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Because of the presence of Boris Karloff, and the slight science fiction (for the time) angle of the story, this minor film was included in Universal's Shock Theater package of 52 titles released to television in 1957, followed a year later by Son of Shock, adding 20 more features. From the late 1950s into the 70s, this film was widely shown on those television stations that were running the old Universal horror films. See more »
Night Key is directed by Lloyd Corrigan and adapted to screenplay by Jack Moffitt & Tristam Tupper from a story by William A. Pierce. It stars Boris Karloff, Jean Rogers, Warren Hull and Samuel S. Hinds. Music is by Louis Forbes and cinematography by George Robinson. Plot sees Karloff as aging inventor David Mallory, who once again finds himself cheated by security business boss Stephen Ranger (Hinds). With his eyesight failing and a daughter (Rogers) he wants to set up before he passes on, Mallory decides to teach the scheming Ranger a lesson. However, the criminal element headed by The Kid (Alan Baxter) have designs on using Mallory and his "Night Key" device for their own ill gotten gains.
Well Louis! We are in.
Out of Universal Pictures, Night Key was knocked out in under a month and budgeted, unsurprisingly, on the cheap. Yet the film belies these matters to be a good old fashioned yarn for entertainment. Melodrama mixes with a touch of sci-fi as the story unfolds as an interesting character piece, the veins of which are mostly pumped by an honest versus dishonest theme. Within there's a burgeoning romance etched in to the narrative, but this is handled well by the director as it aids the flow and reason of plotting, while the odd bit of action here and there stops the film from being too staid. The effects from John P. Fulton, too, are good fun and leave a favourable mark late in the story.
Picture gets most of its strength from Karloff's performance. An undervalued talent at the best of times, Night Key gives viewers the chance to see just what he could do away from the horror iconography that defined his career. Here as the sombre and fragile David Mallory, Karloff isn't just looking the part because of make-up, he is able to match his body to the aged state of the character, simultaneously garnering great empathy from the viewers. It's a character, courtesy of performance, that firmly has us rooting for against the baddies. Around Karloff are effective turns from Rogers (bright), Hinds (weasel like), Hobart Cavanaugh (fun as the comedy side-kick, Petty Louis) and Ward Bond, who as henchman thug is an imposing presence.
It's all very daft and goes where we expect, and want, it to go, but with Karloff leading the way this is a comfortably recommended time filler. 7/10
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