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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Black Cat (1934)

Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Jacqueline Wells, Egon Brecher
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
(actor & director credits courtesy

A young married couple traveling through Europe become unwitting pawns in a struggle between an evil satanist and a vengeful doctor. 

The first pairing of horror icons Karloff and Lugosi is not exactly the showcase one would have pictured after their triumphs in Frankenstein and Dracula, but is a very worthwhile film, and the two actors give standout performances.  Karloff, in one of his most sinister makeups, cuts a dark menacing figure as the enigmatic Hjalmar Poelzig, whose evil is illustrated largely through shadow and Lugosi's revelations about him.  However, his cool and cultured voice and limited movement fits in perfectly with the images that paint him as a black-hearted villain.  Lugosi also gives a worthy performance as the tortured Vitus Werdegast, kindly at times, maddened at others, a sympathetic hero and villain rolled into one.  Although his character's irrational fear of cats works in the only real reference to the Edgar Allan Poe story the film takes its title from, it doesn't really make sense with the rest of the picture, other than to point out Lugosi's somewhat unbalanced mind.  Ulmer, who also contributed to the screenplay, casts their drama against the memorable art-deco like architecture of Poelzig's home, which makes a striking background, accented by moody themes from the works of classical composers like Beethoven, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky.  

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