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...
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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>
Age has its benefits, as I am learning from having read other reviews here of this film. I was always a Karloff fan, but I only found Charles Laughton at the age of 11, when we got our first TV set in 1950. Not only were some of his older English films on display there, but being centered in New York City at the time as a star of the historic stage reading of DON JUAN IN HELL, he himself was all over TV, introducing AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS, doing dramatic readings, guest shots, interviews, even occasionally taking part in game shows - Charlie was nothing if not democratic. Anyway, after discovering him in this manner, the very first film I then recall him making was THE STRANGE DOOR (oh, there had been THE BIG CLOCK and THE PARADINE CASE fairly recently, but they were just a bit too early to have been a part of my youthful movie-going experience - every day, seven days a week!). What I vividly recall is that when this film was being made, the various movie columns endemic at that time made much of the teaming of Laughton and Karloff. In fact, we were promised that there would be some kind of fight scene between those two iconic actors that would be the best such event filmed since the one in William Farnum's THE SPOILERS all the way back around 1914 or so. When the film came out, it wasn't that well reviewed, and certainly without any reference to the actors' 'epic' struggle. When it finally got to my neighborhood and I went to see it at the RKO Greenpoint, it was quite disappointing, although even then I was performance-oriented and loved Laughton's wildly excessive acting job (Karloff's more restrained one, too). The promised epic fight scene never came to be; rather, the two actors simply grappled with each other for about ten seconds or so, no punches thrown, drop kicks, eyes gouged, etc. So, as with the next year's Karloff vehicle, THE BLACK CASTLE, I was sorely disappointed and had not seen either of those films since. Watching both last night, for the first time in 65 and 64 years respectively, I found my original evaluation to be pretty accurate, and that I still really did LOVE Laughton's over-the-top performance as the villain of the piece (which alone gives it my rating of 7). Laughton could wonderfully ham up even a self-effacing TV Bible reading in 1951 without the least embarrassment or apology. Is it any wonder that he walks away with this choice acting opportunity? (Another reviewer's comparison of Laughton to Tod Slaughter is very much on the mark; what a wonderful Sweeney Todd he might have made!). Current viewers may have forgotten that in 1951, leading lady Sally Forrest was enjoying a more successful movie career than anyone else in this film (in socially-relevant Ida Lupino productions, as leading lady at M-G-M to both Mickey Rooney in THE STRIP and Keefe Brasselle in BANNERLINE - all of these in the same year as THE STRANGE DOOR), but she had been brought to Hollywood as a dancer and, in the end, never quite worked out in heavier drama, especially in a costume film like this one for which she seems rather unsuited. Really, she was the perfect girl next door! When the great UNIVERSAL HORRORS book was published, they chose to end coverage of the studio's efforts in that genre with ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, but both THE STRANGE DOOR and THE BLACK CASTLE might well have been included as they really do seem to have been the tail end of the second Universal horror cycle, especially since both make much use of the famous European castle, village and street sets from the studio's earlier classics, and these may also be the last Universal films to make use of the old Salter and Previn music scores that so enlivened their earlier efforts. Flawed, but enjoyable throughout.
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