Thursday, October 16, 2003


Warner Brothers largely sat out the horror trend of the 30's but this one makes me wish they had done a few more. It's part gangster movie, part horror thriller, with a dash of grim spirituality. Ricardo Cortez is a lawyer, and the ringleader of a gang of well-heeled gangsters who issue an anonymous death threat against a judge if he rules against a gang member. The judge finds the defendent guilty and the gang murders the judge, pinning the crime on ex-con Boris Karloff, a hulking and simple-minded but gentle man. Just before Karloff's execution, a couple of witnesses (Marguerite Churchill & Warren Hull) finally come forward, but Cortez fixes it so the news doesn't reach the authorities until just after the switch has been pulled on Karloff. However, Churchill's boss, Edmund Gwenn, a doctor, uses the experimental Lindbergh Heart to resuscitate Karloff. He returns to life with almost no memories but he does seem to have a mission: to bring the real killers to justice. One by one, he visits the gang members and, though never directly killing them, does bring about their deaths.

Karloff, with his shorn hair, looks younger than I've ever seen him. There are many references to his role as the monster in FRANKENSTEIN, including his electrified revival in a lab; Gwenn echoing Colin Clive's "It's alive!"; and an Elsa Lanchester white streak in Karloff's hair when he is reanimated. Karloff's execution is shot well, with a single cello player seated in the shadows and playing at Karloff's request as he heads to the chair. A later scene, of Karloff playing piano to a roomful of invited guests including the gang members, is also effective. The young lovers (Churchill & Hull) seem especially callow here, with little reason given for their refusal to speak up on Karloff's behalf, and no reason at all given for their later decision to do so. Cortez is good, as is Gwenn in a limited role, but Karloff is excellent, with his truly creepy faraway trance-like stare after his revival. Gwenn wishes that Karloff could tell more about the afterlife, and the possibility is presented that Karloff is actually on a mission from God, or whatever is on the other side. Short, atmospheric, and unique.

No comments: