The Black Cat
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for The Black Cat can be found here.

While honeymooning on the Orient Express and headed for Visegard, Hungary, novelist Peter Alison (David Manners) and his wife Joan (Julie Bishop) meet Doctor Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi), a psychiatrist on his way to Gmbs to visit his old friend, architect Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff), after spending the past 15 years as a prisoner of war in Siberia. When the bus to Hotel Hungaria in Gmbs overturns on a rainy mountain road and Joan is injured, Werdegast invites them along to Poelzig's house so that he can treat the injury. There, Werdegast discovers that Poelzig, who married Werdegast's wife during his captivity, now displays her preserved corpse in a glass case in the turret. Poelzig, obviously gone mad, intends to sacrifice Joan in a Satanic ritual during tomorrow's dark moon. In an attempt to save Joan's life, Werdegast engages Poelzig in a game of chess....and loses.

'The Black Cat' is a short story by American horror writer Edgar Allan Poe [1809-1849]. The movie took the title from the story but little else. The screenplay was written by American screenwriter George Carol Sims (writing under the name Peter Ruric), who adapted it from a story by the film's Austrian-American director Edgar G. Ulmer.

Where is Visgard located?

On the following map of Hungary, Visgard can be seen on the River Danube (Duna) just north of Budapest.

According to the movie, the black cat is a symbol of evil. Poelzig owns a black cat, and Werdegast is deathly frightened by cats such that, upon seeing it, he instinctively throws a knife at it, killing it. However, like the black cat in Poe's story, it returns later in the movie, suggesting that it cannot be killed, i.e., cats have nine lives.

Yes. Hyoscine (aka scopolamine), although not technically a narcotic (i.e., derived from opium), has narcotic-like effects, such as sedation and decreased awareness. It is derived from plants in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, such as Datura and henbane (Hyoscyamus niger).

Yes. 'The Black Cat', first published in 1843, is in the public domain and can be read and/or downloaded from numerous sites, e.g., here, here, and here. It's also at Project Gutenberg and at Mobileread.com.

How does the movie end?

The guests don their black robes as the Satanic ritual begins. As Poelzig chants in Latin, Joan is led towards the altar, promptly fainting when she reaches it. When a second girl faints and everyone rushes over to her, Werdegast and his servant Thamal (Harry Cording) secrete Joan from the altar. As Werdegast leads Joan to safety, Joan informs him that his daughter Karen (Lucille Lund), whom he believed to be dead, is in the house and that she is Poelzig's wife. Werdegast finds Karen lying on the embalming table, apparently dead. He cries out and is attacked by Poelzig. Thamal, who has been wounded by Poelzig's servant, rushes in to help his master. Together, they lash Poelzig to his embalming rack, and Werdegast rips off Poelzig's shirt. He grabs a scalpel and begins to skin Poelzig. Joan's screams bring Peter running, but he is stopped from entering the room by a barred door. He tells Joan to find the key. Werdegast tries to help her but Peter, thinking Werdegast is in league with Poelzig, shoots him. Joan opens the door and, as she and Peter get away, Werdegast pulls the red switch, which will ignite the dynamite in five minutes. Joan and Peter make it outside just as the dynamite begins to explode. In the final scene, they are back on the train and on to Budapest. Peter opens a newspaper and finds a review of his latest book Triple Murder. He reads the review to Joan and is amused when the writer says that he has 'overstepped the bounds in the matter of credibility' and recommending that he 'confine himself to the possible instead of having his melodramatic imagination run away with him.'

You can see Lugosi and Karloff together again in The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), Black Friday (1940), and You'll Find Out (1940). They also appear--albeit separately--in Gift of Gab (1934). They were also in The Body Snatcher(1945).

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