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Boris Karloff only made a handful of movies that demonstrated he had some
real range as an actor, and of that handful, THE BLACK ROOM has to rate as
one of the best. In this work, Karloff plays twin brothers of a family of
aristocrats. The older brother Gregor is a nasty piece of work. He is the
titular head of the family of land barons, and has long developed a
reputation for brutality in the region he governs. His estate is notorious
for having disappeared several young women. Anton, the younger of the
twins, is a cosmopolitan sort, has been away travelling and studying for
many years. Both men are haunted by a family prophecy, in which the younger
of the two twins is supposed to slay the older in order to complete a family
curse, which apparently began in the "black room" of the film's
The room itself was ordered sealed shortly after the birth of the twins in order to avert a repeat of the tragedy. Unbeknownst to the villagers, Gregor has found a hidden passage into the black room, and it is the torture pit of the room where he disposes of the bodies of his victims.
Anton, the younger brother, returns home upon the urging of his brother Gregor, who has, after several attempts on his life, realized that he must step aside in order to calm the people down. Gregor has in mind a phoney abdication in which he seems to step aside in favor of his twin. His actual plan is to murder Anton, and to continue to reign in Anton's identity, in his own twist on the family curse. He falls over his own hubris for a number of personal reasons, but before film's end, he manages to indulge in a round of crafty Karloffian mayhem.
Karloff plays both the monstrous and benign brothers, but in addition, he portrays the nasty brother imitating the gentle one. That's what makes this piece fun. Seventy minutes of the grand old man of the gothics at his best. I've probably seen it about thirty times now, and it holds up well.
This film, little known except amongst traditional horror fans, is a sparkling gem. It is an outstanding story about two twin brothers, one of them evil and the other benevolent, who grow up surrounded by a curse that says the older brother will die at the hands of the younger brother in the mysterious Black Room. Karloff plays both brothers and he is excellent, quipping evil commands and leering as the malevolent sibling and prancing and being overly solicitous as the good brother. Karloff breathes life in every pore of this film. He is the focal point of attention as he speaks each line. Few of his performances show so much of his range and few show him as such a twisted, ruthless individual. This is a must see for the Karloff fan, or any fan of good old-fashioned horror stories.
The basic plot:There is a pair of twin brothers, one good, the other
lecherous and dishonest. Due to a family legend , the bad brother murders
the good brother in the black room ,impersonating the good brother, but he
get's his comeuppance.....
The praise: In many ways this horror classic is really a clever, thrilling Grimm-like fairy tale with strong horror elements. The entire thing has the ornate , gothic look of a fairy tale anyway.Great sets, costumes, and lighting. Very moody and atmospheric , it also is suspensful and tightly structured , allowing the movie to pump in lots of decor and great acting.By Karloff , that is . This is a true gem for him, allowing him to play both brothers. He does this excellently , bringing in subtle shades of good and evil in two great performances that are different yet the same. He also plays the role with a kind of poetry , as well as deliciously expressive face expressions married with potent speech for some wicked lines. A must-see.
The Black Room: 7 out of 10: In the Tim Burton film "Ed Wood" Martin
Landau's Bela Lugosi complains about his rival Boris Karloff continuing
to work even though he played Frankenstein which required only grunting
under heavy make-up as opposed to accented seductive Dracula.
Well I hate to point this out to a long dead actor but Karloff can really act. The Black Room is a tour de force performance.
Karloff plays three roles (two twins and one twin pretending to be the other) and manages to give them such a distinctive nuanced performances I squinted at the screen to make sure it really was the same actor in the roles.
The story itself is quite a good set-up. With one brother a devilish tyrant with a taste for village girls and the other a slightly fey traveler with a birth defect. Hanging over their head is a family curse that states one brother will kill the other in the titular Black Room.
There are twists and turns and as many reviews have pointed out this is more a costume drama/mystery than straight horror film. The supporting cast is competent and the sets are well done but this is Karloff's show and he runs away with it.
Another film I had been reading about since childhood but up till now
have had no opportunity to watch.
An interesting star vehicle for Boris Karloff allowing him to play two roles as contrasting twins; the fact that one of them is deformed may owe something to Lon Chaney and here Karloff demonstrates himself a most worthy successor to the Master's mantle. The period setting - its-folk-tale quality hearkens back to German Expressionism - serves the handsome production extremely well, especially when considering that Columbia Pictures at the time was just starting to pose a serious challenge (following the Oscar sweep of Frank Capra's IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT ) to the major studios. Director Roy William Neill handles the proceedings with great efficiency and style providing plenty of visual flourishes along the way.
The only criticism one can level at the film regards a couple of slightly contrived plot points: the evil Karloff, who has done away with his benign but paralyzed sibling and whom he impersonates in order to win the girl he loves, is rather stupidly caught by the girl's father when he is spotted in a mirror using his 'lame' hand to sign the marriage contract; Karloff's come-uppance is brought about by his dead brother's faithful mastiff which hates his guts - it's implausible to think that the dog has kept away from Karloff for days (by which time the girl's lover has been convicted for her father's murder) only to conveniently reappear on his wedding day! However, the ironic climax - which allows the prophecy tied with Karloff's family name to be fulfilled - is a splendid one.
All in all, along with THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932) and THE WALKING DEAD (1936; see below), THE BLACK ROOM is Karloff's best vehicle of the 1930s which wasn't produced by the studio which made his name, Universal.
How this film is not regarded as a classic is beyond me. Boris Karloff at his best, with a plotline that never stops, resulting in a crusendo of action drama that would put Arnie to shame. Haunting music..... Creepy sets ...... bad accents.. They are all here but look beyond the pale on this one, because it's worth it.
The Black Room is a great movie. The sets are poor, it lacks the
grandeur necessary for a period movie, it obviously had an incredibly
low budget, even the premise is poor (though the script had a good
twist), mostly Z-grade material, and if that weren't enough, the acting
by Karloff's colleagues is abysmal. However Boris Karloff is GREAT in
this, I have seen many of his films, which range in quality quite
staggeringly, my favourites being the Tourneur movies (least favourite
the mad doctors), however in this film his acting is EXTRAORDINARY.
In what is perhaps his greatest performance he plays twin brothers Anton and Gregor so incredibly convincingly. One is an innocent sensitive fop, the other an evil sociopath, what range, what awesome acting! Somehow he seems to make both of them endearing! Let me tell you they certainly don't do it like this anymore.
I am an identical twin myself and it is hard to believe that you aren't watching the performances of twin brothers. The twin dynamic is certainly there, and the scenes when both characters are on screen together are seamless, due to some obviously very clever trickery and Karloff's skill. I can't think offhand of many examples of greater acting in film history, certainly few other actors have Karloff's range.
Highly recommended movie. A fratricidal epic!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A prophecy states that the younger of twin sons born into the wealthy
de Bergmann family will go on to murder the older son in the castle's
black room. Trying to make sure the prophecy doesn't come true, the
room is sealed off by a brick wall and the family goes about their
business. Over the course of the next forty or so years, both parents
pass away, leaving eldest son Gregor (Boris Karloff) living all alone
in the castle. Gregor has developed quite the bad reputation about
town. Not only a ruthless, devious and cruel tyrant, he's also
suspected of murdering various women in the village and hiding their
bodies. As suspicion is riling the villagers against him, Gregor
decides to invite his long-absent twin Anton (Karloff again) back home
for a stay. Anton is about the polar opposite of his brother; polite,
kind, trusting and gentle, not to mention crippled with a paralyzed
arm. Why is Gregor suddenly interested in rekindling a relationship
with his estranged brother? It has something to do with an identity
switch and winning a young woman's hand in marriage, but the less said
about the plot the better.
Much like Jeremy Irons would do in David Cronenberg's 1988 thriller DEAD RINGERS, Karloff manages to completely separate the two roles he plays here; adding distinct mannerisms/facial expressions and subtle changes in the delivery of his lines that totally set the two characters he's playing apart. Not only that, but he also has to play one twin struggling to pretend to be the other, which adds an entirely different dimension to the already challenging role. Karloff manages to pull it all off in one his most impressive performances, instilling Gregor with a kind of arrogant, confident swagger and Anton with a certain good-heartedness and innocence that makes you wonder how the prophecy will manage to play out. Through editing trickery and the use of doubles (quite sophisticated for the time), you get to see both Karloff's interacting in the same scene. There are also good contributions from Thurston Hall as a colonel who despises Gregor but takes a liking to Anton, and the lovely Marian Marsh (the object of John Barrymore's obsession in 1931's SVENGALI) as his daughter, who's in love with a young lieutenant (Robert Allen) but may end up being the wife of a sadistic baron if Gregor can have his way. The rest of the performances are also adequate.
Not only well acted, this is a extremely handsome production with an almost fairy-tale like quality to it. It's well directed by Roy William Neill (best known for his Sherlock Holmes films) and well written by Arthur Strawn and also boasts good cinematography, costumes, period detail and production design. The "Black Room" itself, which we learn can still be accessed through a secret entrance, is a great Gothic design full of chains, cobwebs and even a deep pit. Kudos to Sony for putting out a remastered print of this horror classic, which was becoming hard to find on video before they decided to include it on their two-disc "Icons of Fright" collection. The set also comes with the Karloff vehicles THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG (1939), BEFORE I HANG (1940) and THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU (1942). I haven't watched any of those yet, but I'm looking forward to them based on the quality of this production.
This well-known 1935 Boris Karloff thriller, "The Black Room", is simply one of Boris Karloff's greatest films of the 1930's. The chance to see Karloff in a dual role in this movie is a treat in itself. He plays twins: one good and the other evil. Needless to say, Karloff is effectively creepy as the latter. Lovely Marian Marsh, who was menaced by John Barrymore in "Svengali" (1931), is a picture pretty heroine. She adds a marvelous touch of glamor and sincerity to her role. It's so nice to see that this film has finally been put onto DVD. The print used in the transfer is indeed as pristine a print as possible. Well-worth adding to your DVD collection!
I must agree with the other posts on this site, Karloff is excellent here.
In fact, this is just about the best example of his acting skill I've come
across. In this film, he is not just a generic Halloween ghoul, but shows
very nice range of characterization, as he plays twin brothers who are
opposites. The film is beautiful to look at, and well paced and plotted.
Even if you see the ironic ending coming at you a mile and a half away,
still fun to anticipate it.
Incidentally, is it just me, or does the loud brass fanfare that occurs in the title sequence, and throughout the film at dramatic moments, sound like part of the song "Come Rain or Come Shine" ("days may be cloudy or sunny...")? I just found it a bit distracting to suddenly picture Judy Garland in my mind at all the most tense and dramatic moments of the story.
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