Friday, October 14, 2011

The Old Dark House (1932)

Imagine being stranded out in the middle of nowhere on a dark rainy night unable to continue on your journey.  Luckily you're able to find shelter in a charming old home with a loving family that agree to put you and your fellow travelers up for the night.  This is totally not what happens in The Old Dark House, except for the being stranded part.

The film was directed by the great James Whale and boasts a stellar cast including Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Gloria Stuart, Raymond Massey, Ernest Thesiger, Lillian Bond, Eva Moore, and Boris Karloff.  Whale seemed very comfortable churning out horror films for Universal, but he was also involved with many other films including Waterloo Bridge (1931), Show Boat (1936), and The Man in the Iron Mask (1939).

The film begins with the Wavertons, a bickering couple (Massey and Stuart) traveling across the countryside with their wisecracking traveling companion Penderel (Douglas) on a rain-soaked, stormy evening.  When the road they're on gets washed out by the storm they notice lights burning in an ominous looking house up ahead and decide to try to stop and seek shelter.  After being greeted at the door by Morgan (Karloff), a scar-faced mumbling butler, the trio enter the house and meet the eccentric owners Horace and Rebecca Femm (Thesiger and Moore).

Another pair of unsuspecting travelers (Laughton and Bond) arrive and are reluctantly allowed to spend the night. As the storm rages outside and the travelers try to settle in, they find that the house and the Femms have a long, sordid and questionable past.  As everyone tries to get better acquainted with each other, and they begin to explore the house, they find mystery and danger at every turn.  Mrs. Waverton is attacked by the drunken brute of a butler, and a locked and bolted door at the top of the stairs conceals behind it a dark secret that the Femm family keep hidden away from all outsiders.

Great sets, special effects, and the wonderful use of lighting and shadows are what you would expect from the meticulous direction of James Whale.  Everyone in the cast is outstanding.  This is a fantastic dark comedy and a must see for any Universal horror fans.

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