on 4 April 2007
No sooner had I finished writing a review of THE BORIS KARLOFF COLLECTION saying that someone should release THE BLACK ROOM on DVD when lo and behold here it is. The fact that it's being issued by Sony means that it will use the best prints available which is great considering how often Boris is badly served by substandard prints of his non-Universal films. Sony has already issued a couple of the Columbia Karloff "Mad Doctor" films on DVD (THE DEVIL COMMANDS, THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES) and while they were devoid of any real extras, the visual quality of the films was an improvement over the old VHS copies. This will complete the set and give us THE BLACK ROOM in the bargain which is the finest of the films he did for Columbia. Directed by Roy William Neill (known for the modern day Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce) THE BLACK ROOM gives Boris one of his best acting opportunities in a double role as twin brothers one good the other evil (a triple role when you consider he also plays one brother impersonating the other). The other films are THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG, BEFORE I HANG, and a comedy THE BOOGIE MEN WILL GET YOU.
Although I haven't viewed the set yet I assume that Sony will do the same for these titles as they did for the others with hopefully a few extras thrown in although it's a shame that they didn't include the previous two on a third DVD to have all the films in one package. So Karloff fans rejoice even more so than for THE BORIS KARLOFF COLLECTION as overall the quality of these films are better. Thanks to these, THE VAL LEWTON COLLECTION, and the U.K. films THE GHOUL and THE MAN WHO CHANGED HIS MIND, virtually all of Karloff's 30s and 40s films are now on DVD. That just leaves THE WALKING DEAD which Warners should have issued in their upcoming HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS OF HORROR COLLECTION.... ADDENDUM: I have now seen the set and the picture quality is excellent. Unfortunately there are no extras whatsoever not even chapters for the various films.
This an interesting set of films from Boris Karloff, well chosen to show off the various aspects of his career.
In the Black Room (1935) we are presented with a gripping tale of family curses and sibling rivalry. Karloff gets to play twins, one good and the other evil, and shows their struggle for the family inheritance. The film is a lot of fun, especially Karloff who really gets to ham it up as both the good and evil brother. It's an old favourite of mine, and I bought the set for this film alone.
In The Man They Could Not Hang (1939) we see Karloff in full mad professor mode. At first he's a kindly doctor who invents a method of reviving the dead. Through an unfortunate series of circumstances there is a death and he is convicted of murder. Brought back to life by his own technique, he starts to wreak vengeance on those who wronged him with an inventive house of horrors. Another entertaining slice of horror, even if the ending feels a bit rushed.
Before I Hang (1940) is pretty much along the same lines as the previous film. Entertaining, but not groundbreaking.
The Boogie Man (1942) is, for me, the weakest of the set. Karloff parodies many of his earlier flms in this comedy, but for me the humour was unfunny and the plot thin, and it just does not work.
There are two discs, with two films per disc. Each comes in a slimeline case and both are collected into a sturdy card slipcase. There are no extras, the sound is mono. The picture and sound are reasonably clean and sharp. This is an American set, so you will need a region 1 player.
A decent price for three great films from the Master of Horror, and one not so good.
on 9 December 2013
Boris Karloff again dons the mad scientist role, in Before I Hang. The movie grips you in from the beginning, with Karloff on fine form as a gentle scientist who has found a way to stop the aging process- but he will be hanged after an experiment left a patient dead.
I won't give the rest of the plot away, suffice to say that the film is very watchable and Sony have given us a very good picture, mind in some scenes there is heavy grain, but hey ho the film is 70 years old.
For a 40s film the bodycount is quite high. On another note it would have been interesting to see patrons reactions to the film, given how it is so similar to the previous years effort The Man Who Could Not Hang- again starring Karloff and directed by the same man.
Though this effort isn't as good (there is a dip in the second half of the film), this is still a very good effort and one for any fan of Karloff's works.
Sony's useful `Icons' series comes up trumps again with another nice collection of minor genre items from the studios back-catalogue, offering four of Boris Karloff's films for the studio. While only is really prime Karloff, together they make for a very satisfying set.
Offering Boris Karloff one of his juiciest roles - or rather two of them - 1935's The Black Room is a surprisingly lavishly staged gothic tale of two twins, one good, one, naturally, evil, and the prophecy that their aristocratic family line will die out with the younger killing the elder in the black room. Despite their father initially trying to avoid tragedy by sealing off the room and the boys spending ten years apart, the evil elder twin decides the best way to ensure his good younger twin doesn't kill him is to do away with him first, conveniently assuming his identity to both hide his crime and get something of a fresh start with the angry locals. But while his brother may be dead, discovery and poetic justice are just around the corner...
Karloff is clearly enjoying himself in the leads, the good brother a rather ineffectual milksop with a slight lisp, the evil one revelling in his own arrogance, and for once he's given the kind of elaborate stage to strut upon that he enjoyed over at Universal. Unlike most of Columbia's Boris Karloff pictures they really spent some money on this one, with big sets and generous crowd scenes. It's also exceptionally well directed by Roy William Neill, best remembered today for his Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films, highlighting the detailed production design with some very impressive cinematography that makes much use of mirrors and reflective surfaces like the polished onyx of the titular chamber. Thankfully these are complemented by an exceptionally good transfer on Sony's DVD, which offers a crystal clear, almost flawless image with crisp definition (though it has had a 40s Columbia logo added, presumably for a reissue).
Another one of Boris Karloff's more typical mad scientist movies at Columbia, 1939's The Man They Could Not Hang sees him as a pioneering scientist who is just about to try out an artificial heart transplant on the willing medical student he's just `scientifically killed' when the police burst in to stop him and make a liar of whoever came up with that title by putting him on trial for murder and hanging him. But you can't keep a good scientist tampering with things best left alone down, and his assistant revives him to prove the operation could have worked - but Boris, his mind now filled with hate, decides he'd much rather kill the jurors who voted against him ("I offered you life, and you gave me death"), as well as the judge, prosecutor and unfriendly witnesses instead, especially since he has the perfect legal alibi, what with being legally dead and all. Half the jury meet their demise offscreen, but Karloff makes up for it in the second half of the film by inviting the remainder to the last meal of their lives before leading them to inadvertently become the agents of their own destruction in ways that are probably more surprising to the characters than the audience, but it's more than efficiently staged despite the familiarity of it all. It's formulaic stuff, of course, but journeyman director Nick Grinde directs it all with some style despite knocking it out in only two weeks, and at 64 minutes it's never in danger of outstaying its welcome.
Columbia's DVD has a nice transfer with only a hint of unwelcome edge enhancement in the opening scene, but features a reissue title card and no extras.
A year later Karloff and Grinde did the same thing all over again with Before I Hang. This time round Karloff is a kindly humanitarian doctor who is sentenced for death for the mercy killing of an elderly patient. Allowed to continue his experiments in prison with Doctor Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing to Lugosi's Dracula), he uses himself as a guinea pig for his serum to halt the effects of ageing just before he's about to go to the chair only to find his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. Which is when the effects of the serum start to kick in. On the plus side, it rejuvenates him and makes him 20 years younger. On the minus side, he used murderer's blood, and you can guess the side effects.
While not as stylish or gothic as The Man They Could Not Hang, it's a slick and very watchable programmer with a nice performance from Karloff and a decent supporting cast, though some, like Evelyn Keyes and Bruce Bennett, have little to do. Once again, Sony's DVD offers a pleasingly clean and crisp transfer.
Rounding out the set, The Boogie Man Will Get You is a minor but painless spoof in the Arsenic and Old Lace vein that sees Boris Karloff's impoverished mad scientist selling the mortgage to his rundown colonial inn to (Miss) Jeff Donnell, who wants to run it as a hotel to prove to ex-husband Larry Parks that she has a good business head on her shoulders. What she doesn't know is that Karloff has a basement full of dead travelling salesmen thanks to his failed attempts to help the war effort by creating a race of supermen, a scheme that appeals to the mercenary instincts of Peter Lorre's mayor, justice of the peace, notary, sheriff and coroner (who keeps a kitten in his pocket)...
It's a painless 66 minutes but unfortunately there's more sit than com, with the addition of Maude Eburn's chicken impersonating maid, Don Beddoe's sinister ballet choreographer and Frank Puglia's escaped Italian POW and human bomb adding more volume than laughs, though Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom's powder puff salesman who's immune to chloroform has his moments. As with all the titles on the set, there are no extras - not even a proper menu - but a nice clean transfer.
on 4 June 2012
i think boris karloff made some of his better films at "columbia" studios, even though none of them had much in the way of budget.
out of the four films in this set, i would rate "the black room" and "before i hang" as being the best ones. the former is a showcase for karloff's remarkable skills as an actor, in playing an honest and decent character and also playing the evil twin. a fine bit of acting from him. the latter film, i like due to it having a tightly-written storyline, a good pace and plenty of excitement. karloff was well cast in the "mad scientist" type role and he plays it well here.
"the man they could not hang" is pretty watchable but the plot gets rather bogged down towards the end and i was slightly disappointed with the climax.
"the boogie man will get you" is just a lot of nonsense to me, i didn't enjoy it at all.