29 April 2018

THE MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES PRESENTS: THE OLD DARK HOUSE. (1932) IN CINEMAS NOW. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.




THE OLD DARK HOUSE. (1932) A UNIVERSAL PICTURE. PRODUCED BY CARL LAEMMLE JR. DIRECTED BY JAMES WHALE. BASED ON THE NOVEL 'BENIGHTED' BY J.B. PRIESTLEY.
STARRING BORIS KARLOFF, ERNEST THESIGER, EVA MOORE, ELSPETH DUDGEON, BREMBER WILLS, RAYMOND MASSEY, MELVYN DOUGLAS, CHARLES LAUGHTON, GLORIA STUART AND LILIAN BOND.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE OLD DARK HOUSE [4K Restoration] - Released in cinemas NATIONWIDE (UK & Ireland) on 27 April 2018

 New 4K restoration of THE CHILLING LOST CLASSIC from the director of FRANKENSTEIN, THE INVISIBLE MAN & THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN

“A masterly mixture of MACABRE HUMOUR and GRIPPING SUSPENSE”  Time Out New York

“Glorious. See this HORROR CLASSIC on a big screen again” – Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead)

"THE GREATEST OF ALL HORROR FILMS. Nothing better in this vein has ever been done, before or since" - Classics of the Horror Film

"Whale mixes a quasi-realistic atmosphere (his monsters are decidedly human, his guests ever so civilized) with high Hollywood Gothic: a tremendous thunderstorm, swirling roads, and the eerie house with its Chinese-box series of horrors." - Pacific Film Archive

Yesterday was a great day. The Irish Film Institute or IFI had a James Whale Weekend, held to coincide with the cinematic release this week of THE OLD DARK HOUSE, once considered to be almost a lost film.

At lunchtime yesterday, I watched FRANKENSTEIN (1931) on the big screen, followed by THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), one of those interesting sequels that are equal to if not outright better than their source movie. To see the climax of this fabulous sequel on the big screen blew me away, it was so loud and so utterly powerful and moving.

Even seeing the olde-timey airplane circling the globe in the UNIVERSAL logo before the movies even started was super-exciting for me. I was sitting there in the dark like a child on Christmas morning with the present-opening about to start in earnest, lol.

After availing myself of a lovely lunch in the interim, I then settled down to watch THE OLD DARK HOUSE in the early evening, my first viewing ever of this particular film of James Whale's, one I'd always yearned to see but had never been able to lay my hands on.

The story sees a group of weary, pissed-off travellers breaking their journey through the Welsh countryside with an overnight stay in the titular house, in the midst of the filthiest weather and worst storm I've ever seen in a film.

If it really is just a stage-hand with a hose and a couple of strategically-placed watering-cans, I must say that he's doing the most magnificent job. There are floods and mudslides outside the car and rivulets of water dripping down the hats of the car's occupants. Everything is literally awash, lol.

Tempers are definitely fraying as Raymond Massey (A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH starring David Niven) and Gloria Stuart (Old-Lady-From-Titanic!) as Philip and Margaret Waverton dash to the front door of The Old Dark House and beg to be permitted entry.

They are accompanied by their suavely-moustached friend and World War One veteran Roger Penderel, and at first they have difficulty in conveying to the mute bearded butler Morgan, played by 'Karloff,' as he's billed, that they want to come in before they're washed away altogether by the floods.

The three travellers have chanced upon a very weird and sinister household indeed. The householder Horace Femm is played to perfection by Ernest Thesiger, the man who portrayed Dr. Pretorius in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

He's a prissy, frock-coated gent (he would've made a good vicar, togged out like this) with a cut-glass accent of clipped and precise tones to equal the guests' own. Although his personal preference is for gin, I could certainly see him offering the guests a glass of sherry each.

He's not keen to have the intruders stay but he realises that, on a night as deplorable as this one, he has little choice but to allow them to remain in the house until this dreadful storm has died down. I loved Ernest Thesiger as the evil Dr. Pretorius and was thrilled to see him here.

Horace's sister Rebecca, a character who gets laughs mostly because she's deaf and ill-tempered and for whom I cared little enough compared to her much more interesting brother, is even less keen on having the visitors stay over, but she eventually consents ungraciously.

A little later on, Charles Laughton, real-life husband to the 'Bride of Frankenstein,' makes his first appearance in a Hollywood film. He plays 'new money' in the form of Sir William
Porterhouse and he's accompanied by his girlfriend, the bright, bubbly chorus girl Gladys DuCane.

They both need shelter from the storm too. I love the way they just barge in as if this private household is the village inn or whatever and they've come in looking for rooms. You couldn't do that type of thing nowadays, but in the old days seeking shelter from storms in this way was probably a common enough occurrence.

We hear the story of how, or perhaps I should say why Porterhouse made his money later on, and it's a profoundly moving one. Porterhouse is a remarkable character, though it's funny not to hear Charles Laughton talking in the plummy, posh English tones we're used to hearing from him. 

Porterhouse resembles nothing so much as a grown-up and still plump-as-a-pudding Frederick Trotteville (from Enid Blyton's THE FIVE FIND-OUTERS series of books) in his tweed jacket, plus-fours and thick woollen knee-length stockings and thick brogues.

The house itself deserves a mention. It's as fantastically old and dark as the title suggests, and has many more floors and bedchambers than the exterior shots of the structure would seem to imply. If you climb these darkened staircases (no electric light in this house, only candles), you'll find that the house has two more occupants than you've initially been informed about.

The door of one of these occupants is firmly padlocked, however, so you'd better be careful. Best to mind your own business and hurry back downstairs the way you came, where an unlikely whirlwind romance is blossoming between two of the guests. Maybe they can have some sort of a future together. That's if The Old Dark House and its curious mish-mash of occupants ever live to see the light of a new day...

I love that Old-Lady-From-Titanic, the actress Gloria Stuart, is here playing Margaret Waverton. She's the perfect flapper girl, tall and thin and a bit angular with her fashionably short hairstyle and red-lipsticked mouth.

The underwear she's wearing for the undressing-out-of-her-wet-things scene in the bedroom is just gorgeous, the kind of stuff we'd now call vintage and would adore to find in a second-hand shop. She may have looked a million years old in James Cameron's TITANIC in 1997, but this film proves beyond a doubt that she was a real beauty in her day.

I would have liked if the Boris Karloff character, Morgan the scary butler, had had a bit more back-story to him. Like, for example, why is he mute? Why is he an alcoholic? When he appears to be drunkenly attacking one of the guests, is he sexually or otherwise motivated? Or is he just tormented by the many secrets the house seems to hold beneath its rafters?

Maybe if he'd been attempting to show her- this guest- one of the house's dark secrets, for example, he might have made a better-rounded, more sympathetic character instead of merely being a thuggish drunk. I know, I know, I hear it too. How dare I criticise the great Boris Karloff?

I'm not, though. Believe me, I love him too. He and Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. are my favourites of the Universal stable of horror actors. I just thought that the character of Morgan felt a bit unfinished, somehow. My love for Boris Karloff is undiminished regardless, though!

The IFI finished its James Whale Weekend with a lunchtime screening today of THE INVISIBLE MAN, which I didn't manage to get to, unfortunately. But THE OLD DARK HOUSE will be in cinemas all week courtesy of THE MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES. If you haven't already seen this horror legend, one that was so nearly lost, you should really move heaven and earth to get to the cinema this week.

The film is almost as much a comedy as it is a horror film, with plenty of laughs, more so than in any of this famous quartet of James Whale horror films for Universal. But there are enough peculiar characters, dark shadows, locked rooms and unnamed threats here too to satisfy the hardcore horror fans, and that storm...! Kudos once more to the stagehand with the watering-cans and the hose. He should've gotten a bloody Oscar.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:


http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com












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