Friday, October 28, 2011


The Berghman family lives under a terrible curse: when the male children are twins, the older one--the one delivered first--will be killed by the younger one in a gloomy onyx-walled place in the mansion known as the Black Room. When Frederick has twins, Gregor and Anton, he tries to defy the prophecy by sending Anton, the younger one, away to be raised elsewhere, and by walling up the Black Room. Forty years later, Gregor has become a hated figure by the townspeople: he is a shaggy, dissolute fellow who is suspected of luring wives and daughters from the village into his castle, from which they are never seen again. When an uprising seems near, Gregor sends for the kindly Anton, crippled from birth by a paralyzed arm, for help. Gregor says he intends to go traveling and hand over the title of Baron and all his lands to Anton. Actually, Gregor has found a secret passageway through a fireplace into the Black Room; a pit in the middle of the room is where he dumps the bodies of his female victims, and after he lures Anton in, Gregor throws him in the pit to his death--so there's no way the prophecy can come true, right? Gregor than impersonates Anton, mild manner, paralyzed arm, and all, and plans to marry the lovely Thea. However, a certain young lieutenant who is sweet on Thea may have something to say about that, as might a certain large hound that belonged to Anton and who can tell that something's not right.

Though packaged in an "Icons of Horror" DVD set, this film isn't really horror as much as a period-piece Gothic melodrama, but it's a little gem anyway for at least two reasons. One is the look of the movie; Columbia, a small B-ish studio at the time, seems to have gone all out on the costumes and sets, though it looks like it might have been shot over at Universal, as the grand sets resemble those used in the 30s Frankenstein films, and the director, Roy William Neill adds some stylish camera moves here and there. The other big plus is Boris Karloff (pictured in both roles) who delivers one of his best performances in the dual role, and as some critics have pointed out, he practically plays a third role, that of the evil brother masquerading as the good brother. Marian Marsh and Robert Allan are adequate as Thea and her protector, but Katherine DeMille (Cecil's daughter) steals a scene as Gregor's saucy gypsy lover who meets a bad end in the Black Room pit. An enjoyable thriller. [DVD]

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