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Robert Z. Leonard
Noble-born cad Denis (Stapley) has been tricked into a forced stay at the eerie manor of the Sire de Maletroit (Laughton), an evil madman who can't get over the death of his beloved, twenty years after she married his brother (Cavanagh) instead and subsequently passed away during childbirth. Maletroit is determined to have his revenge: the brother has been stowed away in the dungeon for two decades, while he's convinced his disreputable house guest will make a suitably hellish husband for his niece. As luck would have it, the young couple manage to fall in love, and with the help of manservant Voltan (Karloff), they try to make their escape, but not before a final confrontation with Maletroit in the dungeon's crushing deathtrap. Written by
Stephen Cooke <email@example.com>
A minor but irresistible Gothic melodrama with a rampant star performance by Charles Laughton (though he gets little to do in the second half - in fact, the film sags a bit during its latter stages). Boris Karloff's role is a good one, though clearly supporting Laughton rather than co-starring; actually, too much time is devoted to the rather insipid romantic leads (Richard Stapley and Sally Forrest) - though the supporting cast (including character actors such as Paul Cavanaugh, Michael Pate and Alan Napier) is adequate enough.
The plot itself is quite intriguing - leading up to a satisfying climax that's strikingly similar to the one in another Karloff film, THE RAVEN (1935). Of course, THE STRANGE DOOR reunites Karloff with Laughton almost 20 years after THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) - as in that film, they engage in a fisticuff at the end - and also returns the actor to Robert Louis Stevenson territory (albeit in a non-villainous role) after his unforgettable turn in THE BODY SNATCHER (1945). Despite the obvious low-budget (a fact that is betrayed, more than anything else, by having its entire score comprised of themes from previous studio efforts - including the nth revamp of the instantly recognizable cue from THE WOLF MAN !), the film is crisply shot in black-and-white and, in spite of the rather pedestrian direction, it makes the most of its limited sets.
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