Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Old Dark House

"The Old Dark House" is in a category by itself, in Miss Maven's opinion.
This movie isn't an easy one to watch. Boris Karloff's makeup seems to sum up the whole film: Karloff looked so horrendous that Universal Studios had to put a note at the beginning of the movie that said, yes, this is the Karloff that made Frakenstein's Monster so memorable.
Things start off with Gloria Stuart and Raymond Massey bickering about being stuck in their car during a thunderstorm while Melvyn Douglas lolls in the back seat like he doesn't have a care in the world.
The atmosphere doesn't rise above that level during the rest of the movie except during one episode when Douglas and Lilian Bond (as Gladys DuCane) try to be ultra-modern for 1932.
Depressing as the rest of the movie may be, it holds up much better than their scene in the barn. Douglas and Bond (both excellent actors) come across as trying too hard to be slick and chic.
Ernest Theisger is among the cast in a pre-"Bride of Frankenstein" role and he doesn't disappoint. His Horace Femm holds up some flowers and a vase, explaining that his sister was about to arrange them. Theisger then throws them into the fire beside him.
Theisger will remind you of what Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi can do to give a simple line like "Have a potato" sound bad.
Eva Moore plays his sister, Rebecca Femm, and you'd have to look hard to find a character more unpleasant in manner and speech.
She shares a scene with Gloria Stuart (as Margaret Waverton) who needs to change out of her wet clothes.
Moore fingers Stuart's dress, saying that it's fine material but will rot.
She then fingers Stuart's skin above the neckline, saying that that's fine too but will rot just as well.
The scene is so unpleasant that Miss Maven has to wonder why Gloria Stuart didn't just keep going and run off the set.
Elspeth Dundgeon (don't you love her name?!) plays the elderly father of the family, Sir Roderick Femm, disguised as "John Dundgeon" in the credits. She plays the scene so well that you won't care if she's male, female or Martian.
Brember Wills, as Saul Femm, the brother that doesn't appear until late in the movie, brings a new level of malevolence to "The Old Dark House." He especially shines in the interplay between him and Melvyn Douglas in a scene at the end of the movie.
No, Miss Maven must admit that the best performance of the movie is that of Boris Karloff.
This may show off his incredible talent short of his portrayal of Frankenstein's Monster from the year before.
His Morgan ranges from the brute you would suspect from looking at him, as in when Karloff all but rapes Gloria Stuart, to the tenderness of taking care of Brember Wills.
Miss Maven recommends that you see this classic at least once, if only for the superlative acting from a fine cast.
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