Dir. James Whale / A Universal Picture / 1932 / 72 min. / B&W / 1.37:1
Top-notch, weird comedy-horror film that really grows on a person with each new viewing. On a very, very dark and stormy night, travelers through Wales are forced by the weather to seek shelter at the only house in the area, a giant stone mansion peopled by the Femm family; a sissy brother who claims to be on the lam from the cops; his religious fanatic sister; their brother, whom they keep locked up because he's a homicidal maniac who wants to burn the house down; their father, who seems to be about 300 years old; and - worst of all - Morgan, the mute, hulking huge butler who is dangerous as a hungry lion when he drinks, and who just happens to be in the kitchen right now, at the cooking sherry.
Ernest Thesiger is the sissy brother; the guests are Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart as a young married couple, Melvyn Douglas as their wise-cracking friend, Charles Laughton as a traveling good-time businessman, Lillian Bond as his fun-loving chorus girl friend, and of course Boris Karloff as Morgan. (Rather surprisingly, he doesn't have a whole lot to do in the film, actually, except "act scary" and seem to threaten to rape Miss Stuart a lot.) Anyway you look at it, that's a damn impressive cast.
None of this gives you any idea of how weird the film is; it's a black comedy before that term was probably invented. I imagine Charles Addams with a big fan of this thing. Much of the humor is subtle and yet hilarious. "My sister was arranging flowers," Thesiger says, as he picks a large bouquet from its vase and tosses it into the fire for no apparent reason. He also seems obsessed with baked potatoes and with not being talked into going upstairs for any reason.
Million dollar dialog, from the little old man upstairs:
"This is an unlucky house. Two of my children died when they were 20. And then other things happened. Madness came. We are all touched with it a little, you see. Except me. At least, I don't THINK I am. Heh-heh-heh."
I know folks are often disappointed with this thing because of the high standards set by Whale with his other horror films (which included the first two Frankenstein pictures and The Invisible Man), but with each repeated viewing I like it more and more and find it quite worthy of its lofty company. All but lost, it was rescued by director Curtis Harrington, who made it his personal mission to find and save the film when he worked for Universal in the late 1960s. Thank you, Curtis!
Which brings us to the thrilling new 4K restoration of the film, available on a new Blu-ray from Cohen Film Collection: it’s absolutely magnificent, the best classic movie release of the year so far for home video. At last, and with all due respect to the old Kino release that was the only way to see the film before, we can all enjoy The Old Dark House the way it was created to be seen. Always a favorite ‘round here, experiencing it in such a beautiful new edition makes its status as a masterpiece undeniable.
The disc contains two commentaries, one by Miss Stuart ported over from the previous release, a featurette on how Mr. Harrington rescued the film back in the 1960s, and an outstanding re-release trailer for it. One of the must-have releases of the year.
Incidentally, the "producer's Note" that opened the film in the previous Kino release is missing. Anybody know what happened to it?