Cinema Sunday: The Black Cat (1934)

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Title: The Black Cat

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Writers: Edgar G. Ulmer, Peter Ruric

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer

Producer: E. M. Asher

Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Julie Bishop (Jacqueline Wells), Lucille Lund

Released: May, 1934

MPAA: Approved

 

Welcome, fiends! Here we are on the cusp of Halloween, and I’ve selected another film starring the great Boris Karloff! Not only that, but we also get none other than Bela Lugosi as well! Without giving too much away, this film has both men as former friends, but those days are over (at least for one of them). Universal paired these two giants together for a few films over the years, and this one is right there at the top for me! Alright, let’s travel back in time to 1934!

 

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The film begins at a busy train station, where Peter and Joan Allison (David Manners and Julie Bishop) are getting cozy after getting aboard their train and into its compartment. These two honeymooners are settled in when a baggage man tells them that there’s been a mistake, and the compartment was double booked. After some deep sighs, they agree to let the man share with them for the ride. Enter Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi). He tells the couple that he’s going to Hungary as well, to visit this old friend. He also tells them that he spent fifteen years in a Siberian prison after being captured during the war.

 

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After arriving at the train station, they all get on a bus to reach their destination. The bus driver tells the occupants about the atrocities that went on in this area during the war, and of someone who built a house nearby…suddenly, the bus veers off the road, and plummets down an embankment. The driver is dead, and Joan is unconscious, with a bad wound. They walk on foot to a nearby home, and the doorman answers and lets them in, with slight reluctance. After the doorman calls on a radio, we see a figure rise out of bed (with a beautiful blonde woman next to him sleeping). Dr. Werdegast then administers first aid to Joan, and as he’s finishing up, the door swings open, and  Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff) walks into the room.

 

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Later, Werdegast accuses Poelzig of betraying the Hungarians to the Russians. Poelzig sits silently and listens to Werdegast talk about his theories on what went down years ago. Eventually he brings up his wife, and how he knows that Poelzig told her that he was dead, in order to steal her away. As the two seem to be ready to come to blows, Peter walks in and they calm down. As they’re all having a drink together, a black cat walks into the room and frightens Werdegast. He picks up a letter opener, and hurls it like a dagger, killing the cat. At that moment, Joan walks into the room in a zombie-like state. She talks briefly, but then Peter takes her back to her room.

 

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In the middle of the night, we see Poelzig, as he’s creeping around the house. He then stops at a glass case, and its contents are not china or crystal, but the corpse of a woman, then proceeds to look at a few more he has standing around. We also see that he has another black cat to keep him company. He then enters the room where Werdegast is sleeping, but quickly finds out that he’s switched rooms with Peter so he could be in the adjoining room with his wife. The two then go to the other room and Poelzig agrees to show Werdegast his wife. He takes him to the basement where he shows him his wife, as she’s been preserved. Werdegast blames him for her death (he also tells him that their daughter is dead too), and pulls a gun out and tells Poelzig he’s going to kill him now. Suddenly, the black cat creeps in, and scares the crap out of Werdegast. He drops the gun, and falls into a glass case. Poelzig tells him that they’ll have time to settle things after the other guests have left.

 

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As Poelzig returns to his room, we see a beautiful blond woman again, and he calls her Karen (the daughter of Werdegast, Lucille Lund). He tells her to stay in her room all day tomorrow, so as not to arouse Werdegast. We also see him reading a book on satanic cults and such. The following morning, Werdegast is getting ready to check on Joan, and Poelzig comes in, and stares at her eerily. Werdegast knows that his look has something sinister behind it, and wants to stop him, whatever the cost.

 

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I’ll stop here, because going any further would ruin the film’s ending and grandiose show!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This film is the culmination of the non-monster horror/thrillers of this decade. You cannot find a film with more atmosphere, or better performances from these two giants. Karloff is simply evil in this film, but Lugosi is as well, although he’s driven by revenge, not from a devilish perspective. There is also a ton of great music in this film, and not just at parts but from beginning to end.

The content of this film is more than edgy for its time. How many movies in 1934 were showing (in shadow) someone being skinned alive? There were other elements too, like the satanic cult angle, the dead woman being kept “fresh.” Other elements as well, but I’ll leave it at that.

This film is a “must see” for any horror fan, or the team of Lugosi and Karloff. Both men shaped this genre and forever left a stamp on the industry with very few other actors in their company. Get this film on DVD or BluRay immediately.

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: King Kong (1933)

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Title: King Kong

Distributor: RKO Radio Pictures

Writers: Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace (story), James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose (Screenplay),

Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Shoedsack

Producers: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Shoedsack, David O. Selznick

Starring: Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, Robert Armstrong, Frank Reicher

Released: March 1933

MPAA: UR

 

Although I’m partial to B-movies, every once and a while, I crave for something big. Something so huge, it must get attention. Not just huge mind you, but a film that was revolutionary. Two men that took this film and made it larger than life- Merian C. Cooper and Willis O’Brien. These two men are nothing short of pioneers in their respective fields, and if not for their achievements and courage to be visionaries, I shudder to think where the film industry would be today (or wouldn’t be).

I won’t go into a huge breakdown of the actual film, because lets be honest, the over whelming majority have seen it, and probably multiple times. This will just be a subtle reminder of how awesome this film is, and how its creators shocked the world back in 1933. Yes, amid the greatest economic downfall of this great country, these filmmakers went all out and made a movie that brought people to the theaters. I give you, King Kong…

 

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The film begins with two men talking about a “crazy” trip that a vessel will soon embark on, led by Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), a wildlife photographer/filmmaker that apparently knows no fear. The first mate, Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) then yells down at the men, questioning who they are. We then see Denham and Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher), arguing over the trip and its specifics. An agent then shows up that was supposed to get a girl for this excursion, but he tells Denham that with his reputation for danger, no one will do it.

 

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Denham then storms out, vowing to find a girl, “even if he has to marry one.” Denham is no dummy, so after he sees a bunch of women hanging around a homeless shelter, he swoops in for the chance. None of them cut the mustard for him, so he carries on. He happens upon a vendor selling fruit, and a girl tries to steal an apple, but the owner catches her. He tells her he’s going to call the police, but Denham intervenes, and pays for the fruit. He then takes the girl, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to a restaurant, and buys her a meal. He tells her that he’s making a movie and he wants her to be in it. With no other course of action (she’s apparently hit a string of bad luck and is homeless), she agrees to do it.

 

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The following morning, Denham and his crew load the ship, and get ready to head out. Driscoll and the Captain aren’t sure this wide-eyed girl is up for this trip. Driscoll scoffs at a “woman” being on board, but does let up after talking with Ann. Charlie the cook (Victor Wong), seems to be Ann’s only friend, even after six weeks on the seas. Eventually, the expedition reaches Skull Island. Denham found the island’s location from an ancient map, and also heard about many strange creatures that inhabit the location. As they sit closely to the shores, they can hear the ominous sounds of beating drums.

 

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They make the decision to take some men to investigate the island. They head deep into the jungle, and discover an indigenous tribe of warriors that is performing a ritual dance. After a few minutes of observing, Denham and his crew are discovered. The tribe seems peaceful enough at first, but then when they discover Ann, they get restless. The Captain knows some of the dialects from the area, and communicates as best he can. The chief of the tribe tells him that the girl they see chained up is the “bride of Kong.” In the end, Denham decides discretion is the better course, and they leave. The tribe inhabits a village surrounded by walls that are twenty-five feet high, at least. This puzzles the crew, and they wonder why they need walls that high.

 

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That night back on the ship, Ann is chilling out on the deck, but suddenly is kidnapped by some of the tribesmen from the island. The crew soon figure it out, and the chase is on. The tribesman have a huge advantage knowing the island and its many trappings, so they elude the crew for quite some time. Inside the village walls, the tribe begins to start up the ritual again, this time with Ann as the sacrifice! The tribesmen strap her to a couple of trees, then lock the gate to the village, then begin to bang a huge gong, as if ringing the dinner bell. Minutes later, a huge ape crashes through the jungle, and eyeballs the beauty.

 

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By the time Denham and his crew show up, Kong has already carried Ann off, to who knows where. They pursue, and almost immediately are attacked by a dinosaur! On the way to his man cave with Ann, Kong encounters an Allosaurus, and battles the creatures (at one point we see a single-leg take down and a also a judo throw!), eventually breaking its jaw. Kong plays with his kill like a toy for a minute afterward, then turns his attention back to Ann (who was tossed into a tree top). Along the way the crew fights a Brontosaurus, and Kong faces off with an Elasmosaurus and even a Pteranodon!

The crew eventually catches up to Kong, and manages to steal Ann away, then they head back to the village with Kong in-tow. A huge donnybrook breaks out back there between Kong, the villagers, and the crew. Kong is eventually subdued by gas bombs that Denham brought along for just such an occasion. He intends to take the behemoth back to NYC to display him to make some big bucks.

 

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Will Denham find out that nature cannot be controlled? Or will Kong become the first giant ape that people actually pay money to gawk at? Will Ann get kicked to the curb now that the adventure is over? Only a viewing of this classic will answer these soul-searing questions!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

If there is actually anyone out there that hasn’t seen this film, you need your head examined. A classic if there ever was one, this movie made Willis O’Brien a household name in the area of stop-motion animation (Kong and the other creatures were spectacular). This film had a huge influence on the man most noted for that part of filming, Ray Harryhausen.  The film also put Fay Wray (image below) on the map, although she had a bit of a career before this film hit. After it though, she was used extensively in horror and action/adventure films.

The influence of this film doesn’t stop on these shores, and is absolutely a direct influence for Godzilla, and all other giant monster films that followed. Speaking of what followed, Son of Kong is also an interesting film and deserves a viewing, as does Mighty Joe Young (more comedic moments, but still good).

You must certainly give this film a viewing every now and again. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it, because it entertains every time, and if you look closely, you can find something new every time as well. Armstrong plays a great showman, Wray a great damsel in distress, and Driscoll a fabulous hard-nosed sailor. The cast was key in this one, but without Willis O’Brien and his efforts, it would’ve all been for naught. The music score was spot on, and made the dramatic scenes feel even more real, and they help keep you on the edge of your seat!

 

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Click here for the trailer!