Wednesday, August 26, 2015


In pre-Revolution Russia, Dr. Boris Karlov (yes, that's the character’s name, played by Warner Oland) discovers his daughter, Anya, in bed, in agony and drenched in sweat. She's single and pregnant, and has tried to kill herself. When the Petroff necklace falls from her hand in her delirium, Karlov determines that one of the Petroff boys is responsible for her fate and vows to get revenge against the family. The necklace, made up of small jewels that look like drummers, has a legend attached: if one of the drummers is detached and sent to someone, that person will die within 24 hours. Anya goes rushing to the Petroffs and with her dying breath warns Gregor, her former lover, about her father's threat. Karlov follows waving a gun and says he'll detach the drummers and send them one by one to all the Petroff men. Years later, after the revolution when Karlov has become an influential Bolshevik, the Petroff patriarch receives a drummer and dies in his sleep that night. The Petroff brothers decide to leave for America, theoretically for political asylum, but on the ship, Ivan gets a drummer and is thrown overboard in the night. And then there were two…

Diplomat Martin Kent arranges to help the remaining brothers, Gregor and Nicholas, but upon their arrival in the United States, assassins give chase and wound Nicholas, so the two wind up taking refuge in the apartment of the lovely Kitty Conover and her cranky aunt Abbie. When they all endure a close call at the hands of Karlov's men, Kitty offers her family's country mansion as a safe house for the Petroff brothers—she has responded positively to some flirting from Nicholas—but even there, the men aren't truly safe and a wild ride is had by all before justice is done (by which I mean, SPOILER, Karlov kills Gregor, but is himself killed before he can get Nicholas, leaving the last Petroff free for Kitty, who seems spunky enough to avoid poor Anya's fate).

The filmmaking is a bit creaky here and there, but for a fairly early B-talkie, this moves well and is still enjoyable to watch. At 75 minutes, there is a lot of plot crammed in here, some bits more plausible than others, but the pace never slows down and the last half becomes sort of an old-dark-house thriller which also involves a room filled with poison gas and another room filling with rushing water. Oland is excellent as the man who, in the opening scene, looks like a mad doctor (see picture above), but is actually a caring father who goes a little crazy with revenge. Most of the other actors are not particular standouts, but Clara Blandick (Aunt Em in THE WIZARD OF OZ) has fun in the comic relief role of the aunt, and in fact, she plays a crucial role at the climax. Mischa Auer has a small role as one of Karlov's henchmen. (As for "Boris Karlov," that was apparently the name of the character in the original story, and this film was made just before Boris Karloff shot to fame in FRANKENSTEIN). [YouTube]

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