Review: ‘The Old Dark House’

The [original J.B.] Priestley novel must have been a bit more plausible than as evidenced in the cinematic transition. But regardless, it has all the elements for horror and thriller exploitation, including as it does a mad brute butler (Boris Karloff), insanity, ghosts in the family closets, sex, romance, not to mention the titular setting in a storm-torn Welsh mountain retreat.

The [original J.B.] Priestley novel must have been a bit more plausible than as evidenced in the cinematic transition. But regardless, it has all the elements for horror and thriller exploitation, including as it does a mad brute butler (Boris Karloff), insanity, ghosts in the family closets, sex, romance, not to mention the titular setting in a storm-torn Welsh mountain retreat.

Let one stop and think but a few seconds about what’s happened on the screen and there’d be no picture; hence, it’s been the somewhat too difficult task of the Laemmle studio to pile on trick after trick. For it’s a certainty that the average mortal, despite the raging elements without, would have carried on in the storm at any price, or camped out in their motor, rather than sit in for an evening with the eccentric Femm family or their insane butler, Morgan.

Among the performances, Karloff with a characteristically un-drawing-room physical getup, by no means impresses as a sissy by stature, demeanor and surliness. Gloria Stuart gives excellent account of herself, although that extreme decolletage is rather uncalled for considering the locale. Charles Laughton turns in one of his usually tophole performances as the Lancashire knight. Melvyn Douglas is rather hit and miss under the circumstances, and that stable tete-a-tete with Lillian Bond, who is satisfactory up until that point, makes it a bit worse.

The Old Dark House

Production

Universal. Director James Whale; Producer Carl Laemmle Jr; Screenplay Benn W. Levy, [R. C. Sherriff]; Camera [Arthur Edeson]; Editor [Clarence Kolster]; Art Director [Charles D. Hall]

Crew

(B&W) Extract of a review from 1932. Running time: 74 MIN.

With

Boris Karloff Melvyn Douglas Charles Laughton Gloria Stuart Lillian Bond Ernest Thesiger
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