Guest Movie Review: The Black Cat (1934)

blackcateliBy Eli Sanchez
Guest Contributor
Silver Screen Capture

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Edgar G. Ulmer’s classic chiller The Black Cat (B) features the first onscreen pairing of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and it doesn’t disappoint. The film is loosely based on the Edgar Allen Poe tale of the same name. When I say loosely based , this film travels to post-WWI Eastern Europe in which Dr. Vitus Werdesgast (Lugosi) seeks to avenge Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff) for manipulating his life in the war and effectively stealing the affections of his former wife and daughter. Herr Poelzig lives in this surreal Art Decco house supposedly built on top of explosives leftover from the war in Hungary and has rigged a self-destruct. I’m sure Frank Lloyd Wright would encompass that in later designs on his own homes, but I digress. Herr Poelzig is also the leader of a Satanic Cult and has seasonal rituals inside his living room. I say, there really isn’t anything more entertaining than hors d’oeuvres and a bit of BDSM to get one ready for dinner. Needless to say, this is possibly one of the more effective of the early Universal pairings of the two greats of horror at the time. Lugosi’s character has fits of neurosis and flings the nearest sharp instrument at any black cat walking nearby for no other reason than superstition and a little paranoia. And of course with this house being a haven for Lucifer himself, there’s black cats aplenty. That’s about as close as we get to anything related to the title. Karloff is no innocent in this, not that the whole Satanic cult thing isn’t a resume builder; but he is taking to bed Lugosi’s daughter in secret (he thinks she’s dead) and has also got Lugosi’s former wife in a display case in suspended animation. He had previously been married to her as well. Meanwhile, Lugosi has taken charge of a newly wed couple getting off at the same train station on the way to Karloff’s House of Fun. They get waylaid in a car accident and need to convalesce in the Devil’s spare bedroom. Naturally the Sons of Satan think the damsel in distress looks like someone they used to know and decide what better way to commemorate than by having a human sacrifice. Though the plot in and of itself is a bit silly, the actual interplay and fierce determination between the two scenery chewers in this film is worth a Friday night on a sofa.

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I've reviewed films for more than 20 years. Current movie reviews of new theatrical releases and direct-to-video or streaming films are added weekly to the Silver Screen Capture movie news site. Many capsule critiques originally appeared in expanded form in my syndicated Lights Camera Reaction column.

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Posted in 1934

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