Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Old Dark House

How does someone like James Whale follow up a success like Frankenstein? Simple: do something within the same genre. A year after making his (loose) adaptation of Mary Shelley's magnum opus, Whale decided to make an adaptation of J.B. Priestley's novel Benighted, now re-titled as The Old Dark House. But how does it fare in the shadow of Frankenstein?

Stuck amid terrible weather, Philip (Raymond Massey) and Margaret Waverton (Gloria Stuart) and their friend Roger Penderel (Melvyn Douglas) find refuge in a dilapidated manor in the Welsh countryside. Later joined by William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton) and Gladys DuCane (Lilian Bond), they find themselves trying to survive the night in this ethereal home. But will they?

Adding some comedic touches to the otherwise faithful script, The Old Dark House has some more levity compared to Universal's other horror films of the era. (Douglas gets the bulk of the one-liners.) It's from this light humor that the otherwise tense situation is alleviated. (Doesn't always work for the better, mind you.)

And The Old Dark House features a number of actors that either had worked with Whale before or would work with him again. Among them are Stuart (The Invisible Man), Ernest Thesiger (Bride of Frankenstein), and Boris Karloff (needs no explanation, does it?) Granted, Stuart was under contract at Universal but the point still stands.

The Old Dark House may not have quite the scares it dished out in 1932 but that aside, it's still a solid picture nearly ninety (!) years later. Whale clearly had a knack for directing so knowing that his Hollywood career was a brief one (20 films in 11 years!) shows that the industry lost out on other Whale-helmed projects. Oh, what could have been...

My Rating: ****

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