A few factors led me to finally watching this movie this year:
1 – the recently released Universal Studios Monsters book, which speaks highly of this movie
2 – James Rolfe’s (the Angry Video Game Nerd) Monster Madness piece
3 – my general love for Universal Horror and a desire to dig further into the library past the usual Dracula and Frankenstein movies
The Black Cat was released in 1934 and it is the first pairing of horror movie legends Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. I have never read the Edgar Allan Poe story, but apparently the film is an extremely loose adaption of it. I’m not sure how heavily a black cat is involved in the Poe story, but in the movie, the cat is barely seen. It just seems odd to even have the cat in the movie because it never really comes into play other than showing the quirkiness of Lugosi’s character, who is terrified at the sight of felines. His reaction to when he first sees the cat is almost comical and really took me out of the movie for a minute.
Other than that, this is a fine, creepy and brief movie (clocking in at a little over an hour). It’s great to see Karloff (as Hjalmar Poelzig) and Lugosi (as Dr. Vitus Werdegast) not playing the major monsters they are known for and acting as flesh & blood humans. This time, it is only their personalities that are monstrous, not their physical abilities or looks. Actually, I found myself sympathizing with Werdegast quite a bit. Yes, he has evil intentions for Poelzig, but those intentions are for Poelzig only and he seems like quite a sane and caring person other than that. Poelzig on the other hand, while much more cool and calm than Werdegast, is pure evil– a murderer and a Satanist. Anything Werdegast has planned for him is well deserved (he married/killed both Werdegast’s wife AND daughter!).
Early in the film, I had some trouble understanding Lugosi through his thick accent (some say his accent is what hindered him in Hollywood with getting beyond horror movies), but either he got better at controlling it or I got used to it because later on I had no problem understanding his words.
This was Universal Picture’s top-grossing movie of 1935 and it is no surprise with Karloff and Lugosi headlining at the peak of their popularity. It is a historic movie for that fact alone, but additionally, it is a fun horror movie with Boris and Bela in full control of their scenes, displaying star power and charisma at every turn.
Well worth tracking down for fans of classic horror.