Monday, January 23, 2017

The Black Room (1935)

Starring Boris Karloff, Marian Marsh, Robert Allen, Thurston Hall, Katherine DeMille
Directed by Roy William Neill
(actor & director credits courtesy

The cruel and debauched baron of a European village defies the legend that his twin brother will kill him by inviting the kindly brother back to rule with him, but with sinister plans in mind.

The movie showcases a truly excellent performance by Karloff (or performances, I should say) as the twin brothers, one nefarious, one good and decent.  It's not hard to guess that the evil brother will use their likeness to impersonate the good one, adding an additional layer to Karloff's acting triumph here.  Director Roy William Neill stages their scenes together very convincingly, with the usual dual composite shots as well as closeups with stand-ins for Karloff in the background, but Karloff makes the illusion work by bringing depth to each characterization.  Although the film is centered around Karloff, Neill and his crew bring life to the story by creating a populous and bustling village, inhabited by hundreds of extras.  The music used is also very good, with dark themes for the villainous Baron, and highlighted by a tender melody ("Beautiful Music") that underscores Marsh's loveliness and builds her up as an object of desire, as well as an energetic movement for the film's climactic chase sequence.

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