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Norman Z. McLeod
Relatives of a recently deceased man meet at his eerie castle for a reading of the will. They encounter a sinister piano player who turns out to be a toy maker, and his toys are imbued with murderous intentions.
Noble-born cad Dennis (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>
When Charles Laughton is given good direction and a decent script he'll give you an Oscar caliber performance and has on many occasions, one of them officially. But when he's not, hmmmm............. Well what's a body to do, but make the best of it, have a little fun.
With that gleam in his eye and the shtick with the food, plagiarized from his own performance of Henry VIII, Laughton goes to town in an orgy of overacting as Andre de Maletroit, malevolent lord of the manor in 18th Century France. For reasons I'll not explain Laughton has some nefarious reasons for wanting his niece to marry the worst kind of aristocratic rake.
The niece and the rake are played respectively by Sally Forrest and Richard Stapley none too convincingly I might add. Boris Karloff is an old family servant who Laughton delights in mistreating. He also is defeated by the script and direction so he also resorts to shtick.
Boris Karloff's career is illustrative of the path that Charles Laughton's could have taken. Trapped by his performance as the Frankenstein monster, Karloff stayed in the horror genre for most of his career. It was Laughton's good fortune and acting instincts that kept him from the same fate.
The film is based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story and certainly Stevenson has had great cinema made from his stories like Treasure Island and Kidnapped. Too bad this one can't rate up there.
The Strange Door is the kind of material that in the late 50s, Hammer films would have done so well. Too bad they didn't get a crack at it here.
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