The Black Cat (1934)
Film: The Black Cat
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Writer: Peter Ruric
Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and David Manners
This film begins on a train that is moving through Hungary. We have a newlywed couple played by David Manners and Julie Bishop. Later we will learn that Manners is a mystery writer. They believe they have the train car to themselves and they are planning on eating dinner there together. Someone from the train regretfully informs them that they have double booked the car and wondered if the other man could join them. They agree. The man that joins them is Bela Lugosi, who we will learn later is one of the best psychiatrists in the world.
They all get off at the same stop and they share a bus together. The driver ends up crashing on the way due to the weather. Lugosi suggests since they are close to his friend’s house they should go there to take care of Bishop’s wounds. Lugosi is also joined by Egon Brecher, he is credited as The Majordomo which I love.
At the door they are greeted by the odd Harry Cording, who is the caretaker at the mansion. He takes them up to a room. Lugosi treats Bishop’s wounds. He leaves the room and comes face-to-face with Boris Karloff, who is his friend and one of the best architects in the world. We learn that they both were in a camp during the war together. Karloff got out and rumors got back to Lugosi that he told Lugosi’s wife that he was dead. Lugosi knew that Karloff loved her. He wants to know what happened to her and his daughter. Karloff tells him that both are dead, but that his wife has been preserved due to her beauty. He shows her to Lugosi.
Manners then meets with Karloff. They have a drink together and we see a black cat enter the room. Lugosi freaks out and throws a knife at it, killing it. We are starting to understand there is something weird about both of these men. Karloff states that black cats are the embodiment of evil and that is why they have nine lives. Bishop walks into the room, not speaking coherently. Karloff seems interested in her.
That night when Karloff goes to bed, there is a woman in his room played by Lucille Lund. She seems a bit off, but we learn that this is Lugosi’s daughter. She is forbidden to leave the room until Lugosi is gone. Karloff also reads a book that describes a ritual for raising Satan.
The next morning Lugosi checks on Bishop’s dressings and she does not remember anything after the accident the night before. There is an awkward scene between her, Lugosi and Karloff in her room. He even lingers behind, staring at her as he leaves. Manners alleviates this when he arrives.
Karloff and Lugosi then go into a study where Karloff challenges Lugosi to a game of chess. Lugosi agrees, but the problem is the stakes of the game are for Bishop. The game is interrupted when two police officers, played by Henry Armetta and Albert Conti, show up asking about the accident.
Bishop wants to leave and Manners is happy to agree. He tries to speak with the two men in the study, but Karloff is extremely rude, asking him to leave so they can finish the game. He tries to leave, but Brecher knocks him out as he does. Bishop is then taken to the basement.
What does Karloff want with her? Will Lugosi learn the truth about his daughter before it is too late? Will Manners and Bishop be able to escape?
This is an interesting film. Historically this is the first of many films that Lugosi and Karloff starred in together, which is cool. This film I guess also pushed the limits back when it was made. Some of the films I have seen over the years makes me question that, but I can see for 1934 how this was the case. I think the acting is really good. The fear of the Satanists is something that is around today so that part of it translates as well. The atmosphere is creepy and I think that this house being built on a fort where Karloff and Lugosi have been memories help that. The house has a very modern feel, but it is very plain with the dungeons and secret rooms below. The music choice helps this and adds to it as well.
My problem is that it was a tad boring. The film only has a running time of 65 minutes, which was common for the era. My issue with this though is that I felt a little more character depth or a subplot would have truly benefited this film. This would have added more time, but it would have helped me stay interested in the final outcome.
With that said, for the historical context, I would recommend seeing this film. There is good acting, the story is a little too basic, but it still has some creepy elements to it. The film is from the 1930s, so keep that in mind as it is in black-and-white and the censorship board restricted some of the things that they could do. It is not a bad film by any stretch, but it is not going to blow you away either. If this sounds interesting, then give it a try.
My Rating: 6 out of 10