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>
"The Black Sleep" is a glorious, elegant all-star "monster romp" in black and white from Hollywood's "ghoulden era." The film has it all: rich performances (both mimed and spoken), evocative sets, lighting and cinematography, an involving story and detailed script, mad science, swirling mists, dark London streets, gaslight, an old abbey (complete with an oaken door with a medieval viewing-window), rumblings of thunder, burning candles, horse-drawn carriages, elegant costumes and period (1872 England) detail, gigantic fireplaces with sliding panels, shadowy corridors replete with ghostly "knight's armory" lurking in dark corners, sinister music, hidden torchlit chambers, suggestive sound-effects, subtly chilling props and special effects (including clanking chains, coffins, syringes, a musty skull, and a pulsating brain!), a moody matte-painting of a castle atop a hill overlooking a valley of gnarled, wind-blown branches, gruesome monster make-up, and a stunning ensemble cast of mystery and terror specialists that features Basil Rathbone, Akim Tamiroff, Lon Chaney, Jr., John Carradine, Bela Lugosi and Tor Johnson! To promote the film, make-up artist George Bau was commissioned to create life-sized wax replicas of many of the cast members, which were later displayed in New York City to coincide with the picture's June, 1956 release. For good measure, Boris Karloff, who was in town at the time, is said to have posed with these wax sculptures in publicity photos to help give the film an extra push; in the following year, Boris would work with "The Black Sleep"'s director, Reginald LeBorg, its production company, Bel-Air, and many of the same technical crew to make "Voodoo Island," an eerie zombie tale set on a tropical isle. Herbert Rudley (who would later appear in "The Mothers-In-Law" TV series), Patricia Blake (aka Patricia Blair), Phyllis Stanley, Sally Yarnell, George Sawaya, Peter Gordon, Claire Carleton, John Sheffield, Clive Morgan, Louanna Gardner, and the unbilled players (who always add so much to the creating of a world in which a film is set--one of whom is Howard W. Koch, who helped produce the film!) all join together with the aforementioned players in bringing a magical level of conviction to this tale of a scientist and the strange drug he tampers with (which produces a death-like trance to all who come under its influence). Dr. Max Andler is the Beverly Hills neuro surgeon who served as technical advisor during the "brain surgery" sequences. A well-produced tale of terror, directed by Reginald LeBorg (who helmed such other favorite shockers as "The Mummy's Ghost," "Diary of a Madman" and the above-mentioned "Voodoo Island.") Curl up on a rainy night and enjoy "The Black Sleep"!
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