For my film this week, The Void has chosen the 1922 German silent film Haxan. This has been lovingly restored for the Criterion Collection, and is available for streaming on HBO Max. This will be a shorter dissection than my previous submissions. Don’t get too excited. It really is not possible to go into too much of a story analysis.
You can check out my last post on Suspicionhere, if you want to see a heated review. Nonetheless, let’s get into it.
Summarizing Haxan: The first stories
This film tells the story of witchcraft through the centuries. It is told in chapters with the first telling a history or how the Devil and witchcraft are connected and the preceding chapters telling dramatizations of witchcraft being practiced and the impact on innocent victims.
Many of the movie tropes we see today can be traced back to Haxan. The depiction of witches being ugly, old hags for one. Even in the story when the beautiful young woman is the witch, it is quite easy for her to frame a woman fitting this description as the witch and divert attention from herself.
In one of the first stories, what we have come to know as the early zombie walk is depicted. Arms straight out, walking aimlessly. The woman in question is young and beautiful, and stark naked. I don’t think I have ever seen shadows used so skillfully to maintain modesty.
German Macabre in Haxan
As the dramatization progresses there is a stunning scene of witches flying on their broomsticks, to dance with demons. I want to add that the witches are able to fly because of the ointment that they rub on each other’s back. I wonder if that could be where the concept of Pixie Dust came from?
There were a number of laugh out loud moments for me, but I am not sure they were intentional. It could be the fact that, at times, I have the sense of humor of a 13-year-old boy. When the title card suggests that witches have to kiss the devil’s bottom and then showed an illustration of this act, I found it quite amusing. I must also say that my laughter was that of being delighted by the images, which were highly imaginative and way ahead of their time. The Germans have a special quality in their depiction of the macabre, especially during the 1920s.
The film is in black and white, but the filmmaker also used a sepia color, often indicating either firelight, or hellfire. The use of shadow, as I previously mentioned, was masterfully done. It allowed the provocative to be present, but maintained the film’s modesty.
I am recommending this film, especially to those who love the process of filmmaking. To those, it is almost essential viewing. Also, those of you who are Pop Culture addicts like me, you might want to watch to see where Tenacious D and Dave Grohl found their inspiration for their version of the devil in “The Pick of Destiny.”
While this take was short and sweet, I will be back with whatever The Void decides to throw me. Hope all of your 2022 are magical…with no devil butt kissing included!
I would first like to welcome The Void back! She chose this movie for me during her hiatus, so I have watched it, had time to stew on it, and here goes my dissection.
For this outing, The Void has chosen the 1941 Alfred Hitchock movie, “Suspicion”. She told me upon discussing it with her after my viewing, that she picked this for me because of how swooned over Cary Grant in “Notorious”. Unfortunately, without giving too much away, this film has slightly tarnished not only my opinion of Mr. Grant, but of Mr. Hitchcock as well. I have never had a problem liking flawed characters, just look at my past dating history, but as I get older, I have come to differentiate between flawed and defective. But let’s get into the nitty gritty shall we, and I hope to explain what I mean. I hope you will join me for my take of 1941’s “Suspicion”. You can check out my last Hitchcock review here.
So It Begins: Suspicion
The film begins with a black screen and Johnnie (Cary Grant) apologizing to someone unseen, explaining he didn’t realize they were going to go through a tunnel and he thought the compartment was empty. When the light fills the compartment, we see Lina (Joan Fontaine), book in hand, looking slightly annoyed at Johnnie as he is putting his things on the shelf above the seat opposite her. He complains to her that he had to switch compartments because of the cigar smell next door. He asks if she smokes and explains how relieved he is when she says no because he apparently had quite the evening the night before. When he asks her if she understands, he surveys her more conservative appearance; her sensible shoes, child psychology book, high buttoned coat and hat, and he conveys a look of ‘well maybe not’.
Just then the porter enters asking for their tickets. Lina retrieves hers from her handbag, while Johnnie quickly goes from pocket to pocket, searching for his. Lina’s ticket is first class; Johnnie’s ticket is for third class. The porter explains he is in the wrong compartment. Johnnie accuses the rail line of ‘selling third class tickets at first class prices’. The porter gives him the total for the seat upgrade, and Johnnie asks if they will accept what he has, which is not enough.
The porter looks at him unsympathetically, and Johnnie asks Lina if she has any change. She starts to pull coins out of her purse and he reaches over, grabs what he needs and gives the money to the porter, who gives him a disgusted look as he leaves the compartment. Now personally, I don’t care how handsome or charming a person is, if they help themselves to my money, out of my hand, they are pulling back a bloody stump!
Johnnie acts as though he is trying to sleep, while Lina picks up the newspaper. She opens it to the society page, and there is her new, freeloading compartment mate pictured with an elegantly dressed woman. Lina looks from the paper to Johnnie as he looks out the window, annoyed by the sunlight.
The Fox Hunt
We are now at the start of a very traditional English fox hunt. Bugles playing, horses antsy to get going and dogs barking. Johnnie is charming the ladies and a local photographer. In the distance he sees a horse being a bit cooperative and he instantly recognizes the rider as his unwitting travel companion, only this time, she is sans glasses, looking vibrate and RICH!. He asks the ladies he is with her name, because of course he didn’t bother when he was pilfering money out of her hand. One of the women warns him that Lina is ‘not up his alley’. Johnnie replies he is ‘bored with people in my alley’. He asks for an introduction and the woman who issued the warning refuses. Johnnie says he will just have to do so himself, as the ladies go to get ready for the hunt.
With the hunt over, we now find Lina, back in her more mousey attire, casually reading in her home. Visitors arrive at her window and she greets them, inviting them in. They are the same ladies from the hunt, and Johnnie got the introduction he wanted. Lina instantly takes off her glasses and accepts the introduction, shyly. The girls tell Lina that when they saw her in the window, Johnnie insisted on meeting her. I am sure this was completely a coincidence (Wink Wink).
Lina questions why Johnnie would care to meet her, and his answer made me gag a little. This man is so full of himself, he is going to need a bigger suit! Lina is more reserved than his other companions. He tells her that she should hurry so she is not late for church, which she was not planning on attending. When she inquires with the ladies if that was their plan, they are caught off guard, but Johnnie sees his plan working out as intended.
The three women extend an invitation to join them, and much to Johnnie’s delight, Lina accepts, with a bit of speculation towards her stalker in her voice. He asks her to put on the hat she had on the train, signalling to not only Lina, but the other ladies, that he remembers her and it is not their first meeting. Lina leave to make herself ready, while the ladies take seats to wait for her return. Johnnie pick up the book Lina was reading and as a bookmark , she is using his picture she saw in the paper on the train, much to his delight.
A Deadly…Hair Fixing?
When they reach the church, Johnnie finds a way to separate Lina from the group and before entering the two leave together. We next find them struggling on what appears to be a cliff top. Lina is not amused, while Johnnie see this as all great fun. He inquires why she so aggressively fought off his advances, afterall, it wasn’t like he was trying to kill her. No means NO, even in 1941! He explains that he was not trying to kiss her, he was just trying to fix her hair, telling her that her hair is all wrong.
He then undoes her hair and makes it ridiculous. She tells him that she is much different than the women he is photographed with, he asks her how he stacks up against her horse. Interesting approach, at this point, I would compare him more to a dog…but anyway. Lina tells him that if she ever got the bit in his mouth, she would have no problem controlling him. That’s my girl! Johnnie then makes his move to try and kiss her, and she dodges successfully. It is at this point he bistoes his new nickname on her. Monkeyface.
Johnnie walks Lina home, and as they approach, she asks him not to come further. He tells her he will come to ‘fetch her’ at 3:00. She tells him no, and he keeps insisting. She leaves him, and as she approaches the house, she hears her family discussing her. They are talking how she will never marry, how they will have to care for her, and that she is a spinster. Her father does praise her brains and character, but the damage is done.
Mom and Dad basically tied a steak around her neck and sent her to the wolf! Lina turns to see Johnnie standing there beside her. He is smiling, and it is uncertain if he heard what her parents said or not. Lina wraps her arm around his neck and kisses the wolf, I mean Johnnie. She quickly retreats into the house and joins her parents for lunch.
Lina tells her parents she didn’t go to church after all, but went on a walk instead with Johnnie. Her father quickly remarks that Johnnie is wild, and when Lina asks, he tells her he was caught cheating at cards. She tells her parents she is seeing him again, and she no more gets the words out, and she gets a call that he has canceled their plans. She returns to the table, slightly defeated.
As time goes on, Lina tries to track Johnnie down. She inquires if he has been invited to an upcoming ball, checks her mail, and calls him home. No reply. The night of the ball, Lina’s mother comes to her room to find her crying, saying she is not going to the ball. A telegram arrives, stating Johnnie’s intentions on seeing her there. Suddenly Lina’s mood changes and she opts for a more revealing dress.
At the ball, Lina is watching the others dance. She waits on the sidelines, anxiously watching the door for the wolf. A friend approaches her and they start to dance. LIna’s father is approached by the butler, saying that there is someone at the door. He says he is with his party, to which Lina’s father disputes ever extending an invitation. The matter is quickly dismissed as Lina sees him and the two begin to dance, leaving her stunned father and his other female admirers behind.
They dance their way out of the ball, and Johnnie helps himself to Lina’s family’s car, as she gleefully protests. They drive off, all smiles and he asks her if she has ever kissed in a car. When she says never, he remedies that situation. Their conversation reveals how much of a ladies man he is. He admits to her that he is honest with her because he can see that is what will get him results, to which she replies with a confession of love.
He is a cad and she is an idiot. Blunt I know, but it is one thing to be fooled by someone who is pretending to be something they are not. It is something entirely different, when they lay every ugly detail out on the table, and yet “but I love him”, is still your reply. I want to reach through the screen and slap her, just on principle.
Johnnie tells her he is falling in love with her as well, and they make a stop at Lina’s house for a drink. Johnnie tells her how nervous he is and she says she is not, because she knows what she wants. He is taken aback by the painting of Lina’s father, admitting that he knows her father doesn’t like him. To his credit, Johnnie tells her, he is everything that her father says he is. Johnnie proposes and she agrees as they dance to a song of their own.
Well That Was Fast: The Fatal Flaw of Suspicion
Lina is leaving to elope and she goes to tell her parents goodbye. Okay….I am going to be honest with you here. When I review the movies, I watch them once and then watch them again, pausing and analyzing the scenes. I can’t with this one. It just pissed me off. So here is the rest of the film in a nutshell.
Lina runs off and marries Johnnie, who, when they return home from a honeymoon he bought with credit, moves them into a home they can’t afford. He is banking on the fact that her parents will give her money. The only thing that they give them is a set of antique chairs, that he turns around and hocks so he can go and gamble. Lina is upset and heart broken until Johnnie returns from the track with presents for her, and his lifelong friend, who is staying with him. He gives her the receipt for the chairs he bought back and all is forgiven. The friend mentions he has an allergy to brandy, and drinking it could kill him.
Johnnie agrees to take a job with his cousin as a property manager. When Lina goes to visit him at work one day, she discovers they fired him for stealing $2000, the exact amount he “won” at the track. She does not confront him, but starts to pack, and once again “But I love him.” comes into play. She stays of course.
Johnnie and his friend decide to start a corporation and go into real estate, but the land they try to buy is bogus. Lina’s father dies and instead of money, he leaves them the painting from the study. Good job Pop! The friend goes back to Paris to dissolve the corporation, while Johnnie goes to London.
Johnnie’s a Little Sketch, But Why Does That Matter?
Later in the week police show up and tell Lina the friend is dead, someone had poisoned him with brandy. They ask where her husband is, and she covers for him. She calls the club where he was to be staying, and they said he left a few days ago. She instantly believes her husband killed the friend.
Then, there is a bunch of stuff with life insurance and Lina again believes Johnnie is going to kill her this time. She decides to leave him and go to her mothers, which he agrees to. There is a struggle in the car and confrontation and Johnnie reveals he was going to kill himself. That way, she could have the life insurance money and pay off the debt and get rid of him. Of course Lina responded with, “But I love you.” and they drive off into the sunset.
Final Thoughts on Suspicion
I wanted to like this film so much, Hitchcock, Grant, Fontane….but it is just a pile of pretty people doing disgusting and stupid things and charming their way out of it. She never should have married him, and when he sold her chairs, she should have been gone. I love the players in this film, but not the film. I will not be watching this again, anytime soon.
Am I angry about this? Yes. Do I recommend it? No. The Void has given an assignment from way back in time, and possibly the pits of Hell. As long as there are no chair stealing, pretty boys; I can handle anything but that!
Notorious is a wonderful introduction to the genre of film-noir. It eases you in without being too dark, and gives you enough romance to make you care about what happens to the two leads; the two leads are Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, so that is not a difficult thing to do. Boy, Ingrid Bergman has gotten a beating over the last few weeks. Brilliantly directed by Alfred Hitchock, Notorious transports us back to the days just after World War 2, with enough spies, intrigue and innuendo to keep even the most passive viewer engaged. So without further ado, here is my analysis of 1946’s “Notorious” . PS: If you are looking for the 2009 biopic Notorious about the Notorious B.I.G., I am afraid this is a very different film. You can check out the last MOTV post here.
The film starts in a courtroom in Miami, where Alicia Huberman’s (Bergman) father has just been convicted of treason. The press is waiting for her, taking her picture and bombarding her with questions. It is quickly established that she is being followed, but by whom?
We now find ourselves at a party at Alicia’s house, where she is generously pouring drinks, as she is being asked questions by her guests about being followed by the police, which she ignores. We can see everyone’s face, except a shadowy figure with his back to us. Alicia acknowledges him, pours him a drink and begins talking to him, with no response from the mystery man. To be honest, she doesn’t really give him a chance to respond. This is her house and she is commanding the room, looking stunning while doing so. She suggests that the mystery man is a party crasher, but is corrected by the guest who invited him. Still not a word from the shadowy figure.
Alicia finally acknowledges the fact that she is being followed and expresses her annoyance at being a marked woman because of her father’s dealings. The elder gentleman she has been generously imbibing reminds her that they are setting sail tomorrow and the police will no longer be a problem. The party begins to break up, and as it does, Alicia pours the mystery man another drink, telling him she likes him, even though he hasn’t uttered a word.
Finally the camera pans around to show that our mystery man is Devlin (Grant). It is apparent that the two have continued to drink long after the other guests have either left, or passed out. Alicia is clearly intoxicated, but Devlin is cool as a cucumber. Alicia suggests that the two go outside for a picnic. She tells Devlin her car is outside, and asks if he wants to go for a ride. She tells him that she is driving, and all he protests to is that she doesn’t have her coat, to which she replies, “You’ll do.” When they exit the house, the wind is blowing, and Devlin proceeds to wrap a scarf around Alicia’s bare midriff, telling her he doesn’t want her to get cold.
Celeb crushes, anyone?
I have a confession to make here. If I was to build the perfect man it would be a combination of Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. I think I spent half this movie swooning over Grant’s cool demeanor and suave good looks. Ok, let me wipe the drool off my chin and continue.
Having gotten her way, Alicia is erratically swerving all over the road. She asks Devilin if he is scared, and he shows no fear, as she increases her sleep to make him show her something. We can see Devlin’s hand is positioned to take control of the wheel if need be, but he is saved from having to do so by a motorcycle policeman’s approach. Alicia expresses her disdain for the police. She reluctantly pulls over after admitting that this would be her second drunk driving offense and that would cause her to go to jail, like the rest of her family.
The officer approaches the car and after a few snide remarks from Alicia, he asks Devlin if she is drunk. He doesn’t answer, he just reaches into his pocket and shows the officer his credentials. The officer apologizes for pulling them over and states his assurance in Devlin’s abilities as he walks away.
Alicia, confused and agitated, askes her passenger where the ticket she rightly deserves is. Finally Alicia asks for his name, and he introduces himself to her. She questions him about what he showed the officer to make him leave. She becomes aggressive as she identifies him as a cop and begins to hit him, while Devlin stays measured and cool. He tells her to move over so he can drive and take her home. She refuses, gripping the steering wheel until her knuckles are white. He tries to be as gentle as he can with her, while she continues to hit and fight. I am not sure what moves he does on her, but she finally either passes out or just gives up. He slides into the driver’s seat with a sigh.
The next morning, Alicia awakes with a hangover cure on her nightstand and Devlin leaning casually in her doorway. Hitchcock’s direction is wonderful here. He spins the camera to show how Alicia’s head is spinning from her crazy night.
The Plot Thickens
As Alicia slowly starts to get her wits about her, she questions Delvin about what he wants with her. He explains that he works for the government and they want her to help them catch some of the men who had worked with her father, and are now conducting business in Brazil. She insists she is not interested and even turning her back on him. He tells her that her apartment has been wired for three months, and he plays a recording between Alicia and her father. She tells her father that she loves America and hates what her father is doing. She is visibly upset by this, but tells Devlin that she wants to live her own life.
The captain from the night before arrives and tells her that it is almost time for the boat to depart. He leaves again as Devlin gives Alicia another chance to agree, which she does, sending him to tell the captain the bad news.
The couple is now on a plane to Brazil. Everyone used to get so dressed up on airplanes, not a pair of pajama pants or crocs to be found. Devlin points out their boss, a few rows back in the plane. Devlin tells Alicia that her father has died. He took a poison capsil. Alicia reflects on how nice she and her once were before she knew who her father really was. With his death, she no longer has to hate him or herself.
They are now at a street cafe in Rio, still awaiting news on what their job will be. Alicia asks Devlin to put his cop brain on the back burner and just take her hand and have fun. Alicia starts to drown her doubts in herself as she asks Devlin to believe in her.
They have gone for a drive and are admiring the view as Alicia tells Devlin that he can’t admit he has feelings for her because he is ashamed of loving a drunk, and is worried about what others will think. Well he finds a way to stop her from talking; a passionate kiss does the trick.
Alicia and Devlin
The agents are having a meeting about Alicia, and how much faith he has in her. The meeting adjourns with the men looking very proud of themselves. They basically just agreed that Alicia will have to find her way into the house of the German business man they are targeting, who had ties to her father.
Devlin and Alicia have arrived at her hotel room and make good use of the balcony, and I don’t mean they are admiring the view of the beach. The two make plans for dinner in between kisses. Devlin contacts his hotel to see if he has any messages. Alicia tells Devlin she knows he doesn’t love her, to which he responds, “When I don’t love you, I’ll let you know.” Ok…heart…calm yourself….swoon…
Devlin has a message from his boss, and he has to leave for a meeting. They kiss all the way to the door. At the meeting, his boss has obviously told him they expect Alicia to become intimate with their target. He is visibly upset and states that he is not sure that she will do it. His boss tells him that their target, Alex Sebastian ( Claude Rains) was once in love with Alicia, and this is the perfect opportunity to get someone on the inside to find out what has been going on.
It is determined that Devlin and Alicia will stage an unexpected meeting with Alex at a local riding club. Devlin now has the unfortunate task of going back to tell the woman he loves he is whoring her out for the good ole’ USA. Those are my words, not his, but if I was Alicia, that is what I would hear in my head.Devlin returns to Alicia’s hotel room as she is happily cooking for the two of them. She happily is going about, setting the table, and he is back to his mystery man stance. Alicia is so open with him, and he zings her, and gets back to business.
Devlin asks Alicia if she remembers their target and asks if he had feelings for her. She tells him that he did have feelings for her, but she did not return them. She asks him what the plan is and he tells her that they are meeting Alex tomorrow, but it is up to her to “land him”, which is better than saying nail him I guess. Alicia compares herself to Mata Hari, trying to lighten the mood, Devlin brings any levity crashing to the ground as he reiterates that she has to win the target over and get the intel. Alicia accuses him of knowing all along that this is what the job was and he tells her he just found out himself. Both are heart broken, but Devlin hides behind his law enforcement mask while Alicia’s expressions are an open book.
Alicia Joins the Case
Alica asks if he told the boss she was not the kind of woman for this job, and Devlin says he leaves it up to her to defend herself. She enquiries if he tried to adjust the assignment, if he tried to protect what they were starting. Devlin replies, this is the job they have to do. As her pain increases, Alicia’s mask is starting to be secured into place. She asks him if she should take the job, and he tells her it is up to her. She asks him to tell her that he loves her, but once again, the words do not come.
As she walks from the cozy balcony, her self esteem seems to blow way with the ocean breeze. My heart breaks for her. This man she is falling for is willing to give her up to another man because it is the job. His cold and matter of fact demeanor is doing nothing to help ease the pain of this blow he had dealt her. He did so much more damage with his words and lack thereof, than he ever did in the tussle over her car back in Miami. She takes a drink and when she speaks her mask is firmly in place.
The next day, the two are heading to the riding company. Devlin gives her his back story, and his folded arms show how unhappy he is about the situation. At the riding club, the two slowly ride past Alex, but Alicia’s hat obscures his view, even though he does have a spark of recognition. When Devlin says they should wait around and take this slowly, Alicia is not too keen on this idea, signaling her horse to run, which makes Alex follow, clearly recognizing a woman he was once very fond of. Alex catches up to her, taking her horse’s reins and stopping them both, as Devlin looks on, his mask cracking.
Having missed a meeting with Devlin, we find Alicia and Alex having dinner. Alex is openly flirting as Alicia is cool but affectionate. She sees Prescott, her boss, enter the restaurant. Alex asks if she knows that man and she says no. He explains to her that Prescott is intelligence, and Alicia shares her disdain for members of law enforcement, explaining they are the reason why she left Miami and was not there when her father died. Alex admits this answers a question he had about why she left Miami. Alex says he wants to help Alicia forget all the pain and trouble she and her father had gone through. She tells him she feels at home with him.
Tension between the lovebirds
Alex asks her if there is someone else in her life and specifically Devlin. Alicia tells him that Devlin has been nothing but a pest since she arrived in Rio. She assures him that Devlin means nothing to her. Alex invites her to a dinner party his mother is throwing at their house. So, he is a mama’s boy. Let’s see to what extent shall we….
Devlin is angry, Prescott curious about flowers Alex has sent Alicia. The two agents are waiting in Alicia’s room as she appears, stunning in white, ready for the dinner party. Prescott gives Alicia some rented jewels, and tells her to try and memorize the names of the people in attendance. He tells the two that they need to not see each other for a few days, in case anyone from the party checks up on her.
Alicia arrives at Alex’s house, a large mansion on the ocean. He is doing very well for himself. . She is escorted into a room to wait, and she sees Alex’s mother descend the stairs. The two women greet each other, but with guarded stances. Alex enters, and the Ice Queen, oh sorry, Alex’s mother suggests they meet the other guests.
As all the guests take their seats for dinner, a certain wine visibly upsets one of the guests. Alex quickly escorts him from the room as Alicia takes note. Alicia cannot see the label of the wine in questions.
After dinner the gentlemen retire to a room to have cigars and to discuss the poor man who had a melt down about the wine and is now waiting nervously in the hall. He enters the room and apologizes to the men. He tells Alex he wishes to leave on his own. One of the other guests insists on driving the man home. A concrete shoe fitting, anyone?
Mama’s boy and the Ice Queen are at the horse races, discussing where Alicia disappeared to. Devlin and Alicia meet, and she gives him her intel from the party. Alicia tells Devlin that Alex is one of her playmates. Devlin is angry and lashes out the best he can without losing their cover. He is cruel to her and as Alex approaches he gets one more jab in as Alicia tries to gain her composure. Alex tells Alicia he was watching the two of them and she must convince him that Devlin means nothing to her.
Alicia and Alex
Prescott and Devlin are meeting with other agents, discussing the intel Alicia gave them. She announces that she is there to see them, and when one of the other gentlemen in the room makes snide remarks about her character, Devlin stands up for her, putting the man in his place. Now if he could just do that when she is actually in the room, the love birds might make some progress.
Alicia enters and tells the gentlemen that Alex has asked her to marry him, and she had to give him an answer quickly. They tell her that if she is willing to go this far for them. Prescott asks for Devlin’s opinion and he agrees it is a good idea. Both the lovers are heartbroken, but masks in place. Devlin quickly takes his leave, as the men discuss their luck in this opportunity.
Now married Alex and Alicia return home after their honeymoon. The Ice Queen is not happy about the situation, and makes sure the couple comes home to a dark house. The next day, while Alicia is settling in, she discovers locked doors. The butler tells her that the Ice Queen has all the keys to the locked doors. Alicia interrupts Alex’s meeting and he goes to fetch them from mommy. The two argue behind clothes doors, and what do you know, Mama’s Boy won.
Alicia systematically goes through the house unlocking all the doors but the wine cellar, which only Alex has the key to. While meeting to share information, Devlin tells her to get the key. Alicia tells him easier said than done, and that she is having no fun. Devlin tells her it is too late for all that. He convinces her to throw a party. She can steal the key and slip it to him during the party.
The night of the party, as Alex gets ready in the other room, Alicia stealthily takes the key from his keychain. She does some quick maneuvering as her husband tries to explain his jealousy toward Devlin.
The newlyweds greet their guest, as Alicia holds tight to the key. When Devlin arrives, Alicia slips him the key as he kisses her hand. Alex quickly approaches and assures Devlin and the invitation to the party was from both of them, not just his wife. Our two sneaks begin to worry that the party will run out of champagne and Alex will realize that his key is missing during his absence. Another guest drags Devlin away, while Alicia enquiries with the butler about the champagne supply. Alicia goes to find Devlin, and as they sit and talk, Alex watches the pair from across the room. They plan where to meet and Devlin leaves as Alicia returns to her husband’s side, watching more and more glasses of champagne be poured.
The Wine Cellar
Alicia makes an excuse to leave and goes to meet Devlin. As he searches the wine cellar, Alicia keeps watch. While trying to examine some paperwork, Devlin breaks a bottle of wine that is full of “sand” Devlin gets a sample and the pair half heartedly clean up the mess. He tells her to find another bottle with the same label. She does, but only looks at the label, not the vintage. Alicia pours out the wine, and puts the “sand” back in the bottle and places on the shelf.
At the party the butler approaches Alex to inform him they are running low on champagne. Devlin and Alicia quickly finish cleaning up as Alex arrives in the cellar. Worried about being seen, Devlin quickly kisses Alicia. In the moment, she loses herself and drowns his love for her. He tells her to push him away as Alex approaches. She tells her husband that Devlin drunkenly made the advance. Devlin tells Alex, “I knew her before you, I loved her before you, but I am not as lucky as you.” From behind his mask, Devlin is able to speak his truth. He gives his apology to the couple, and Alex sends Alicia up to see to her guests.
Back to the task at hand, when Alex and the butler return to the wine cellar, he realizes that his key is missing. He tells the butler that the guests have had enough champagne and they can drink what is available upstairs.
Alicia apologizes to her husband after the guests have left. He tells her he was the one who acted like a school boy and then sends her to bed while he goes to conduct some business.
When he enters his bedroom, he sees Alicia sleeping in her bed. He takes his now lighter keyring and places it on the vanity, looking back to his wife. The next morning Alex awakens and looks nervously at a still sleeping Alicia. He goes to check his key ring and the missing key is back where it belongs. He goes down to the wine cellar. Nothing seems out of place, but then he notices something poured down the sink. He goes to examine the shelf where the broken bottle came from. One of the bottles is the wrong vintage and not sealed properly. He picks it up and sees it is full of the “sand”, but he realizes that someone has tampered with this bottle. He searches further and finds the broken bottle under the shelves.
Alex does what any self respecting mama’s boy would do. He runs to his mommy and tells her that his wife is an American agent. The Ice Queen is practically giddy when she finds out there is a problem with her daughter in law. Alex reminds his mother that his business partners got rid of a man for freaking out over a bottle of wine. What will they do to him when they find out his wife is a spy. The two strike up a plan to slowly make Alicia ill, and then one day they will just get rid of her.
What’s in the Bottle?
So the slow poisoning of Alicia begins. When she goes to meet Prescott, he tells her that the “sand” is actually uranium ore. He tells her about Devlin’s transfer to Spain. He asked for the transfer. Alicia confirms that she is still to report to Devlin until the new contact arrives.
Alicia is suffering from dizzy spells, and when she finally goes to meet with Devlin, she is quite ill. She apologizes to him for being late. They both say nothing new is happening. He tells her she doesn’t look very well and asks her if she is sick and she tells him it is a hangover. He is not surprised about her return to her old ways. While they both try to hurt each other with their words, Alicia gives him back the scarf he tied around her waist in Miami. She goes to leave and he asks her to stay, and she tells him she doesn’t want to.
The scientist that is staying with Alex shows genuine concern for Alicia’s health. He starts to give away information about where the uranium is coming from. When the houseguest mistakenly picks up Alicia’s coffee and the Ice Queen and Mama’s Boy quickly stop him from drinking from her cup, the light bulb goes off in Alicia’s head. She knows they are poisoning her, and tries to leave and returns to her room. She collapses before she can get up the stairs to her room and make a phone call for help. Alex insists on removing the phone so she is not disturbed and locks her in there, cutting her off from all contact.
Devlin is in his usual meeting spot, but Alicia never shows up. He goes to see Prescott, and tells him that she hasn’t shown up for 5 days. Devlin tells Prescott that he realizes that Alicia was not drunk when he saw her last, just very sick. He tells him he is going to go to the house and check up on her, make a friendly house call. Prescott tells him to check in after.
Devlin pulls up in front of the stately manor and when the butler opens the door, she asks for Alex first. The butler tells him Alex said no interruptions. He then asks about Alicia and the butler confirms she is ill. Alex is told Devlin is there, and he has his butler tell him to wait. In the meeting, they discuss that people are following them.
Delvin decides he can no longer wait and quickly makes his way up to Alicia. She is barely responsive, but when she realizes it is him, their love for each other cannot hide. She tells him they are poisoning her. He tells her he is going to get her out of the house. Devlin tells her that he was leaving Rio because he loves her and couldn’t stand to see her with Alex. He starts to get Alicia ready to leave and she tells him they gave her sleeping pills. He tries to keep her talking to keep her awake. She asks him to tell her again that he loves her, it keeps her away. As they slowly make their way to the door, she tells him where the sand comes from.
They start to make their escape as Alex meets them at the top of the stairs. Devlin tells the Ice Queen and Mama’s boy that unless he lets them go, he will tell his business associate the truth about who Alicia is. Alex freezes, and mommy does his talking for him. As soon as his associates start to question what is going on, Alex actively helps get Alicia to the car. Once in the car. Alex is locked out of the car and left behind to deal with his associates. With the weight of this hanging in the air, the film ends.
After filming wrapped, Gary Cooper took the wine cellar key. After a few years, he gave the key to Ingrid Bergman, and at a tribute to Alfred Hitchock, she presented the key to him.
All the scenes with multiple kisses were because there was a time limit on long screen kisses due to the Hayes Code.
RKO paid David O Sleznick $800,000 and 50% of the profits for the use of the screen writer, HItchcock, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.
Hitchcock stated that during the course of making the film, he was under surveillance by the FBI because his film contained references to uranium.
I am a huge Hitchcock fan, but this film had escaped my viewing all these years. The first fifteen minutes of the film is very funny. Drunk Ingrid Bergman is delightful. The rest of the film is suspenseful and full of angst and heartbreak. All of the performances are outstanding, but it is the film leads, holding on to those masks of their feeling with all their might is where the film shines.
Hitchcock skillfully uses light to show conflict. Characters in half shadow, stepping into the light, retreating into the dark, this often says more than any dialogue could.
World War II was still fresh in America’s mind when they made this film I am sure that it made the audience question how far they would go for their country. Could they give up their happiness, love, freedom and body if their country asked it of them? More importantly, should this be something that a country asks of its citizens?
“Notorious” is on a number of top film lists and for good reason. You can stream it for free on YouTube and other platforms.
I don’t know where the Void will send me next. Thriller, Horror, Noir…Wherever it is, I am looking forward to the journey, and I hope you will join me for what lies in store. Until next time.
The definition of gaslight is “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perceptions of reality or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”
The name for the term Gaslighting came from the 1938 play “Gas Light” written by Patrick Hamilton. It was made into a film in 1940, and it is the second adaption, 1944, that is my film for the week. Having been a victim of this abuse in two major relationships in my life, I think the Void is trying to give me some inexpensive therapy, and I appreciate it. So here we go with Gaslight, directed by George Cukor and starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten. If you want to read my last one, check it out here.
The film open in London, as a young Paula Alquist is being led away from the scene of her aunt’s murder. A paper reveals that the murderer is still at large. There are many onlookers as a clearly distraught Paula watches the gaslights in her aunt’s house are extinguished. Her caretaker informs her that she is going to Italy to study singing with her aunt’s best friend. Paula is told this man will make her into a great singer, like her aunt.
We now see an older Paula, studying her singing, and she is chastised for not taking her singing seriously and also for not singing like her aunt. As Paula assures her teacher she will try harder, the accompanist asks to be excused, and is granted permission.
Paula discusses with her teacher that she knows she is not meant to be a singer. He tells her that she has been coming to her lessons happier than he has ever seen her, but as her happiness improves, it is having the opposite effect on her singing. He asks her if she is in love, and she affirms that she is. She tells him that she is happier than she has ever been, which is something she never thought would happen. Her instructor tells her that she should embrace this chance at happiness, she should free herself from the past. He asks to meet this man she loves, and instead of agreeing, she tells him goodbye.
Paula hears her name called as she leaves her lesson. Gregory, the accompanist, is waiting for her. He pulls her into a secluded area and kisses her. He then asks if she told her teacher, and she says she didn’t have to, he knew already. Gregory questions why Paula hesitates moving forward with him. She admits she knows nothing about him, and he still asks her to marry him. . He questions if she is afraid of him, and she says no of happiness. Paula asks Gregory to give her time, and he says, “You will have all the time you need”. Paula confirms that they have only known each other for two weeks. She tells Gregory that she wants to go away for two weeks, so she can think about this on her own. He is supportive of her going. They have a very sweet parting.
Paula is now on the train with Miss Thwaites, who if she was alive today, she would be the biggest true crime podcast fan ever! She is reading a mystery novel, and she is very animated about what she is reading. She and Paula strike up a conversation. Paula tells Miss Thwaites that she is going to Lake Cuomo, and the old woman is shocked that she is traveling by herself.
Miss Thwaites reveals that she is going to London and she lives in Thornton Square. This is the same area we saw Paula leaving at the beginning of the film. She tells the old woman that she knew people who lived there, and the amature sleuth begins to share the story of the unsolved murder that took place there years before. Paula becomes visibly upset, but the woman keeps talking. Much to Paula’s relief they reach her stop. As she exits the train, and Miss Thwaites continues to talk, a hand appears on her arm. It is Gregory, who has followed her. He says he hopes she is not angry, and she is genuinely relieved to see him.
Now my younger self would have seen this and thought, “How romantic.” My older self, who has been in dysfunctional relationships sees this and thinks, “She asks for space, and this is his way of making sure she doesn’t get a chance to analyze what is happening in a healthy way, and change her mind.” To all you kids out there, respect your partner’s wishes. Time apart will not kill you! And if someone does not respect your wishes for space, RUN!
We now see the beautiful balcony of the hotel where Gregory and Paula are spending their honeymoon, or at least I think it is their honeymoon. If not, this is really naughty for 1944. They are romantically talking about their future together. Gregory asks Paula where she would like to settle down. She suggests Paris, and he suggests London, which takes some of the joy from her face. All of a sudden, he has an idea.
He visited London when he was younger, and had always dreamed of having a home, “in one of the quiet little squares” asking her again if they could settle down in London. He then notices the expression on her face and asks what is wrong. She tells him she already owns a house in a square in London. Her Aunt left her the house. Paula confides that she knows nothing of her parents and lived with her Aunt until her death. She tells Gregory that she hasn’t been afraid since she has known him. Paula tells him that she can face the house with him by her side. She will give him his dream of a house in the square.
We now see Miss Thwaites saying hello to flowers and it is revealed that new tenants are moving into Number 9, where the murder happened. She recognizes Paula and reintroduces herself. The solicitor opens the door to the house and they slowly enter together. Gregory begins to make his way through the house, but he has an intuition about the layout of the house. They go upstairs to the drawing room. Paula says the room smells of death, as Gregory opens a window, saying it won’t for long. Paula shows him a cabinet that displayed her aunt’s treasures. The glass was broken the night of the murder, but nothing was missing.
She shows her husband a single glove her Aunt loved, and as a child she inquired as to the whereabouts of the other glove, but was told that her aunt gave it away to a great admirer and that was all she knew. Gregory tells Paula that he wished he could have seen her, and she reveals her painting. A strange expression comes across Gregory’s face when he looks at the painting. Paula reveals the place where she found her aunt’s body, and that she had been strangled. Gregory suggests that they remove all the items that remind Paula of the tragedy.
A Home of their own
Paula heartily agrees and excitedly talks of the parties they could have. Gregory looks displeased and tells her that parties would come later because he wants them to have time to themselves. Paula tells him there is an attic where all her things are, and Gregory suggests they could put all the old furniture up there. Once they were done, they could board it up, so she would never have to look at them again. Personally I was thinking ‘YARD SALE”, but that is just my American coming out I guess.
While Paula is showing Gregory her Aunt’s piano, she finds a letter and begins to read it outloud. When she says the letter was written by someone named Sergus Bower, Gregory becomes visibly upset and rips the letter out of her hands. He tells her that they need to get rid of all of these things because they are upsetting her. Hello pot, I’m kettle. He tells her that while she holds on to her Aunt, there can be no happiness for them.
Some time has now passed, and Miss Thwaites runs into Elizabeth, Paula and Gregory’s housekeeper. It is established that workers have just finished boarding up the attic and Gregory doesn’t allow visitors because he feels that Paula is too unwell to be around people.
When Elizabeth enters the house, Gregory is hiring another housekeeper (a very young and beautiful Angela Lansbury). He tells her she is never to bother Paula, and to always come to him. There is an obvious flirtation between the two. Paula comes downstairs and is introduced to Nancy, the new maid. Gregory gives Paula a cameo that he tells her that it belonged to his mother. He makes a point of pointing out to her that she has a tendency to lose things, and tells her he is putting it in her bag for safe keeping due to the clasp being broken. She tells him she won’t forget it is there, and they head out for a tour of the Tower of London. She is so excited that she actually gets to leave the house for the day. How nice of him to unlock her cage.
The Gas Is turned on
While on a tour of the Tower of London, Paula realizes that her cameo is no longer in her bag. This sends her into a panic, and she leaves the tour group to search for it. Gregory quickly follows her and they go for a walk in the sunshine. While on their walk a man with his niece and nephew tips his hat at them. Brian’s niece tells him he looks like he has seen a ghost and he says that the woman reminds him of someone who is dead. Gregory get instantly jealous and contronts Paula about who the man is. She tells him she has no idea and was just being polite.
Once again, to distract from his actions, Gregory tells Paula he is worried about her and the fact that she is so forgetful lately. Paula is confused about what he is talking about, and he tells her not to worry. Anytime she questions Gregory, he accuses her of being suspicious and makes her doubt her own mind. Paula wants to go home and Brian watches them leave.
When they return home, Paula inquires about seeing the room that Gregory rented to work out of. He tells her that is unnecessary, and sends her upstairs to rest. When she is half way up the first flight of stairs, Gregory asks for her cameo so he can have it repaired. She confesses to him that she can’t find it. He empties her purse and the cameo is missing. Gregory tells her he warned her he would lose it. When she apologizes he tells her it is not important, and when she asks him to confirm he put it in her purse, he questions her memory again.
While getting ready for bed, Paula notices the gas lights in her room dimmed, and questions Nancy about who would have turned on a light in another part of the house causing this one to dim. She then hears footsteps above her.
The Gas Lights
Miss Thwaites greets Brian outside Paula’s house. She tells him that Paula never leaves the house, and he looks over and corrects her when he sees Paula outside the door. She had forgotten her keys and had to have Nancy open the door so she could retrieve her umbrella. Nancy questions what she should tell Gregory is he asks where she has gone, and despite Paula’s answers, she continues to grill her, to the point where Paula gives up and goes back in the house. Miss Thwaites confides in Brian that the new maid, Nancy, has been fooling around with a policeman who walks around the house.
We now see Brian entering Scotland yard. He is asking them to reopen the case. He explains that he met Paula’s aunt when he was 12 years old, and he thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. The detective tells him that there is no reason to reopen the case, but then he mentions that some jewels were missing. This sparks Brian’s interest, as he states there is no mention of jewels in the case file. The detective tells him someone “highly placed” gave them to the woman. That is the theory behind why she was murdered, but the jewels were too famous to ever be sold. Instead of Brian dropping it, this has sparked his interest even more.
Brian meets up with an officer, asks him if he is married and offers him a new location in a more stylish neighborhood. Nancy does like a man in uniform, and this one will do.
We now find Gregory and Paula in the drawing room. Paula wants to put coal on the fire, but Gregory insists she call Nancy. When she enters Gregory openly flirts with her, even asking Nancy to give Paula makeup tips. Paula chastices Gregory for the way he treats her, and Gregory accuses her of imagining things.
Nancy enters the room and says Miss Thwaites has come for a visit with her nephew. Paula welcomes the visit, but Gregory tells Nancy to send them away. When Paula protests, Gregory begins to yell at her, telling her he doesn’t want people in the house. He tells Nancy to say Paula is not well enough for visitors. Paula tells Gregory she really wanted to see her, and his reply is well then you should have just said so. They dismiss Miss Thwaites and her “nephew” Brian.
In the sitting room, Gregory is happily playing the piano, with Paula worrying in the background. He tells her that they are going out for the evening, and Paula begins to question if she has forgotten him telling her. He assures her it is just a surprise for her–taking her to the theater. Paula is happily singing, when Gregory stops playing and questions her about the whereabouts of a little picture. He asks her to go and get it and she insists she didn’t take it. Paula begs him not to ring for the servants. He asks Elizabeth if she knows where the painting is, and she says that she has never touched the painting. Gregory asks her to kiss the bible to show she is telling the truth.
Gregory tells her to bring in Nancy, whom Paula is fearful of. He questions Nancy, and she denies taking the picture. They dismiss Nancy and Paula swears on and kisses the bible, saying that she did not take the picture. Sternly Gregory tells her to go look for the picture. On the way up the stairs, she finds the picture and he accuses her of knowing where it was all along. He sends her to her room and tells her that she is too ill for her to go to the theater.
Paula begs Gregory to be gentle with her if she is truly ill. He takes her to her room, and tells her that he is leaving to work. She begs him not to leave and tells him she is hearing noises and she begs him to hold her and make her feel safe. He leaves and tells her he hopes she is better in the morning. Gregory and Nancy flirt yet again as Gregory leaves to go work. Nancy is a wee bit of a ho bag.
Gregory exits the house into the foggy London night. He quickly steps into the shadows. What are you up to?
Approaching Paula’s Breaking Point
Paula is laying on her bed, crying when once again the gas lights dim and there are noises overhead.
There is a concert, and Brian as well as Paula and Gregory are invited. Brian asks the host if she will seat him next to Paula. Just then the hostess gets word that Gregory has RSVP’d that Paula is ill and they won’t be attending.
Paula descends the stairs in a lovely white gown, ready to go to the concert. Gregory is in the sitting room in his smoking jacket. Paula proclaims that despite Gregory’s response to the invitation, she is going, alone if she has to. Gregory plays it off that he didn’t realize that the party was so important, and goes to change so he can go with her. Paula gains some confidence after an icey exchange with Nancy.
They arrive at the concert, which has already started, and draw Brian’s attention as they take their seats. Once seated, another musician starts to play. Brian watches the couple, drawing Gregory’s attention. During the performance, Gregory reaches for his watch, which is missing. He questions Paula about the whereabouts of it, and she becomes very upset. He begins to examine her purse and pulls his watch from it. When she protests that she didn’t take his watch, she begins to sob uncontrollably and Gregory tells the hostess that she is too sick after all. Brian leaves his seat during the commotion and follows the couple back to their house.
In Paula’s bedroom, Gregory is pacing, ranting that he has tried to keep her “illness” quiet, but her insistence on going to the concert has brought everything out in the open. Paula tries to recall when things started to slip from her. She traces it back to the letter she found, and Gregory insists that there never was a letter at all, and he was just playing along with her. Poor Paula.
Gregory tells her that Paula’s mother was insane and died in an asylum. He tells her that Paula’s symptoms are the same as hers. He then accuses her of knowing that Brian would be at the concert. Paula tells him that she has no idea who he is. Gregory becomes angry and accuses her of lying to him. He tells her what she is doing is worse than lying. She is forgetting. He then threatens her that he will bring in two doctors to have her legally committed.
Gregory leaves the house again, and as he walks away, he hears footsteps behind him. Ahead of him is the officer that Brian had assigned to the street. Once again, Gregory disappears into the shadows, as Brian and the officer meet and try to figure out where he went.
The Dimming of the Gas light
Once again, the dimming of the gas light and footsteps above her head plagues Paula. She screams for Elizabeth, who is coming upstairs. She asks Elizabeth if she turned on the gas downstairs. Elizabeth tells her no, and that she is the only one in the house. Noises appear overhead again. Elizabeth is mostly deaf, so when Paula asks her if she hears the noises, she says she doesn’t and tells her it is just her imagination.
Brian has spent his breakfast making a diagram to figure out how Gregory disappeared. The officer comes to his house and tells him he saw Gregory coming out of the shadows, dirty and disheveled. He then tells Brian that he has had breakfast with Nancy. She told him that Gregory informed her that Paula might be going away for a very long time, and he asked her to stay on and look after him. (I bet she did….slut!). Brian sees this news as a reason to speed up their investigation. Brian tells the officer to get Nancy out of the house in the evening and he will stop by and see Paula after Gregory leaves for the night.
Paula is trying to read, but Gregory’s words are causing her brain to spin. Brian sees Gregory leave, and then goes to ring to bell on the house. Elizabeth tells Brian she won’t see anyone. He pushes his way past Elizabeth. Paula comes down the stairs, and begs him to leave. Brian shows her a glove that Paula’s Aunt had given him; the match to the glove she had in the cabinet. Brian asks if she is planning on going away. She says no, unless Gregory sends her away. Brian tells her that she is not crazy and he is there to prove it. He asks if there is anyone else there, and she says no. He tells her that the gas went down, which relieves Paula that he saw it as well. She tells him that every night, the light goes down and she hears things.
Brian begins to put the pieces together as they hear noises. Brian helps to convince her that she is not crazy and it is actually her husband who is upstairs, making the noises. We then see Gregory, going through everything, looking for the jewels that he could not find when he murdered Paula’s aunt.
Brian Assists Paula
Brian asks if there are any weapons, and Brian breaks into Gregory’s desk to see if his revolver is there. While Brian is looking, she finds the letter that Gregory said didn’t exist. Brian shows her handwriting samples to show Paula that Gregory and the man who wrote the letter to her Aunt are the same person. He tells Paula that Gregory is trying to drive her crazy so he could get control of her property and search for the jewels with no obstacles. Brian tells her that Gregory married a woman in Prague. As they are talking, the gas goes back up. Gregory leaves through the sky light when light catches the jewels, sewn into one of the costumes in an open trunk.
Brian leaves and asks Elizabeth to take care of Paula. Brian waits for Gregory to come home, but he enters through the boarded up door to the attic. He quickly rushes to his room to examine the jewels, and he finds someone broke into his desk. Enraged, he goes to Paula’s room. Paula is one very angry woman. Hell hath no fury, asshole.
Frightened, but she knows what is going on now. He is so cruel to her. She tells him it wasn’t her, he continues to question her. She lets it slip that “he” opened it. He asks Elizabeth who the man was, but she says no one was here. Paula is reeling, but Elizabeth is protecting her. As Paula spirals, Gregory continues to spin her. Just then Brian shows up at the door. He confronts Gregory. He asks Paula to leave to keep her safe. Gregory escorts her from the room. Brian confronts him about finding the jewels. They struggle over the gun and they go upstairs. Elizabeth calls for the officer, and he joins the fray.
Our resident true crime sleuth, Miss Thwaites, enters the house to see what is going on. Brian and the officer have tied Gregory to a chair. Paula asks to see him alone. She begins to play his own game with him. She wants to torture him the way he tortured her. But the best torture is to let the police take him away.
The film ends with a suggested future romance between Paula and Brian, and a possibility of happily ever after.
This is one heck of a psychological thriller, and if you have ever had a relationship that involved gaslighting, this could be a trigger. Having lived through two such relationships, to see it played out in such an early film makes me know that there were many who came before me. We recognize this abuse more and more now, but still the abuse happens.
This is a very important film, which is helpful, especially by younger people who could use it as examples of red flags in their own relationships. That is the social side of it. As a film, the acting is wonderful and the use of light, shadow and fog are superb. Now that spooky season is over, time to get yourself mentally prepared for all those holiday gatherings with the family.
It was my pleasure this week to watch “The Old Dark House” from 1932. This film was the first starring credited role for Boris Karloff, his work in Frankenstein only had him mentioned in the credits, as well as being the first film for movie greats Charles Laughton and Raymond Massey. Also, for those of you who are fans of James Cameron’s Titanic, it stars Gloria Stuart, aged Rose, in all her breathtaking youthful beauty. Now before I get into my probably long winded analysis, let me just say, this caused me to laugh harder than I have in a while. It is definitely a comedy horror, not the other way around. So join me, won’t you, as we spend an evening in “The Old Dark House”. You can check out my last review here.
Setting the scene
The film opens with the credits playing against a backdrop of a storm. Married couple Philip (Raymond Massey) and Margaret Waverton (Gloria Stuart) are precariously making their way through a storm in their very open automobile. It is not indicated at first that they are married, but the bickering between the two gives it away. This is something that translates no matter what decade a film is from. It is revealed that Penderel (Melvyn Douglas) is attempting to sleep in the backseat, and is actively ignoring the embattled couple in front of him. The witty banter between the three brought a smile to my face.
Penderel’s sarcasm and singing tries to lighten the mood in the situation, but after getting trapped by a landslide, the only way is forward, as Margaret notices lights in the distance. The three soaked travelers anxiously wait as they pound on the door of the old dark house, and when they finally are acknowledged, it is by an incoherent Morgan (Boris Karloff). He closes the door in their faces, and they hear a bell ring, before he returns to gesture them inside. Once inside, they are joined by Horace Femm (Ernest Thesiger), a very thin and effeminate man. As I mention this, let me address something about this film for a moment.
Boris Karloff and James Whale
There are a number of stereotypes, and gender role reversals in this film. For 1932, it had to be mildly shocking to see a number of the men, take on “feminane personality traits”, and to see women take charge and have control. There are also insinuations, in the conclusion of the film of affection, although not without its problems, between two of the male characters. If you have seen the film “Gods and Monsters”, there is some exploration of the relationship between Boris Karloff and James Whale, the director.
It was the making of “The Old Dark House” that brought an end to their “personal partnership” as it was referred to. I can see a direct line of homosexual stereotypes in film that can be traced back to this film. They are played for laughs, and if you can see how brave it was for these filmmakers to even allude to an alternative lifestyle in 1932, I believe you can appreciate the performances, and understand how other filmmakers would look to it as an example of how to be represented, without being shunned, through humor. As a straight woman, this is just my opinion. I hope that it does not offend. Ok….back to the film.
Back to the story…
The three travelers ask if Morgan has explained their situation, and Horace reveals that Morgan is mute, not the word he uses, but we will leave it at that. Rebecca Femm (Eva Moore), Horace’s sister, then appears, demanding to know what these strangers want. The three try to talk to her and explain, but Horace says his sister is deaf for the most part and he moves closer to her, loudly explaining that they need a place to stay because of the storm. Rebecca, angrily tells her brother that of course they cannot stay. The three begin to plead their case, with Pendrel again using humor to prove their point, causing Horace to panic that they are now trapped in the house.
Rebecca mocks her brother’s fear and his lack of religious belief, but she assures her brother that they are safe in the house. She asks Morgan if remembers a previous flood and he indicates he does through some hand gestures and a very suggestive finger placement. Horace tells the travelers that they will have to stay and it is their own misfortune that they do. The siblings both tell them they have no beds for them, but they can stay by the fire.
Philip and Penderel follow Morgan outside to move their car to shelter and bring in their bags, despite Rebecca’s protests. Horace brings out a bottle of gin, and he and Penderel discuss tramas of war, to which Penderel shows his wit yet again. Horace expresses fear again of being trapped in the house and shares that Morgan can be “an uncivilized brute”, who tends to drink on nights like this.
Fleshly Love… gross
Margaret asks Rebecca if she can go and change her wet clothes, and she takes the woman to a bedroom. After lighting candles Rebecca explains that this room was her sister’s who died. She shows disdain for her sister, who led a fast and loose lifestyle. Her words visibly frighten Margaret, and she asks for privacy so she can change.
However, Rebecca continues to carry on how her whole family was godless and she was the only one who would pray. She discloses that her father is still alive, and wicked. Rebecca accused Margaret of being wicked as well, “wriggling in the jollies of fleshly love”. Margaret continues to change, despite the old woman’s presence. Rebecca finally leaves, and Margaret has changed into a revealing silk dress. For some unknown reason, she opens the window, causing things to blow all over the room, then makes a half-hearted attempt to close it again, before crossing to a mirror and being barraged in her head by Rebecca’s unapproving words. She tries again to close the window before apparently forgetting how to open the door.
When she finally makes her way back to the group, she is greeted by Rebecca’s scream of “DINNER”. The group goes to the table as Morgan brings out a roast. Rebecca chastises Horace for not saying Grace, which he refers to as a “tribal tradition”. They begin to dish up and Horace becomes quite insistent on everyone having a potato. Rebecca is quickly eating her meal while the others pick at theirs. We get the first signs of an infatuation Morgan may have with Margaret, as he stares at her while filling her water glass.
A Knock at the door
Just then, there is a knock at the door. At first Rebecca does not want to let anyone else in, but is convinced that the newcomers should not have to wait in the storm. She and Morgan go to the door and greet the loud pair, Sir William Porterhouse and Gladys. They are not a married couple, and Penderel begins to flirt with Gladys and she readily returns the gesture. They all return to the table,and Horace continues his potato pushing.
When the meal is finished, we catch up with the crew around the fire. Penderel continues to flirt with Gladys, while cutting Sir William down at the same time. William tells his history to the group, and he explains that Gladys is actually a chorus girl..
Rebecca enters, and tells Horace that Morgan is drunk, and there is hesitation from Horace when he tells William that Morgan is the butler.
Penderel and Gladys take the opportunity to go to the stables to retrieve the whiskey that is in the car. The two have very good chemistry, and they pop open the bottle and stay in the stable.
What’s at the top of the stairs?
Back in the house, the lights have gone out, and when William asks if they have a lamp, Horace is too frightened to go and get the lamp that is on the top landing. Rebecca accuses him of being too afraid to go up on his own. She sends Philip with him and with much hesitation, Horace leads the way.
When they reach Horace’s room, he begins to make excuses so they don’t have to go get the lamp. They suddenly hear what sounds like a high pitched laugh coming from up the stairs. Horace sends Philip up the stairs by himself, as he hides in his room. Philip comes to a door, which he listens at briefly before continuing up the stairs. When he gets to the landing, he sees the lamp, but also sees a padlock on the door ahead of him, and a tray with half eaten food on the table.
Downstairs, Rebecca comes rushing in, yelling at Margaret to come and shut the window she opened, and William volunteers to do so, following Rebecca down the hall and leaving her alone in the main room. Margaret begins playing her shadow on the wall and her imagination gets the best of her. She screams and goes to the door, opening it, calling for the lovebirds in the stables. As she waits for a reply, we see a hand over her head, closing the door in front of her. A very drunk Morgan begins to make advances on her. He chases her around the room, turning over the table, and chases her up the stairs. Philip and Margaret meet on the stairs, and she tells him what has happened. He and Morgan fight and he hits him with the lamp, knocking Morgan down the stairs.
Philip explains that he heard a strange voice upstairs and asks Margaret to come and check it out with him. On the way up the stairs, Margaret is overcome with what has just happened and she and Philip take a rest for a bit. Understandable. This also gives us a chance to check up on the lovebirds.
In the stable, Penderel and Gladys are getting to know each other while sitting in the back of the car. They are having one of those chats. You know those chats, when you learn everything you need to know about a person in a matter of minutes; one of you is a war veteran, the other is a woman who hangs out with a guy because he gives her money. Gladys explains she is only with William to give him company; he doesn’t expect anything from her. Of course, this conversation has made them fall in love and after this short amount of time. They are ready to move in together, at her suggestion and Penderel has to hint that he is ready to propose.
Gladys wants to stay in the car, but Penderel convinces her to go back inside. He very awkwardly carries her back to the house. He pounds on the door to wake a sleeping and annoyed William. Gladys breaks the news to him that she has fallen in love and will no longer be with him. He gives his reluctant blessing, and Penderel tells him he is planning on proposing. The three of them clean up the mess Morgan made downstairs.
Back to the house
The Wavertons have recovered and head up to the bedroom containing Rebecca and Horance’s father, Rodrick. Even though the role was credited to a man, it was played by a woman, Elspeth Dudgeon. This continues the effeminate traits of the males in this family. Rodrick explains that the locked door contains his other son, Saul, who is insane and wants to burn down the house. They have kept Morgan on as the butler because he is the only one who can handle Saul.
Philip goes down to check on Morgan, who is no longer on the stairs. Horace emerges from his room to tell Phillip that Morgan has gone upstairs to let Saul out of his room. Margaret and Philip lock Rodrick’s room to keep him safe. Then, they go downstairs to inform the others what is going on.
Rebecca has joined the others to be informed that Saul is out of his room. Morgan descends the stairs as she begs him to take Saul back to his room. Morgan makes a beeline for Margaret as the men fight to take him into the kitchen to lock him up. The three younger men struggle with him as a high pitched laugh is heard. Penderel returns to the main room and convinces Gladys and Margaret to hide in an adjoining room.
Pretty, pretty Penderel
Penderel waits at the bottom of the stair, as Saul, a very slight man comes down. He tells him that he has been locked up because he knows that Rebecca and Horace killed their sister and that Morgan beats him. Penderel tries to open the front door, but it is locked. Saul’s madness begins to show. He finds a knife on the floor and Penderel tries to stall, concealing the women in the closet.
Saul reveals he knows all about flames and fire. While he is speaking, Penderel tries to escape to get a weapon. Saul stops him and Saul tells Penderel that he wants to kill him. He tells Saul that he likes him and asks if Saul likes him as well. Saul says he loves him. Boy, Penderel is a popular fella! It is then that he starts to quote the bible and explaining why he has to kill Penderel. Penderel distracts Saul and tries to escape and he is knocked unconscious.
Saul takes the opportunity to set the upstairs curtains on fire, as he gleefully laughs. When Penderel comes to, he goes upstairs, and fights with him, ending with both men falling from the second floor. In the meantime, Philip and William are trying to break down the door to the main room, which Rebecca locked, and the women are anxiously waiting for the coast to be clear.
Morgan breaks out of his makeshift prison and opens the door for Gladys and Margaret. They both scream as they see Morgan in the door. Gladys tries to get around Morgan to go to Penderel. He twists her shoulder while glaring at Margaret, causing Gladys to pass out. Margaret pleads with Morgan to let her help both men, including Saul. It is with the mention of Saul’s name that Morgan rushes to the man.
He throws off Penderel, who has landed on top of Saul and lifts him up, cradling him in his arms as Morgan’s lips briefly rest on Saul’s forehead. Morgan begins to cry as he realizes that Saul is dead. He looks lost as he gently carries Saul back up the stairs. Philip and William enter the room to comfort the women. Gladys goes over to Penderel, and cradles him in almost the same way as Morgan had Saul. With tears of joy she announces that Penderel is alive. This is the last we see of Morgan.
Morning has arrived and Horace comes down stairs telling them that they can go now and get an ambulance. Margaret and Philip leave to get help and the movie ends with Penderel proposing to Gladys as William snores in the background.
Ahead of its time
Considering this film was made in 1932, it was very progressive with its views on religion, morality and homosexualtiy. I knew nothing about this film prior to watching it, and it really took me by surprise. I had seen the film I mentioned earlier, “Gods and Monsters”, but forgot about the relationship between Boris Karloff and James Whale. In my defense it has been many, many years since I had watched it. While some of the subject matter is dark, it is never ok to chase a woman around a table, it was a rather light hearted film. I loved the bickering between the married couple in the beginning, and Penderel was probably my favorite character, even if he did move rather quickly in his personal life.
Karloff did as well as could be expected, only having his facial expressions, body language and a few grunts to work with. It is worth an hour of your time to check out this classic. If nothing else, it will confirm your suspicion that in Titanic, young Rose looked nothing like her portrait.
Oh wait… Not the “Eyes Without a Face” by Billy Idol. The Void has assigned me the 1960 French film Les yeux sans visage, or Eyes Without a Face. I did not know much about this film before pressing play. Sometimes that is a good thing. You can find my last piece here.
Merry Go Round of a Beginning
The film opens with passing scenery at night, lit by a car’s headlights. The music …the music feels like we have stepped foot onto a merry go round. As the film progresses, we realize he have. It is that whole thing about the definition of insanity, repeating the same action over and over hoping for a different result.
As the opening credits roll, the music and the bare trees with skeleton like branches reaching towards you give you very conflicting thoughts.
We now see Louise (Alida Valli) driving and sitting so close to the steering wheel, her knees have to be pushing against her chest. Her eyes give the appearance that she is running on auto pilot. Despite there being rain on her windshield she doesn’t turn on the very visible wipers, but opts instead to use her hand to wipe at the inside of the windshield; she is going to regret that the next time she is driving into the sun. If it is the windows fogging up on the inside, she might want to consider moving her seat back. I mean I am short, but this is ridiculous.
Louise continues to drive with urgency on this rural road with no lights. She uses her rearview mirror to check in on the slumped figure in her back seat, face obscured by a hat and scarf. Suddenly bright lights appear behind her, and starts flashing. Louise pulls over to the side of the road, letting the impatient prick pass her before heading on her way. The camera focuses on the figure in the back, and as the car begins to drive again, the figure slumps to the side.
Damn….oh wait I mean dam. Louise pulls her car in a grassy area beside the rapidly running water. Her shiny black vinyl rain coat is amazing, and quickly paints her as a would-be villain. She looks around before quickly opening the back door and wrestling the dead passenger from her back seat, dragging her down a hill and throwing her into the water. Personally, where she is parked, and the angle of the river bank, I would have just pulled her out of the car turned her so she was parallel with the river and given her a good push. But then again, I am American, not French, and we do have the tendency to go with the quickest path possible.
Doctor Genessier: You Can Tell How Someone Is By Their Parking
We are now at a conference when a phone call arrives for Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) who is giving a lecture about tissue rejuvenation to an audience of mostly middle aged and elderly white women, a few men and one young man of color. Way to be progressive, France….I guess…
The Doctor goes on to explain for the current procedure to work, you have to use so much radiation, the it will evaporate the patient’s blood. The Doctor leaves the stage and is informed he got a call that he needs to go to the morgue immediately. Some of the rich elderly women interrupt the Doctor as he is leaving, to sing his praises. He quickly shuts them down as he exits the room. The women comment how much he has changed since his daughter has gone missing.
We are now at the morgue where a Detective Parot and the coroner are discussing how Genessier’s daughter had open facial wounds when she went missing from the clinic where she was being treated after a car accident. The woman that they pulled from the river had similar wounds to her face. But the detective also points out that the body could be that of another woman who is missing that fits the same description, and that he has also called this woman’s father down to see if he could identify the body they have recovered.
The men discuss how the body recovered was naked, except for a man’s coat. The coroner also remarks that the wound on the victim’s face had no jagged edges, almost like it had been cut with a scalpel. Just then, Genessier pulls up and does the most awkward parking job ever. This has to be done to prove what a dick this guy turns out to be.
Genessier meets with the coroner and the detective. They explain that a body was found in the river and they match his daughter’s description due to the massive injuries to the face, “Only the eyes were intact.” Genessier identifies the body as his doctor Christiane. They are informed the other father is there, and the coroner asks that he be told the body is not that of his daughter.
As Genessier is leaving the morgue he is approached by this distraught father. He asks if Genessier is absolutely sure that it is Christiane that they found, and explains that his daughter has been missing for ten days. Genessier looks completely annoyed and as he walks way from the man he says, “How odd I should have to comfort you.” I get that you have had something horrible happen. You are both fathers, and you are a doctor. Show some compassion! He gets into his asshat of a park job car and leaves the man, crying alone on the sidewalk.
We hear the merry go round music again, and Louise is following two young women. The women meet a man on the sidewalk, as one woman leaves with the man, and Louise continues to follow the other woman, Edna.
We find ourselves at a Cemetery, at the funeral of Christiane. Two observers remark how Genessier is not the same since the death of his wife 4 years prior and Christiane’s accident. The mourners are in a line, paying their respects outside the family crypt. The two observers remark who is standing next to Genessier. There is Christiane’s Fiance, Jacques, who also works with Genessier, and LOUISE! The man says she is Genessier’s secretary.
Louise and Genessier
Everyone leaves, except Genessier and Louise. Genessier starts to take the floral arrangements into the crypt, and Louise starts to break down, stating she “can’t take this anymore.” He grabs her by the arms before shaking and then slapping her. He tells Louise to “shut up”, and Louise quickly exits the crypt. She has gotten some good distance from Genessier when she slows down, allowing him to catch up, gently squeeze her arm and then take his place in front of her as they walk to the car. If this doesn’t say something about their dynamic, I don’t know what would.
The two of them drive past the hospital, following signs to Genessier’s home. He lets Louise out at the front door, and then pulls up to the garage. As he gets out to open the garage doors, all you can hear are birds chirping. He opens the doors, and the noise causes multiple dogs to begin barking from somewhere in the garage. When Genessier exits the car, he looks annoyed and exhausted as he walks into the house. He slowly walks up the stairs and then enters a door and starts up a hidden staircase. As he goes up the stairs he stops as he hears music coming from behind a closed door.
Christiane and the Mask
Genessier enters a room with a young woman laying face down on her bed. He walks over to the bed and turns off the radio then picks up a paper: Christiane’s death notice. He asks the woman where she got the paper and chastises her for going through his things, but then tries to acknowledge how confusing it must be to see her name on the notice, and since the woman died after the surgery, they had to get rid of the body, but needed to cover their tracks by pretending the body was that of Christiane. The woman on the bed is Christiane and the lying asshole made that grieving father suffer even longer. This proves people who park like assholes are in fact ASSHOLES!
Christiane tells Genessier that she is losing hope and this is a major blow to his ego. He leaves as Louise enters with Christiane’s mask. Louise tells her to have faith and trust her father. Christiane says that is hard to do, since he is the one who caused the car accident and he should have just let her die.
I want to talk about this mask for a minute. I first thought this was not a mask, but make- up to make it look like a mask, but later, when Christiane talks, you can tell this is a very thin mask. It is extremely realistic, if a little creepy. This is something she could have used to have somewhat of a normal life, instead of her father taking innocent lives to ‘cure’ her.
Christiane makes her way to other rooms in the house, and eventually calls Jacques. She does not answer him when he asks who it is, and when he hangs up, her eyes tell you all you need to know.
The Dastardly Duo Strikes Again
Well here comes the merry go round music again. We see Edna in line for a movie, and Louise walks past her, stops and returns to talk to her. She tell Edna her friend did not show up and she was wondering if she would like the extra ticket. After some coaxing, Edna agrees and follows her into the theater. We then see the two meeting for coffee. Louise tells Edna she has found her a place to stay and would like to show it to her. While they are driving in Louise’s car, Edna remarks that this place seems pretty far away, and Louise assures her that she took the long way, to avoid traffic and it is only a 20 minute train ride to Paris.
They arrive at Genessier’s house and the air is full of the sounds of barking dogs. Edna asks how many there are and Louise tells her they are only here to protect them. They go inside and Louise introduces her to Genessier who offers her some wine. She declines and tells them she can’t stay long. He tells her that she has time and he will show her the room after they have wine. When Edna turns to talk to Louise we see Genessier putting something on a rag. As he walks towards the two women, as Edna tells Louise she doesn’t think this is going to work and she is meeting a friend tomorrow to look at other places. Genessier starts to pour some wine and then, when Edna turns her attention back to Louise, Genessier put the rag over Edna’s face, knocking her out.
The Dastardly Duo picks up Edna and carries her out of the room, as Christiane watches from the stairs. They carry the body into the garage and then through a secret door. Christiane sneaks into the garage and hides behind the car, as the duo come back into the garage and Genessier tells Louise he will do the procedure after dinner and tells her wants to remove the face in one piece. The two of them return to the main house.
Christiane goes into the operating room, where Edna has been stripped and is on the operating table. Christiane looks at her, but is distracted by the barking dogs. She goes through another door, and there are multiple cages of dogs, lined up in two rows. Christiane goes to each cage, showing them all affection, before going back into the operating room. She looks at herself in the only mirror that is not covered in the house. She takes off her mask and walks back Edna, just as she is starting to wake, when we see Christiane’s real face for the first time.
We now see Genessier starting the procedure of removing Edna’s face for Christiane, who is prepped and waiting on a table next to them. When Genessier starts to cut, he is nervous and sweating like a pig. As he runs the scalpel along the line he drew, the blackest blood ever begins to ooze. I know this is a black and white film, but this is some black blood. The special effects are very impressive as Genessier slowly separates the skin of Edna’s face from the muscles underneath.
Now we see a dog catcher bringing a German Shepard to Genessier, and him being abusive to the dogs as he puts this new victim in its cage. He treats some of the other dogs with the same abuse. Boy, this guy keep racking up points in the biggest dickhead category.
Louise meets Genessier in the operating room and tells him that Christiane is healing wonderfully. She is eating, happy and has hope. He tells her that he is worried, but if this procedure succeeds it would be priceless. Indicating that this is not for his daughter at all, but for his own notoriety. Louise asks what she should do about Edna and he tells her to give Edna some food and he will figure it out later.
Edna is laying in a cell, bandages covering her face. She pretends to sleep as Louise enters the room. When Louise turns her back, Edna hits her over the head with a bottle, knocking her out. Edna escapes to the garage, but before she can go out the garage doors, she sees lights approaching. She enters the main house as Genessier enters the garage and meets Louise who tells him of the escape. They quickly follow into the house and up the stairs. Edna has found the back staircase, and with Genessier hot on her heels, she enters a room. We hear her scream and as Genessier enters, he sees a window open and Edna dead on the sidewalk below.
We now see Louise and Genessier back at the cemetery, with him carrying Edna over his shoulder. He lays her down, picks up a pick axe and enters the crypt. I am confused about this part…we see him hitting the floor with the pickaxe, but then we see him opening a door in the floor. Was it sealed? Anyway, we see Genessier throw the body into the hole and return home.
We are now at the police station where Detective Parot is speaking with Edna’s friend we saw her with earlier. She is reporting her missing. He asks her if she can give any information about this woman Edna said she was meeting. She tells him that the woman always wears a pearl choker. She leaves and a young detective who is interviewing another woman, walks over to Parot’s desk. He shows this young detective Edna’s picture and tells him that another blue-eyed girl has gone missing. The young detective asks what he should do with the blue-eyed girl he has at his desk, who has been brought in for shoplifting. Parot tells him to let her off with a warning, but to make sure to get her address.
Christiane’s Tragedy Continues
Sitting around the dining room table, Louise and Genessier are talking of how happy they are with how Christiane is healing. Her father tells her she will need to take a long trip and pick a new name before they can reintroduce her to the world. She asks him about Jacques, and he says it could be a problem, but he is sure he will be happy. He tells her to smile, and when she does, he snaps, “Not too much!” which wipes any job off her face. The conversation is interrupted by a phone call. Genessier tells Louise he needs her to leave with him, and when he leans down to kiss Christiane goodbye, he notices that upon closer inspection, there are signs that she is rejecting her new face.
Next is a montage of Christiane’s deteriorating face. The last picture is on day 20. We now see Louise entering Christiane’s room, with her mask. Christiane is on the floor. She tries to comfort her and tells her not to give up hope. She says that her father fixed her. We learned earlier that the reason she wears the pearl choker is to cover a scar on her neck. We are now following Christine around the house.
Once again she makes her way to the phone and calls Jacques, but this time she says his name. Louise catches her and asks who she is speaking to. Christiane lies and says no one, leading to her breaking down and telling Louise she is so tired of feeling rubber where her face should be. She begs Louise to get one of the shots her father keeps for the dogs when his experiments go wrong, and kill her. She continues to beg until she passes out.
Here comes the merry go round again as we see Louise on the prowl.
Jacques has made his way to the police station and is talking to Detective Parot. He tells the inspector that he has suspicions that Christiane is not dead since Genessier is the only one who was able to see her body. The Detective tell him that he is chasing down a lot of missing person cases of blue-eyed girls missing, and the only lead he has is a pearl choker. Jacques looks at him and tells him that reminds him of someone.
Paulette as bait
The next thing we see is them bringing back in the shoplifter from earlier, Paulette. The young detective is now telling her she will have to go to trial for the charges, but Parot steps in and tells her he can get this dropped if she will help them out with something. She says as long as it is nothing too hard. He tells her they need her to lighten her hair, which she is not happy about, and check into Genessier’s hospital with the complaint of migraines. Parot calls Jacques and tells him that Paulette will be coming in and to watch out for her.
Paulette is all checked into the hospital, and Genessier and Jacques come to speak to her. Genessier orders some tests and Paulette shows concern that they will shave her head. Ganessier looks at her and says “That would be a shame.” Yuck!
Paulette is brought in to have her test, and Genessier joins her in the room and asks the nurse to bring in the results to him when she is done. He goes to his office and sits at his desk and starts to fall asleep. The nurse brings in the file and he says that Paulette shows no signs of anything and she can be released.
Paulette walks down the hallway to the nurse’s station where she asks to use the phone. She calls her mom and tells her that she will be home tonight. The nurse then gives her direction to the bus stop and she leaves the hospital. As she exits to the road, we hear the merry go round music, and guess who pulls up and offers her a ride?! I will give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.
The Final Act and Justice Served
Jacques calls the Detective and tells him that they discharged Paulette and Parot says he will make sure she makes it home. Well, of course she didn’t because we now see her on the operating table. Louise comes in and whispers to Genessier. He turns and looks to the other side of the room and then leaves. Christiane is sitting on the opposite side of the room.
Genessier returns to the hospital to find both detectives there, asking about Paulette’s whereabouts. The nurse says she remembers letting the girl make a phone call and giving her directions to the bus and then she left. Genessier tells the detectives she is not responsible for people once they walk out the front door. Jacques pokes his head in the door as the detectives are leaving and apologizes for wasting their time.
Back in the operating room, Paulette wakes up and starts to struggle. Christiane makes her way over to her and picks up a scalpel. Paulette starts to scream, but Christiane uses the scalpel to cut the strap holding Paulette in place. Just then Louise enters the room, and Christiane turns and stabs her in the neck, between the strands of pearls in her choker. Louise moves back to hit the wall, begins to cry as she slides down the wall, with tears running down her face until she slumps over.
Paulette escapes past Christiane as she enters the room with the dogs. She goes from cage to cage, releasing all the dogs. Walking home from the hospital, Genessier hears the dogs making a commotion, and he opens a side door. When he does, all the dogs come running out, attacking and killing him. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
The last creatures that Christiane releases are the doves. With a dove perched on her hand, she walks past her father’s body, with no acknowledgement of him and walks into the dark forest ahead.
Trivia from the Film
The movie was panned by both US and French Critics.
The first release of the film in the US was heavily edited and called “The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus”. Who the hell is Dr. Faustus?
The director, Georges Franju didn’t consider this a horror film.
John Carpenter used the mask in the film as an inspiration for Michael Myers’ mask in Halloween.
I liked the film, but like the director, I do not consider the film a horror film. It is a drama about men with God Complexes… which I guess is horror when you think about it.
I have nothing but sympathy for Christiane. Her father is using her misfortune for his own scientific gains. On the other hand I have nothing but contempt for Genessier. He is a miserable man, who only sees women as tools to get him what he wants. And he is a really shitty parker. I know some of you think I need to let it go, but I now have a mental image I will use when I see a car where the owner obviously doesn’t know how to park. While I am not a big fan of Louise, I understand her feeling of her owing this man, and she will do whatever she can to repay him. I think because of this gratitude she feels, she thinks she loves him.
Again, I liked the movie, but not what I expected.
So let’s see what the Void has for me next. Until next time….
The Void’s Conclusion
Thank you so much for your amazing and funny summarization and commentary, I am glad you liked the movie! It’s defintely disturbing enough to be considered classic horror in my eyes, much like the tragedy of Phantom of the Opera. French horror is a whole other beast though, that this only scrapes the surface.
Next week, the Mother of the Void will provide commentary on the 1932’s The Old Dark House, another flick starring the fabulous Boris Karloff. Meanwhile, check out The Void of Celluloid’s 31 Days of Horror, with Week Three’s installment coming out Friday.
This week the Void has assigned me 1942’s “Cat People.” I am going to try not to read too much into the fact this film, at its core, is about sexual repression. If you need an introduction, check out my last review on The Black Cat.
Cat People: Irena and Oliver’s Introduction
The film opens in New York City’s Central Park Zoo where an attractive young woman is unsuccessfully trying to sketch the panthers. With disgust at her efforts, she rips a page from her notebook and attempts a 3 pointer at the trash can across the way. An equally attractive young man is standing beside the trash receptacle at a food cart. He picks up the discarded attempt and point to a sign that reads, “Let know one say, and say it to your shame, that all was beauty here until you came.” He succeeds in gently throwing the paper into the can, garnering an approving nod from the artist.
Oliver, a young ship’s engineer, designing not running, sees this as his in to approach Irena. She disagrees with him that she is an artist, she works in the fashion industry and a sketch drawer. Irena rips and throws her latest attempt to the ground, prompting Oliver to quote the littering condemnation again. Irena ignores his flirtation and begins to put away her supplies, readying herself to leave. They engage in unheard small talk, as they leave the area. Irena’s discarded sketch blows in the wind and turns to reveal a crude drawing of a leopard impaled by a sword. Now to all you young men out there, let this be a lesson, just because a woman has pretty face, that doesn’t mean she is not a littering, wanna be animal abuser. Just saying…
Oliver and Irena walk towards her apartment, where she reveals she is from Serbia. He asks her to spell her name for him and coyishly replies, “Are you going to write me a letter?” Oliver says he would and in the letter, he would invite her to tea. Irena side eyes him and playfully shakes her head no. They arrive at Irena’s house, where she brazenly invites him up to her apartment for tea. Don’t forget that this is 1942, and this litterbug has invited a man she just met up to her apartment alone. She is dangerous I tell you! How dare she?! Upon Irena asking him for tea, Oliver replies, “You make life so simple.” I can only imagine what the audience at this time must have been thinking.
My first thought was, what is another word for simple? EASY! Did he just call her easy? Well I can only assume that a woman who did such a thing in this time period would have been thought of as that. Oliver begins to follow Irena up the stairs where he stops for a moment to say, “You know, I never cease to marvel at what lies behind a brownstone front.” Good thing to remember….that whole book and cover thing. Irena admits that she has never had anyone in her apartment, and then immediately put poor Oliver in the “Friend Zone.” After letting Oliver into her apartment, he make a satisfied sound as he breaths in deep. Irena identified the pleasing smell at Lilage, her perfume. Oliver describes the scent at “alive”…can you say pheromones?! It appears that Oliver will not be in the FZ for very long.
Irena and the Cats and Alice’s Introduction
To show the passage of time, the apartment is now dark, and Oliver has made himself at home, laying on Irena’s couch as she leans up against the wall softly humming. The loud sound of roaring interrupts her song. Irena explains that this is the lions for the zoo. She says that she finds this sound comforting, like the ocean. Some nights, she state a different sound creeps in. That of the panther, which sounds like a woman screaming, which she does not like. Oliver lights a cigarette, in which its glow shows how dark it has become. She turns on the light and shares how she loves the dark. As Irena clears the tea service, Oliver notices a statue on a table. Irena identifies it as King John, and of course, in Oliver’s eyes, there is only one King John, the English King.
She corrects his with a laugh and tells the story of the Serbian King John, and how he save the people from the “Evil Ways” to which they had fallen. Irena explains how the Mamelukes came to Serbia and made the people slaves. The slave were first “good and worshipped God in a true Christian way.” Slowly the people changes, and in her village, when the Serbian’s were liberated by King John, he found that the people were bowing down to Satan. They had become evil. King John killed all but the “wisest and most wicked” were killed. The worst of the worst escaped into the mountains. Unsure of how this pertains to Irena, Oliver presses further. Irena, head tilted downward in shame, explains that the legends of these wicked one haunt where is was born.
The clock strikes six and Oliver realizes he has stayed too long. He askes to see Irena the next day for dinner. Here we see Oliver, descending the stairs, and out of the friend zone, as he continues to stop and look up at Irena who is playfully smiling at him as she leans over the balcony.
Now we are at Oliver’s work, where we see men looking over blue print. The sound of a small meow, can be heard, and Alice, one of two women seen in the scene (the other is a receptionist, way in the background), goes to Oliver’s desk where he has a kitten in a box. Alice fawns over the sweet little Siamese cat, and he says he bought her for a friend. Alice enquires about this friend and if she knows her. Oliver says she doesn’t but she will like her. Alice says, cheerfully, but with a slightly tight jaw, “Well if you like her, then she will be alright with me.” I see you Alice, and have been there plenty of times in my life. Talk about being friend zoned.
Oliver is shown outside Irena’s door, box under his arm and his coat showing signs of a downpour. He rings the door bell and happily shows Irena her present. Irena is obviously not pleased, and the kitten is hissing and terrified. She states that cats don’t like her, while Oliver doesn’t listen, and only goes on to share how great Alice and the kitten got along. Irena repeats her declaration about cats, and asks if they could take it back to the pet store and exchange it for another animal.
The two of them go to the pet store in the rain, and upon entering the store, all the animals start to freak out and create so much noise that the two of them and the store owner have to go outside to hear each other. Irena states she would rather stay outside, while Oliver goes in and picks out a canary. The store owner goes on to explain how the animals can tell when someone is not a good person, especially cats. Oliver, plays with the kittens and ignores the woman’s observations. Irena approves of the canary from the window.
The wedding and its lack of copulation
We now see Oliver asleep on the couch at Irena’s apartment, while she sits on the floor beside him, the fire reflecting off of their faces. Oliver wakes up and asks Irena if she loves him, and she affirms, not with a yes, but an mhm. Oliver confesses his love for her, but he wonders at the fact that he has never kissed her. Irena confesses that she has dreaded this upcoming conversation. She tried to stay away from love and never meant to love him. Oliver, in his very American way states that she has nothing to be afraid of, that she is in America now, and she is normal because she loves a normal American like him. He gives her a very half assed proposal, and they embrace, with Oliver softly resting his lips on the back of her head.
Well despite never kissing, and I wonder how they got around that during the whole, “You may now kiss the bride” business in the ceremony, we are at Oliver and Irena’s reception. Of course nothing says wedding reception like three cooked cow heads in the window of the only Serbian restaurant in the area. How romantic. Watch out Void, when the day comes for your wedding, I have a theme in mind. Irena and Oliver are surrounded by Oliver’s coworkers. The Commodore, Oliver’s boss, leans in towards Alice, who is sitting next to Irena, remarking to her about the bride’s beauty but he hears she is a bit “odd”. Alice, the ever loyal friend of Oliver, defends his choice in bride and is optimistic about their future.
The Commodore then stand and raises his glass to toast the bride, (thanks to Hamilton, every time I hears someone say , “To the Bride”, I start singing to myself…). The commotion of the toast draws the attention of a beautiful woman who is seated across the restaurant. The pervy Commodore, as I wrote in my notes, sees her and comments on how she is “something.”, and Doc, their coworker, remarks she looks like a cat. As Irena is thanking Alice for putting together the party, the mysterious woman walks up to the party’s table and greats Irena in Serbian as “Sister”, causing Irena much distress. Oliver just laughs it off.
As Oliver and Irena are dropped off outside their apartment, Irena tells Oliver that she is going to beg him to be “kind and patient”, when it comes to being intimate. I mean it was 1942, and they didn’t come right out and say that, but we get the idea. Oliver assures her that he will give her all the time she needs. I found myself rolling my eyes at this and scoffing. Sure, he will. Between this and last week’s movie, I am beginning to think not a lot of action happened during the honeymoons of the 30’s and 40’s.
The newly married couple go into their apartment, with Irena in her bedroom behind a closed door and Oliver on the other side. He tells her goodnight, as she slowing falls to her knees. Her resolved falters as she tentatively reaches for the doorknob, but the menacing sound of a cat yowling, causes her to pull her hand back. They sadly tell each other goodnight and it fades to black.
Madness Behind the Beauty
We next see Irena a month later, at the panther’s cage, visiting the zookeeper. He makes the observation that no one who is happy comes to see the panther. Irena remarks on his beauty and the keeper, rebukes her, stating he isn’t beautiful, he is evil. He then quotes Revelations, where it is states the worst beast is like unto a leopard. “Like a leopard, but not a leopard. I guess that fits this feller,” and Irena sadly agrees.
Irena is working in her office, and the imagery sets up a beautiful scene and metaphor. She has a painted screen of a panther behind her easel where she is working. The reflection of the bird cage Oliver gave her surrounds the panther’s head. It is a wonderful representation of Irena being caged up. Who she truly is, locked away. Irena wants to hold the canary. However, when she tries to catch him in its cage, she frightens it to death. The deep sadness on her face is heartbreaking, but it is also apparent that it is nothing new to her.
She gently places it in a box and goes for a walk to the panther’s cage. Then she THROWS THE DEAD BIRD INTO ITS CAGE! I know there were no signs stating don’t feed the animals, but just because a sign is not there, doesn’t mean it is right. But what do you expect for a person who won’t even follow eloquent signs about not littering?
Later that evening, Oliver teases Irena about mourning the bird. She explains to him that it is more than that. That she is jealous of other women. Women who can live full and happy lives with their husbands. Oliver remains dismissive of her feelings. He admits that he has been trying to “kid her out of it”, these ideas she has about her past and herself. He convinces her that she needs to see a psychiatrist, and she readily agrees.
We see Irena under hypnosis, talking about the evil that is in her. Upon waking, she states she knows nothing, but Dr. Judd, assures her he has everything written down. He lays all her fears out, and basically says, this will be a piece of cake, and she just has daddy issues that steam from her childhood. He tells her not to worry, and she is to tell her husband nothing. Irena returns home and finds Oliver and Alice on the couch. It is revealed that Alice is the one that recommended Dr. Judd to Oliver and that he had told Alice everything. Irena shows visible betrayal and dismisses Alice despite her apology. Oliver defends confiding in Alice and calls her a “good egg”, who understands anything. Irena replies, “There are somethings that a woman doesn’t want other women to understand.”
Irena retreats to bed, and wakes to what could almost be a siren’s call from the panther. She goes to his cage and their pacing matches each other. When she returns home, Oliver is waiting for her in the lobby. He again apologizes for betraying her trust. She gives him a warning to keep her happy, because that is what keeps what is inside her locked away and harmless. He tells her he would do basically anything to make her happy. Anyway……
Alice and Oliver v. Irena
More time passes and Oliver is a few more months into his sexless marriage. He and Alice are working on plans for a ship. Alice points out that Oliver keeps giving her wrong figures and that they should take a break. She asks him if anything is wrong, and he keeps his word to his wife and says no. Then Alice astutely remarks, “It must be marriage.” Well, this opens up the flood gates.
Oliver confides his worry about Irena and that he ran into Dr. Judd who confirmed she hadn’t been back to see him since the first time she came to his office. This ladies and gentlemen is why we now have HIPPA laws! Alice shares her confusion, since Irena wanted to be cured so badly. Alice acknowledges that this must make Oliver very unhappy. He then goes on a small monologue of how he had never been unhappy before in his life, and then he got married. This causes Alice to start crying, catching Oliver by surprise.
He pulls her behinds some filing cabinets, where Alice admits she can’t bare to see him unhappy because she loves him. She apologizes for her confession and acknowledges that Oliver loves Irena. He replies, “I don’t know.” He admits that he doesn’t know what love is and he has no idea if he is really in love with Irena or not. Well Alice see this opportunity to give ole Ollie a lesson on love. She explains that what the two of them have is love. Alice sees her shot and she takes it. She plants a seed in his head that there is something better for him, waiting, standing right in front of him. Opportunistic bitch! Oh, sorry, did I say that out loud.
We find Irena back at the panther cage, where the zoo keeper has left the key in the lock of the cage. She returns it to him, where it is established that he forgets it often. She is then greeted by Dr. Judd, who has sought her out to enquire why she missed her appointment. Irena states that she doesn’t believe he an help her because she feel the Doctor thinks it is her mind , not her soul that is troubled, and the two are not the same thing. She dismisses him and leaves. We next find the unhappy couple in their apartment, where Oliver verbalizes his worry about their relationship.
Irena says she loves him, but he doesn’t return the sentiment, he just states he feels they are drifting apart. He confronts Irena about not going back to Dr Judd, and lets it slip that he confided in Alice. This sends Irena into a quiet rage, and the ‘Fuuuuucccckk’ look on Oliver’s face is almost comical. He tells her he did promise they would not fight and they need to calm down. As we all know that is exactly what you say to your wife after you admit that you are confiding in another woman she specifically asked you not to. We all know that “calm down” is part of every woman’s love language.
They then quickly retreats to the office, with no reply from her. When he arrives at the office her tells the cleaning lady he is going to a restaurant around the corner. It is here the waitress, who is a woman of color, has on a very unfortunate uniform. Lets all just sigh, shake our heads and remember what idiots society was in the past. We cut to Alice, working alone in the office. The phone rings, and she picks it up, but there is no answer. When she hangs up, it shows that Irena was on the other side of the line. Now even the most level headed person would be seeing red. Not to mention someone who believe they turn into a panther when provoked to jealousy, lust or rage. Nice kitty!
Alice bids adieu and other horror history In Cat People
Alice turns off her light table. As she leaves the building, the cleaning lady tells her that Oliver is at the diner around the corner. She joins Oliver at his table. Irena, who is walking in the neighborhood, sees the two of them through the window of the diner. What she doesn’t see is Alice telling Oliver he needs to solve his own problems and encourages him to go home and make up with his wife. Oliver calls her “swell” and Alice delivers my favorite line in the film, “That’s what makes me dangerous. I am the new type of other woman.” Irena retreats as the two exit the diner and Oliver asks Alice if she is cold, to which she replies, “ A cat just walked over my grave.” Oliver offers to walk her home, but she declines, stating she is a “big girl now” and goes on alone.
What follows in the most famous scene from the film as well as in horror movie history. Alice is walking along the sidewalk, crossing under streetlamps as she goes. We hear the sound of her heels clicking on the concrete and the sound of Irena’s echoing behind. The sound of the companion footfalls is not what startles Alice, it the sudden lack of them that causes her alarm. She starts to look over her shoulder, hurrying down the street faster. She stops under a streetlight as a growl is heard. It is quickly followed by the sound of a bus pulling up in front of Alice. This is said to be the first jump scare in horror movie history. We expect one thing to happen and something else happens, seemingly out of nowhere.
Tragedy Has Struck
Two whole pages went MIA. Sorry guys. However, I really enjoyed this movie and cannot recommend it more. It truly is classic horror.
Conclusion on cat People by the Void
Well, it seems as if the Mother of the Void enjoyed Cat People quite a bit, it was fun to find an older horror that I had seen and she hadn’t. I promise nothing rude/call-out-y from the subtext, just thought you would find it interesting, especially having Irena as a tragic character. The next one Mother of the Void will be doing is the classic 1960 film Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage), a very interesting, very French horror drama. I’m very excited to read her review/summary of that one. Anyways, come back this Friday for the second installment of the 31 Days of Horror, paired with food, drinks and double features. We look forward to seeing you later on The Void of Celluloid.
I would like to take a moment to introduce myself. I am Mother of the Void and have loved movies, especially horror movies my whole life. Raising my children on a diet of all kinds of films, from black and white classics to B movie gems that we quote regularly, I was so proud that my daughter would be passing along her insight and unique take on all things horror. I asked her if she would be interested my contribution, offering some takes on classic films that might be overlooked as time marches on. She readily agreed, so let’s just hope that I don’t screw this up. When I asked The Void what she wanted me to screen, she almost gleefully replied with The Black Cat.
This was a film that I had not seen, or really heard much about. However, with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, what could say ‘classic horror’ more that this dynamic duo. I started doing research on the film and before too long, I was sending The Void a message which stated, “What the hell are you having me watch? Necrophilia, satanic cults, World War One PTSD, and a set filled with sadism and abuse.” Her response was, “Yeah, I thought you would enjoy it!” She is her mother’s daughter.
Summary of The Black Cat (SPOILERS AHEAD)
Made in 1934, The Black Cat tells the story of newly wed American couple, Peter and Joan Alison. Leaving France for Hungary, they board a train on their way to their honeymoon. While playfully flirting about dinner plans, an employee interrupts and informs them that they will unfortunately have to share their room with another gentleman. Since they are departing relatively early on the route, it shouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience. Joining them is Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), a psychiatrist that states he is going to see a friend.
The couple falls asleep and Dr. Werdegast reaches out and gently strokes Joan’s hair. Caught in the act, Peter shoots him a dirty look, causing Dr. Werdegast to pull his hand back and share the story of how much Joan reminds him of his wife. He has not seen her since he left to fight in World War One, over fifteen years earlier. He shares with the couple that Kurgaal Prison in Russia imprisoned him. It was a place where the lucky ones died.
When the train arrives in Hungary, Peter, Joan, Dr. Werdegast and his servant board a bus taking them to their hotel. Dr. Werdegast pulls the driver aside and asked if he could drop him off at the house of Engineer Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff) on his way to the hotel. The driver agrees and the bus heads off in the pouring rain. The driver tells his passengers about how the roads were built by the Austrian army and the trenches were filled with bodies twelve deep during the war. He loses control of the car and goes into one of those trenches, killing him and injuring Joan Thamal, Werdegast’s servant, carries Joan while the other men follow to Poelzig’s house.
When the foursome arrives, the seeming inspiration of Eddie Munster greets them. He informs them that Heir Poelzig is already in bed, but he takes them to a room upstairs where Dr. Werdegast can examine Joan. Art deco inspired the house rather than the stereotypical “haunted house” of this era. An intercom wakes up Poelzig, stating that “Werdegast has arrived”. Laying next to him is a young, blonde woman. She does not stir and he slowly sits up and exits the room.
Werdegast dresses a wound on Joan’s chest and assures Peter she will be alright before giving her an injection, of what he later reveals is a strong narcotic. The door to the room slowly opens, with Poelzig standing there, in a very dashing robe. He slams the door behind him as Werdegast greets him. It is painfully obvious that Poelzig is not happy to see the fine Doctor. The two of them leave Peter and Joan and continue their conversation in Poelzig’s office. It is here that Werdegast confronts Poelzig about selling their fort to the Russians during the war and running away. Now this beautiful house that Poelzig has built is on the remains of that same fort. “A masterpiece of construction built on a masterpiece of destruction. A masterpiece of murder.”
The art of the cockblock
Dr. Werdegast confronts Poelzig about the location of his wife and daughter. Peter interrupts the conversation, and it is here that Dr. Werdegast exposes his fear of black cats when a dark feline surprises them. He picks up a knife, throwing it at the cat and killing it. Clearly suffering the affects of the injection, Joan appears again. Poelzig takes great delight in explaining Werdegast’s phobia to Joan. When Joan and Peter discuss him taking her up to bed, they begin to embrace and the focus pulls from them to an art deco statue of a woman, with Poelzig firmly grasping its arm.
Peter carries Joan up to bed, then joins the other two gentlemen in the hall. It was at this point when I was watching that I realized, and please pardon the following expression, but Dr. Werdegast has to be one of the first cockblockers in film history. This poor couple, who were interrupted in their private train car by this man, then he gives her a heavy sedative and insists that she be left to sleep alone, undisturbed, and later, when they are given their rooms, he insists on leaving the adjoining door between his and Peter’s room open. Peter, while looking at the empty space next to him in bed even says, “Next time I am going to Niagara Falls.” But I digress.
Peter and Werdegast are taken to their rooms, as assigned by Poelzig. After the two are left alone in their rooms, the adjoining door is opened and Werdegast ask if Peter would like to switch rooms so he could be in the room adjoining Joan’s. As Peter climbs into bed, Poelzig is seen in the house’s underground where it is revealed that he has multiple women, perfectly preserved, hanging in glass cabinets. He walks from woman to woman, carrying the now very much alive black cat.
Not knowing that Peter and Werdegast have switched rooms, Poelzig, enters what he believes is the Doctor’s room to settle their conversation from earlier. The two of them retreat into Werdegast’s room where Poelzig agrees to take him to see his wife. They descend the stairs to the remains of the fort under the house. It is here that Werdegast’s wife is hanging, perfectly preserved.
Poelzig tells the Doctor that his child died as well. Just as Werdegast is prepared to avenge his family’s deaths, the cat finds its way back into the room, causing him to lose his grip on is composure for an instant. Poelzig agrees to give him more information, but only after Peter and Joan have left. They both return to their rooms, where it is revealed that the blonde woman in Poelzig’s bed is actually Karen, Werdegast’s daughter. Also, it is where the fact that Poelzig is a Satanist is introduced.
The next morning, Joan is awakened by a knock on her door. Hoping it is her husband, she is instead greeted first by Werdegast and then by Poelzig. Joan is visibly uncomfortable by the presence of both men, but particularly Poelzig. He sends for her husband and the two men leave, going downstairs and starting a chess match, where the winner with determine if the Alison’s will be able to leave or not.
At this point, we are provided some comic relief when the authorities show up to investigate the accident from the night before. When Peter asks if they can give the couple a ride to town, the authorizes tell him that they ride bicycles and it “would be very inconvenient for madame.” Peter and Joan are thwarted in every attempt they make to try and leave. As Peter and Joan resign themselves to the fact that the only way they will be able to leave is to walk, Poelzig beats Werdegast at the very important chess game they had been playing. Peter is rendered unconscienced and taken to a cell under the house, while Joan faints and is once again carried upstairs and locked in her room.
Poelzig begins to play Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor, which will forever be associated with horror and haunted houses. While this plays in the background, Werdegast steals the key to Joan’s room and tried to convince her that he had nothing to do with keeping them there and he is trying to help them. He explains that even though Poelzig has killed his wife and daughter, he is biding his time to exact his revenge, and until the time come, he needs to cooperate. When the Doctor leaves, Joan is visited by the pesky black cat and Karen. Poelzig enters the room and Karen retreats into her room. You then hear a struggle and scream, as Karen’s husband and captor kills her.
The guests then arrive for the Satanic Ceremony, in which they offer up Joan as a sacrifice. The participates go through the motions, while Joan fights and struggles, fainting once again on the altar. The quick cuts add to the tension and very noticeably inspired the editing on many films since.
Peter wakes up in his cell, which was one of the gun turrets from the old fort. A very inventive set piece. Pay close attention when Peter tries to open the first door. He almost gives himself whiplash. He finally escapes and gets into an altercation with Eddie Munster the first. Peter passes out…again.
Werdegast and his servant are trying to help Joan escape, but once again, she misunderstands their intentions. Mr. Munster shoots the servent, but he still has enough life in him to take care of Eddie once and for all. Joan informs Werdegast that his daughter is Poelzig’s wife, and they run into an adjoining room to find Karen dead on a slab, covered with a sheet. Joan runs to a corner of the room while Poelzig attacks the Doctor. The two of them struggle, and with the last ounce of strength he has left, the Doctor’s mortally injured servant comes in, locking the cell door behind him, and helps to overpower Poelzig, assisting placing him in his own embalming apparatus before finally succumbing to his injury.
Werdegast gleefully rips the jacket and shirt of Poelzig and then explains how he is going to skin him alive. The camera cuts to a shadow of the act being performed, and Joan screams…again. Peter wakes up, follows Joan’s screams and directs her to get he key and unlock the door. Werdegast goes to help her remove the key from his servant’s hand, and Peter sees this as an attack on Joan, shooting Werdegast. Joan explains he was trying to help. The Doctor instructs the Alisons to leave immediately. Mentioned in passing earlier, there is dynamite under the house. Poelzig–only shown in shadow–listens while Werdegast monologues how the cult, the two of them, and the sins of the war will be no more.
The Alison’s leave as the explosions go off, and they are able to flag down a passing car. The film ends with the happy couple on a train. There just so happens to be a review of Peter’s latest book in the paper on their seat. The reviewer makes a so-called joke, saying Peter should stick to the plausible when it comes to his writing.
The Black Cat would be the first of 8 collaborations between Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, with it largely regarded as the best of their films together. Karloff was a bigger star at the time and this showed in the difference in the two stars’ pay scales. Karloff made $7500 and Lugosi made $3000. David Manners, who had starred with Lugosi in Dracula, also made more that his regular costar, $3125. This figure is misleading however. With him on loan by another studio, the fees paid to the studio was factored into his salary. Rumor has it, Manners made considerably less than reported. As for the female costars, they paid Julie Bishop (Joan) $900 and Lucille Lund (Karen) made $150. To add insult to injury to Ms. Lund, the production company paid the cat itself $200. The total budget for the film was $91,125 and it grossed $236,000.
In today’s world of film, it can take years to get a film from the first day of shooting to its release date. The Black Cat began filming on February 28, 1937 and it wrapped on March 17, 1937. They released the film on May 7, 1937. Considering when the film was screened for studio executives, they demanded reshoots in hopes of toning down the violence, the release date is highly impressive. The director, Edgar Ulmer, did the exact opposite. He instead added the scenes of Karen’s body discovery and the skinning of Poelzig.
Working with Edgar Ulmer
Speaking of Edgar Ulmer, his actors referred to him as a total sadist. He became obsessed with Lucille Lund (Karen). He asked her repeatedly to be his girlfriend and she denied his advances. Co-star Harry Cording (Thamal) saved Lund’s life, actually. He found her bleeding from the mouth, strapped to the slab on the set, after Ulmer attacked her. Ulmer also left Lund hanging for over an hour in one of the glass cabinets while everyone else on set went to lunch. Ulmer went on to direct multiple films every year for 1934 to 1960.
None of them predicted the success of The Black Cat. They advertise an ‘Edgar Allen Poe’s’ story on the poster. However, Ulmer admitted that Poe’s story has nothing to do with the film. He used the story’s name as a publicity stunt.
Italy, Finland and Austria banned the film. Other countries demanded to cut some of the gruesome scenes prior to release. England released it under the name “House of Doom” because in their culture, they consider good luck.
There is a list of first for The Black Cat: It was the first film to show a Satanic cult. It was the first film to feature a soundtrack throughout the whole movie. At that time, the opening and closing credits were the only places to feature music.
Bauhaus designs inspired the art deco design of the set, which was popular in Germany from 1919 to 1933. It was unlike any horror setting before. The sets and costumes were a 180 from the gothic feel in Lugosi and Karloff’s pervious films.
My Opinion on the Film
I have to say, my reaction to The Black Cat surprised me. I enjoyed it more than I thought it would–enjoying it more, however, when the Alisons were not on screen. Karloff layered his performance very well. I loved when he would mock Werdergast about his phobia and when he felt he had the upper hand. In those moments,he nuanced a flatline performance with a slightly upturned smile and a gleam in his eye. My heart went out to Lugosi’s character. He was always trying to do what was right, and misunderstood for his actions. When he finally does enact his revenge, he stops to help Joan escape and is again, injured and misunderstood in the process.
The women in the cabinets deeply disturbed me. Visually, it was beautiful. I saw similarities between those visuals and one of my favorite scenes in the often-overlooked film, “Night of the Hunter.” With less subtlety, we know what Poelzig does with his cabinets of curiosities. The way he leers at Joan in her nightgown and him laying next to Karen, her hair fanned around her head on her pillow, just as her mother’s does in her suspended animation, sends some bile into my throat.
I felt they threw in the Satanic cult factor just for shock. It really had no reason for being there. We knew Poelzig was evil. Whether it be by his actions during the war and what he has done with playthings in the basement. I feel like Ulmer threw it in there just because he could. The editing in that scene was very impressive though. Knowing the quick turnaround from filming to distribution, makes it even more so.
You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t a horror fan, so there is no excuse for you to not hop on Amazon Prime, pay your $4, sit back and marvel at Karloff and Lugosi’s performances. Oh, and you can also turn it into a drinking game…For example, .take a shot for every knocked-out Peter, when Joan passes out, when Joan screams and doesn’t run away. Take two shots when Werdergast cockblocks the poor sexually frustrated newlyweds. With a 65-minute running time, The Black Cat will have you feeling no pain by the time the final credits roll.