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The Old Dark House (1932).

May 25, 2007

The Scoop:
Although he’s remembered mainly for “Frankenstein” (1931), this is the essential James Whale film. Given more creative freedom, he made a film full of eccentric humor, moments of poignant tenderness, creepy sexuality and a few subversive touches.

The plot, from the J.B. Priestley novel “Benighted,” is a cliché by now — a group of travellers are forced to take shelter from a storm in a remote mansion full of sinister goings-on. Whale and the cast have great fun tweaking the conventions, although many of the more dysfunctional aspects of the family living in the mansion are glossed over in deference to the Production Code. (But the hints are still there, if you look for them.)

The cast, all in tip-top shape, includes Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Melvin Douglas, Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart (a full 66 years before her Oscar-nominated performance in “Titanic”). This film is one of those rare treasures that doesn’t deserve its obscurity.

Best Line:
“No beds! They can’t have any beds!”

Side Note:
The family’s patriarch, 102-year-old Sir Roderick Femm, was actually played by a woman, Elspeth Dudgeon. She was billed as John Dudgeon to get her gender bending past the censors.

Companion Viewing:
“The Cat and the Canary” (1927) and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1976).


Take a Look:
“Laughter and sin! LAUGHTER AND SIN!”

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