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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Black Cat (1934)


Starring: Boris Karloff, Béla Lugosi and David Manners
Distributor: Spirit Entertainment
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 27 May 2013

Peter and Joan Allison are a young couple on their honeymoon in Hungary. Their privately booked train carriage is intruded upon by a gentleman called Dr. Werdegast. During a conversation he tells them he is a prisoner of war, returning to the area to seek news of his wife and daughter, and to wreak revenge on Hjalmar Poelzig, the man whose cruelty led to his imprisonment. When their linking transport to the hotel crashes in the middle of nowhere, the trio is obliged to take refuge at the nearest house: the abode of one Hjalmar Poelzig. As the two old enemies immediately begin to play mind games, the Allison couple is caught in the middle. Joan is the object of unwanted affection, and Werdegast is coerced into playing chess for her safety. But there are more dangerous secrets at stake. Poelzig has Werdegast’s daughter in the house, who is completely unaware that her father is alive. And then there’s the glass case and its astonishing content...

I reviewed the previous DVD release of this film back in 2007 and, considering it originates from 1934, it still looks good. Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi are together again to turn in performances which, although not as strong as those in The Raven, are nevertheless quite compelling. Karloff has the better role here; he uses it first with a menacing silence, and later as a Satan worshipping madman. This plot has even less relevance to Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story, The Black Cat, than The Raven did to Poe’s famous poem. The fact that Werdegast has an irrational fear of black cats due to their superstitious connection to bad luck and death is contrived, to say the least. The cat appears only two or three times in the movie in throw away moments which have no relevance to the actual proceedings. I have no idea how Universal Pictures got away with selling the movie on the idea it is based on Poe’s tale.

I had forgotten how much the leading lady, Julie Bishop, has her character faint or scream or both. I know ladies were considered the fairer sex and much more fragile than today, but this goes a little too far. By the end of the movie I had gone from rolling my eyes at her antics to gritting my teeth. Also, the black magic ceremony seems rather tacked on, as if maybe we hadn’t already got the message that Poelzig is a hated war criminal, torturer, kidnapper and all-round bad egg, and needed further convincing.


Ty Power

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