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The Black Cat (1934) Poster

(1934)

Trivia

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The British release title was changed from "The Black Cat" to "The House of Doom" because in Britain, black cats are considered a sign of good luck - not bad.
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Among the unconventional elements of this film was the soundtrack. At a time (early 1930s) when movie music was usually limited to the titles and credits, Edgar G. Ulmer had an almost continuous background score throughout the entire film.
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The doorbell in Poelzig's house plays the first four notes from a recurring theme from Richard Wagner's opera "Die Meistersinger".
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The satanic prayer Poelzig chants during the black mass scene consists of random phrases in Latin, the most recognizable being "cum grano salis" (with a grain of salt). The complete chant, is as follows:

Latin Phrases: Cum grano salis. Fortis cadere cedere non potest. Humanum est errare. Lupis pilum mutat, non mentem. Magna est veritas et praevalebit. Acta exteriora indicant interiora secreta. Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem. Amissum quod nescitur non amittitur. Brutum fulmen. Cum grano salis. Fortis cadere cedere non potest. Fructu, non foliis arborem aestima. Insanus omnes furere credit ceteros. Quem paenitet peccasse paene est innocens.

English translation: With a grain of salt. A brave man may fall, but he cannot yield. To err is human. The wolf may change his skin, but not his nature. Truth is mighty, and will prevail. External actions show internal secrets. Remember when life's path is steep to keep your mind even. The loss that is not known is no loss at all. Heavy thunder. With a grain of salt. A brave man may fall, but he cannot yield. By fruit, not by leaves, judge a tree. Every madman thinks everybody mad. Who repents from sinning is almost innocent.
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While working on this film, director Edgar G. Ulmer began an affair with Shirley Castle, who would eventually become his wife, known as Shirley Ulmer. At the time, however, Castle was married to Max Alexander, a producer at Universal Pictures and a nephew of powerful Universal chief Carl Laemmle, who did not look kindly on "outsiders" upsetting his family. Castle left her husband for Ulmer, and the ensuing scandal resulted in Ulmer being blackballed from all of the major Hollywood studios for the rest of his career. After a short period of directing micro-budgeted independent films, Ulmer went to work for the low-budget studio Producers Releasing Corp. (PRC), where he stayed for most of the rest of his career.
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The first film collaboration of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, who at the time were unquestionably the two biggest stars of horror film. Despite rumors that the two stars were personally very competitive, this marked the beginning of a pleasant working relationship between the two. While Lugosi and Karloff never became close personal friends, they were quite amicable to each other and enjoyed working together.
Edgar G. Ulmer admitted in an interview that Edgar Allan Poe's story was credited to draw public attention, despite the fact it had nothing to do with the story in the movie.
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Boris Karloff's character is named after Austrian architect and art director Hans Poelzig. Poelzig worked on The Golem (1920), on which director Edgar G. Ulmer was set designer.
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Edgar G. Ulmer dubbed Boris Karloff's line at the end of the chess match: "You lose, Vitus".
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The ill-fated bus driver is a direct homage to the doorman in The Last Laugh (1924), on which Edgar G. Ulmer worked as Production Designer.
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Director Edgar G. Ulmer, when writing this film, loosely based the villain Hjalmar Poelzig, played by Boris Karloff, on director Fritz Lang. Ulmer knew Lang from the German-Austrian film scene and, though he was a huge admirer of Lang's films, felt Lang to be a sadist as a director.
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The first of eight movies to pair Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.
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This was Universal's biggest hit of 1934.
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The set of the main room in Poelzig's house were built for $1,500.
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The only Universal picture until The Wolf Man (1941) to introduce the major characters during the opening credits, and the actors playing them, with brief clips from the movie.
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Edgar G. Ulmer dubbed Bela Lugosi's voice instructing his servant to "wait here" before accompanying Boris Karloff down to be shown his preserved dead wife.
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When re-released by Realart Pictures in the early 1950s, the film's title was changed to "The Vanishing Body" in an attempt to distinguish it from a 1941 Universal film with the same title, The Black Cat (1941), to which Realart also had the distribution rights.
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Censors in Italy, Finland and Austria banned the movie outright, while others required cuts of the more gruesome sequences.
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Part of the original Shock Theater package of 52 Universal titles released to television in 1957, followed a year later with SON OF SHOCK, which added 20 more features.
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Spoilers 

The trivia item below may give away important plot points.

Reportedly Universal Studios executives were displeased when they viewed the first cut of the film and so ordered the director to do some extra shooting to tone the violence and horror down. Edgar G. Ulmer did the opposite, and added in the now-famous sequence where Poelzig (Boris Karloff) views his dead but preserved wives before he reveals the fate of Karen to Dr. Werdegast.

See also

Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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