Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Black Castle, The (1952)

Directed by:
Nathan Juran

Adapting the alias "Richard Beckett," Englishmen Sir Ronald Burton (Richard Greene) travels with his faithful servant Romley (Tudor Owen) to a small Austrian village to investigate the recent disappearances of two of his friends who were last seen in the area. He assumes Karl von Bruno (Stephen McNally), a sadistic count who seems to have a stranglehold over the entire village, has something to do with it because of an altercation that occured years earlier in Africa that cost him one of his eyes. Ronald has managed to snag an invitation to a hunting competition taking place on von Bruno's grounds (he's even imported a vicious black leopard in for the occasion) and decides to use the opportunity to search for either his friends (granted they're still alive) or evidence that will implicate the count in murder. What Ronald doesn't plan on is falling in love with his host's mistreated wife Elga (Rita Corday), who was forced into marrying a man who has no problem flaunting his infidelities in front of her. Various complications ensue, castle physician Dr. Meissen (Boris Karloff) becomes an unlikely ally and brutish, mute manservant Gargon (Lon Chaney, Jr.) lurks around in the hallways.

You certainly get your money's worth with this Universal production. Not only is it a well-made, extremely entertaining and nice-looking effort recalling the studio's classic era days, but it's also fast-paced, fairly well-plotted (Jerry Sackheim scripted) and offers up a pinch of just about every single genre under the sun. There's swashbuckling action, an exciting hunting adventure, romantic drama and excellent Gothic castle sets, secret passageways, a pit full of hungry alligators, a torture dungeon, a truly sadistic villain and Karloff and Chaney on hand for us horror fans. Both horror stars do what's asked of them here in their smaller supporting roles, but the film centers primarily around Greene and McNally. Thankfully, both actors are great in their roles. Greene is very charismatic and likable as our hero and McNally (in a role that will likely bring to mind the character of Count Zaroff in THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME) gives a terrific performance as the evil, eyepatch-wearing count. In addition, there are nice supporting turns from Michael Pate and John Hoyt as von Bruno's cronies and novel use is made of a fake death serum; an idea later recycled for the all-star Gothic horror THE BLACK SLEEP (1956).

Director Juran would go on to make the cult horror favorites 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957), THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1957) and ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN (1958), but this is just as noteworthy - if not moreso - than his better-known films. The music score is all stock (including familiar snippets from THE WOLF MAN) and Bud Westmore (whose work adorns over 500 films) did the makeup.

Universal issued an excellent print of the film as part of their "Boris Karloff Collection" set, which also includes the films NIGHT KEY (1937), TOWER OF LONDON (1939), THE CLIMAX (1944) and THE STRANGE DOOR (1951; which was also written by Sackheim).


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