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Dr. Hohner (Karloff), theatre physician at the Vienna Royal Theatre, murders his mistress, the star soprano when his jealousy drives him to the point of mad obsession. Ten years later, another young singer (Foster) reminds Hohner of the late diva, and his old mania kicks in. Hohner wants to prevent her from singing for anyone but him, even if it means silencing her forever. The singer's fiancée (Bey) rushes to save her in the film's climax. Written by
Stephen Cooke <email@example.com>
This film was the first one to star Boris Karloff that was in color. As such, it illustrates that to be the first of anything is meaningless if the film lacks coherence, intelligence, and a decent script. The plot begins by taking the viewers into an old theater, where Karloff is shown coming night after night. He has the sympathies of the staff of the theater. It seems that ten years earlier he was engaged to the prima donna singer at the theater, and they were to get married. But on the night before the marriage she vanished, and he - broken hearted (apparently) - has returned every night ever since as though waiting for her.
Now this could have been the start of an intriguing film. Unfortunately the scriptwriters did not see fit to leave the audience tantalized by Karloff's apparent tragedy. Instead, he falls asleep in his chair and we see his subconscious revealing what happened. The prima donna broke off the wedding in a bitter argument, and Karloff killed her (but as they were alone, he was able to hide the body and cover his tracks). So instead of playing with audience support for Karloff, the script writers show he is up to his typical evil roles.
The only one who suspects that Karloff is not what he seems is Gale Sondergaard - she remembers what her former mistress was like that night, and there were signs that she was uncertain about the wedding. But she never had anything concrete to work with.
The theater impresario is Thomas Gomez. One of his musicians/composers (Turhan Bey) is interested in furthering the career of a new singer, Susannah Foster, whom he is dating. Gomez is willing to put her on. But Karloff, who is the theater's doctor, sees Foster (who reminds him of the dead prima donna). Fixed on her, he decides to pursue her (although she is increasingly frightened of him).
This is the set-up for the plot, and how it eventually leads to the revelation of the fate of the dead woman. It is a tired plot, mostly because there is little chemistry between Foster and Karloff (although that is not a fatal flaw - he is fixed on her, she need not show any type of fascination towards him). Sondergaard is wasted (occasionally, as the film progresses, she reveals her suspicions). Gomez, normally a considerably good villain himself, plays his jovial side as the impresario. As for Turhan Bey, he shows great interest in Foster - and she is shown singing in one of his new operettas (the music of which is a steal from Schubert's Marche Militaire).
The end result is that the viewer is not deeply interested (after awhile) in the fates of these characters. Even when Karloff (at one point) knocks out Ludwig Stossel, our lack of interest in the "little old wine maker" actor prevents us getting too concerned (Ludwig recovers by the way). Given that the film was supplied with a grade A film gloss (by using color stock) it is ironic that the whole effect is basically thrown away. It does not help matters, to the fans of Boris Karloff, that one year after this color-film flop, he gave one of his greatest performances in Val Lewton's THE BODY SNATCHER as Grey the Coachman - in a black and white film with a meaty script. Instead of Technicolor, the production people should have concentrated on good writing and plotting. I will give it a "3" only because it is visually good, but otherwise it was a waste of time and money.
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