)
- New Year’s Evil (1980)
- Prophecy (1979)
- The Other (1972)
- The Mummy (1959)
- The Gorgon (1964)
- Mad Love (1935)
- Repulsion (1965)
- The Church (1989)
- The Black Cat (1981)
Click here for the full 215 movie run of A Movie A Day!
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Oct. 20, 2010, 6:18 p.m. CST
I demand you follow through on your earlier promise and review this movie in full! Then send me a personal letter of apology for the bait and switch. Make it so, Quint!
Oct. 20, 2010, 6:19 p.m. CST
Oct. 20, 2010, 6:22 p.m. CST
Never had this before...
Oct. 20, 2010, 6:35 p.m. CST
I always wondered where Futurama got that great line.
Oct. 20, 2010, 6:41 p.m. CST
One of the things I love about this movie is that it doesn't recycle the Frankenstein sets but comes up with its own modernist look that's more Bond-villain than gothic. It's one of the best of the Universal horrors, and certainly one that's unlike all the rest.
Oct. 20, 2010, 7:19 p.m. CST
by Dr. Strangelove
...in HEAD, the Monkees movie. Jack Nicholson even put it on the soundtrack album.
Oct. 20, 2010, 7:26 p.m. CST
pointing at Jsarnold.
Oct. 20, 2010, 7:33 p.m. CST
Oct. 20, 2010, 7:53 p.m. CST
They're like Shatner and Nimoy - hot and cold - so when they play together it makes for some nice chemistry. They've each got something to play against.
Oct. 20, 2010, 9:34 p.m. CST
That moment always took me out of the movie. Lugosi's characters reaction to the black cat and skewering it with a knife just, well, just seemed out of character. Then again, one could chalk it up to a man who'd been in a hell hole of a prison for 18 years having a few issues!! This and "The Raven" are the best of the Karloff\Lugosi co-starring films made with Universal. And you're right, Lugosi is superb especially when faced with his dead wife... you can feel his heart breaking...
Oct. 20, 2010, 9:55 p.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
That limey cocksucker...
Oct. 21, 2010, 6:13 a.m. CST
...i'll be watching all these horrors in January probably.
Oct. 21, 2010, 11:42 a.m. CST
Apparently there were lots of more disturbing parts that Laemmle Jr. and the Universal heads didn't want in the film. I'd Love to see those cuts reinserted! I'm surprised Universal hasn't made it happen yet!
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