Category Archives: boris karloff

The Black Cat

The Black Cat ~ This 1934 film, ignoring the many others that use the same title (there have to be at least eight that I can think of, right off the top of my head), is the first onscreen meeting between Universal horror stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, the first of eight Universal horrors to feature them both.

In a futuristic mansion built on the site of a World War I fortress, the two rivals engage in a battle of wits, chess (yes, chess), and torture, both physical and psychological. Caught in the middle are a newlywed couple, dropped into the conflict with circumstances almost hilariously similar to Brad and Janet’s in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And much like that film, horror and hilarity ensues, but without the musical numbers. Apparently, Boris tortured Bela on this site during the war, and Bela is back for vengeance. The houseguests, among others, are pawns in this game of cat and mouse.

Boris Karloff’s Hjalmar Poelzig is a subtly sinister Satan-worshipping priest in the style of Aleister Crowley, but with the fashion sense of the wicked queen from Snow White and the Huntsman. It truly is a contest of ‘what will he wear next?’ in this flick. His height, and his physical presence, are much scarier than his calm demeanor, and the effect, for me at least, makes him seem even more frightening here than in his Frankenstein roles.

Bela Lugosi makes a worthy opponent for Karloff here as Dr. Vitus Werdegast. Bela, more so than any other role I’ve seen him in, puts in a fabulous performance. In fact, he steals the film. I have always thought him to be an over-actor, relying on his accent to excuse him from any real work, but here he is really quite good. I was impressed.

Also starring in this Universal horror is the house and stage set itself. Art deco was very popular in the 1930s and it was made into a starring character as the backdrop here. As the drama unwinds, even in the slow parts, one cannot help but marvel at the very expensive (for then) sets, a relic of a lost time in architecture.

The film itself is supposedly based on the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, or at least it is, according to the credits. Director Edgar G. Ulmer later admitted in an interview they used the title to get publicity for the movie. It should be mentioned this flick was quite violent for the time, went through several cuts, and was even banned in certain European countries. While the most successful Universal film of that year, this has become a mostly forgotten film, but definitely worth a watch for horror fans and film fans alike.

Advertisements

Night at the Museum 2

While an entertaining sequel, and a better movie than any film starring both Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson has any right to be, I’m still not sure what to make of Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

The one thing that makes this sequel different from others of its kind is that it infers, nay, it requires the viewer to have seen the original. Night at the Museum 2 makes no synopsis, or even excuses, regarding the first film. If you haven’t seen the first one, you’re not only out of luck, you’ll never even understand the concept of the sequel. Many of the plot twists and even the running jokes are based on information not provided here. I seriously wonder how this little matter will affect the box office. Word of mouth regarding a hard-to-understand movie could be lethal.

For those not in the know, the original film revolved around a museum where all the exhibits come to life at night. In the sequel, all of the exhibits, including the MacGuffin that causes the phenomenon, have been shipped to the National Archives beneath the Smithsonian in Washington DC. When night hits, everything in the vicinity of a museum-like nature comes to life. Hilarity ensues.

Among the things that come to life are Amelia Earhart wonderfully played by Amy Adams – one of the highlights of the film, and Hank Azaria doing his scarily accurate Boris Karloff impression as spoiled brat pharaoh out to rule the world with an army of the dead. Yeah, a whole lot to swallow for a family comedy, isn’t it?

One interesting bit that is certainly worth seeing, and maybe seeing this flick a second time, is the art that ‘comes to life.’ Once the Smithsonian is affected, all of the beautiful paintings, scultures and works of art becomes ‘real’ and animated. The folks doing the special effects certainly had a love of the work and it shows. Fun stuff and a delight for art fans.

.

Asian Images in Film on TCM

Here is just a sampling of some of the movies being featured this month for “Asian Images in Film” on TCM.

Mr. Wu ~ This is a silent 1927 vehicle for Lon Chaney in which he plays two roles, the title one, old Wu and young Wu. Surrounded by Asian extras, Chaney and Louise Dresser, as his daughter, are Americans playing Chinese aristocrats. Legend has it that Chaney was so convincing that he rode buses and wandered Chinatown while in this make-up unnoticed. As convincing as the make-up may have been however, in the presence of true Asians, the Americans are revealed as just that – whites in yellow face. Ah, simpler minds in simpler times perhaps?

When the daughter of a powerful Mandarin is seduced and abandoned by a wealthy Britisher, Mr. Wu, the Mandarin, takes his revenge. The sets are beautiful and elaborate, even having as much a German film influence, or at least as much as the American black and white silent film industry would allow at the time. The music relays the story as much as the actions and the words, a perfect blending.

The Oriental lettering of the title cards also lends to the film’s uniqueness. Also the passage of time via caption cards does contrive the story a bit, but in the time and the place there was no other way to do it, I suppose, Hollywood not being as slick as it is today. However the emotion and expression performed by Renee Adoree and Holmes Herbert confirm them as masters of the silent field right along with Chaney. Acting without words and conveying feeling perfectly is not an art I doubt that Ben Affleck or Jennifer Lopez or any star of our day could pull off easily, if at all.

The tension of the tea party is wonderfully Hitchcockian before his time and well portrayed. While there is precious little Chaney in this Chaney starrer, when he’s onscreen, he dominates. As is his strong suit, when he gets angry, he is positively frightening. Wu’s horrible revenge is right out of a Sax Rohmer Fu Manchu novel, and fitting for the characters and the story. Despite my misgivings above this is one of my favorite Chaney flicks and a must see for Chaney fans. Brilliant.

Mr. Wong in Chinatown ~ This is the third of four films in which Boris Karloff plays the San Franciscan amateur detective. It’s a role that shows off Karloff’s charm and elegance, qualities not often revealed in his horror parts. The character of James Lee Wong was created for Collier’s Magazine in 1934 by Hugh Wiley.

Mr. Wong went on to star in twelve short stories, six feature films (two of which were remade as Charlie Chan flicks) and a handful of comic books. This one is one of the best, with Karloff playing against Grant Withers as the hard-nosed detective and Marjorie Reynolds as the plucky girl reporter. It’s fun and mystery in the 1930s pulp flavor for everyone.

Daughter of Shanghai ~ Starring the incomparable Anna May Wong in one of her heroic lead roles. Also look for a very young Anthony Quinn, as well as Buster Crabbe in a rare bad guy role. Anna May’s acting and dancing are hypnotic in this B-thriller about smugglers of human cargo. Recommended.

Daughter of the Dragon ~ Once again Anna May Wong is in the spotlight in this early cinematic outing for the insidious Fu Manchu. This film is notable as one of the first featuring an Asian actress playing Asian in a lead role, in this case the title role, the equally insidious daughter of Fu Manchu. Acting against his later known type as Charlie Chan, Warner Oland is Fu Manchu here (his third time in the role), and extra props go to legendary Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa in his role as one of Scotland Yard’s Chinese detectives. The story, based on Sax Rohmer’s “Daughter of Fu Manchu,” is weak but the performances more than make up for it in this often overlooked B-picture.

The Mask of Fu Manchu ~ Speaking of Fu Manchu, this is probably the flick most people think of when they think of this legendary Asian villain, this time played by horror king Boris Karloff. In my opinion, Karloff’s portrayal is the best in cinema of this sinister villain, who I might add was author Rohmer’s first choice. It’s perfect, the ultimate movie monster playing the premier super-villain, it just doesn’t get better than this.


The rest of the cast is flawless as well. Andy Hardy future dad Lewis Stone is perpetual Fu protagonist Nayland Smith, the future Durango Kid and cowboy superstar Charles Starrett plays leading man action hero, and in perhaps her most unforgettable (and frightening) role (and yes, I’m counting Nora Charles) Myrna Loy as the daughter of Fu Manchu.

The film, based on Sax Rohmer’s classic of the same name, has the heroes and villains racing to find the tomb of Genghis Khan, which contains a mask and other relics that shall bestow ultimate power on the mad villain. All of the trappings and dynamic qualities of the pulps and the early serials are here, but stepped up to the next level. This fantastic adventure is highly recommended.

How Ron Howard Stole My Christmas


A Video Review of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”

Copyright 2002 Glenn Walker

In the immortal words of the Pet Shop Boys, “What have I done, what have I done, what have I done to deserve this?” What sick twisted demon from hell possessed Ron Howard and made him create this big budget major motion picture based on the wonderful Dr. Seuss work? Surely this could only be the work of the devil.

The 1966 half-hour cartoon by Chuck Jones narrated by Boris Karloff with that song by Thul (Tony the Tiger) Ravenscroft is perfect. Why was there a need to do this?

Jim Carrey in his hideous make-up as the Grinch is nowhere near as scary as the citizens of Whoville who all resemble the monsters from “The Twilight Zone” episode Eye of the Beholder. Ron Howard made this for his kids? Why haven’t the authorities taken those kids away for cruel and unusual treatment?

The real story has very few characters but apparently the writers felt this had to be fleshed out and added a dozen or so irrelevant characters including the Grinch’s old girlfriend (hello?). Screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman (who also had a hand in destroying the big budget motion picture version of the brilliant Wild Wild West) should have their pencils broken, their typewriters smashed and their word processors melted down.

The ending is horrendous. Apparently Christmas doesn’t come in a box, it’s not about giving at all. It’s all about money money money, materialism and greed, gimme gimme gimme. I hate Jim Carrey. Damn you, Ron Howard. This is easily one of the worst three movies ever made.

And take off the frigging hat.

Rating -*

***** Must see
**** Worth seeing
*** So you have eight dollars you want to throw away…
** Is Adam Sandler in this mess?
* A bullet would be quicker.

The above previously appeared at Project Popcorn.