Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on December 25, 1952
Directed by Nathan Juran
Written by Jerry Sackheim
Cast: Richard Greene, Stephen McNally, Paula Corday, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr, John Hoyt, Michael Pate, Tudor Owen, Henry Corden, Otto Waldis, Nancy Valentine, Roy Engel, William H. O’Brien
There were three Counts, there was a castle, and there were bats on the one-sheet poster, but I’ll be gosh-darned if there were any vampires to be seen anywhere in this film. And do you know why? Because this was a Gothic horror film about murder and revenge, not the bloodsucking man-bats of yore! For whatever reason, I assumed this was a vampire movie, probably because of the film’s title, or the presence of horror icons Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr (which really makes no sense, since Karloff was known for playing Frankenstein, and Chaney the Wolf Man).
So instead, we have a solid—though somewhat tame—mystery thriller that offered a bit of action, some melodrama, and plenty of period atmosphere. In 19th century Vienna, Sir Ronald Burton, using the alias Richard Beckett, travels to a castle in the Black Forest of Germany, where he hopes to find answers to the whereabouts of two missing friends. There he is met by Count Bruno and his two count henchmen, who welcome him with a hint of suspicion, and begin testing Beckett in hopes of uncovering his true motives. After forming an alliance with the Countess and the castle doctor, Beckett must then fight for his life as the Count discovers who he really is, and his reason for being there.
I couldn’t figure out what this film was trying to be: a murder mystery, a romance triangle, or some Gothic take on The Most Dangerous Game, minus the Game, so maybe it’s best to categorize it as a melding of all three. As I mentioned, it had some good atmosphere going for it, which was enhanced by noir-like low-key lighting, and I enjoyed watching the two leads, Richard Greene (as Beckett) and an eye-patched Stephen McNally (as the Count), as they sparred verbally and mentally whenever they were together. I especially liked Greene, who was deceptively tough and rugged, had a smart mouth, and didn’t put up with anyone’s nonsense. I think he would’ve made for a good Indiana Jones-like character, if given the chance.
And does anyone remember where we’ve seen the name Nathan Juran? When the movie started, I had no idea who its director was until I saw Juran in the opening credits, and then it hit me: twenty years after he made his debut with The Black Castle, he would direct the final film of his career, the monster cult classic The Boy Who Cried Werewolf. In this one, I thought he did a very respectable job behind the camera, and many of his set-ups were complemented by the use of some effective close-ups and deep-focus shots. In fact, he won an Oscar in 1942 for his work as an art director on the drama How Green Was My Valley.
It’s too bad that Karloff and Chaney didn’t have more screen time; these legends were as good as you’d expect, but Boris only had a few lines in the handful of scenes he was in, and Lon’s part seemed to be nothing more than an extended cameo. I was expecting more from them, and from The Black Castle as a whole (you know, the whole vampire thing), but if you’re a fan of the dark and foreboding Gothic films of this period, or even the Universal horror series, then I see no reason why you should pass it by. It’s not necessarily anything you’d seek out, but if you tune in to TCM and it happens to be on, it’s not an unpleasant way to spend 82 minutes. (6/10)