England, 1872. The night before he is to be hanged for a murder he did not commit, young Dr. Gordon Ramsey is visited in his cell by his old mentor, eminent surgeon Sir Joel Cadmund. Cadmund offers to see that Ramsey gets a proper burial and gives him a sleeping powder to get him through the night, which Ramsey takes, unaware it is really an East Indian drug, "nind andhera" ("the black sleep"), which induces a deathlike state of anesthesia. Pronounced dead in his cell, he is turned over to Cadmund, who promptly revives him and takes him to his home in a remote abbey. Cadmund explains he believes Ramsey is innocent and needs his talents to help him in an project, which he is reluctant to immediately discuss further. In fact, Cadmund's wife lies in a coma from a deep-seated brain tumor, and he is attempting to find a safe surgical route to its site by experimenting on the brains of others, whom Ramsey comes to learn are alive during the process, anesthetized by the "black sleep", and ... Written by
Rich Wannen <RichWannen@worldnet.att.net>
I first saw "The Black Sleep" 48 years ago and was most impressed by the overall atmosphere and genuinely creepy nature of many of the scenes.
Upon more recent viewings and further reflection, I must say that this film still fascinates me. I am hard-pressed to recall another Basil Rathbone performance (other than his work as Sherlock Holmes) to equal this one. Sure, he chews the scenery unashamedly, but that is a big part of what makes this movie fun. Add in the first rate supporting cast of Lon Chaney, Jr., Akim Tamiroff, Bela Lugosi, and especially John Carradine and you have a veritable "Who's Who" of horror and film noir icons of the period. One must not forget the contributions of Tor Johnson and the lesser known actors filling out the cast.
The best scare occurs when we first meet Lon Chaney as "Mungo". The imaginative "point-of-view" camera work, focusing on Chaney's hands is very original and creative - especially for a low-budget production such as this one. My favorite scene, though, occurs quite late in the movie when the surgical "recoverees", led by the always riveting (although over-the-top) John Carradine, make their escape.
Sadly Bela Lugosi's character is mute and we are thus deprived of the exquisite pleasure of hearing his unique voice and diction. His character induces sympathy - even pity, rather than horror. In my opinion, this represents his best work from the declining days of his career. I must also single out Akim Tamiroff for the unctuous humor he provides as Rathbone's procurer of surgical subjects.
I give high marks for creative use of obviously cheap sets and evocative camera work. This is a movie which should not be missed by serious fans of films of the 50's. This is an excellent reminder of how they used to make effective horror films without soaking the screen with blood.
10 points out of 10.
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