Honeymooning in Hungary, Joan and Peter Allison share their train compartment with Dr. Vitus Verdegast, a courtly but tragic man who is returning to the remains of the town he defended before becoming a prisoner of war for fifteen years. When their hotel-bound bus crashes in a mountain storm and Joan is injured, the travellers seek refuge in the home, built fortress-like upon the site of a bloody battlefield, of famed architect Hjalmar Poelzig. There, cat-phobic Verdegast learns his wife's fate, grieves for his lost daughter, and must play a game of chess for Allison's life.Written by
Sister Grimm <email@example.com>
The satanic prayer Poelzig chants during the black mass scene consists of random phrases in Latin, the most recognizable being "cum grano salis" (with a grain of salt). The complete chant, is as follows:
Latin Phrases: Cum grano salis. Fortis cadere cedere non potest. Humanum est errare. Lupis pilum mutat, non mentem. Magna est veritas et praevalebit. Acta exteriora indicant interiora secreta. Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem. Amissum quod nescitur non amittitur. Brutum fulmen. Cum grano salis. Fortis cadere cedere non potest. Fructu, non foliis arborem aestima. Insanus omnes furere credit ceteros. Quem paenitet peccasse paene est innocens.
English translation: With a grain of salt. A brave man may fall, but he cannot yield. To err is human. The wolf may change his skin, but not his nature. Truth is mighty, and will prevail. External actions show internal secrets. Remember when life's path is steep to keep your mind even. The loss that is not known is no loss at all. Heavy thunder. With a grain of salt. A brave man may fall, but he cannot yield. By fruit, not by leaves, judge a tree. Every madman thinks everybody mad. Who repents from sinning is almost innocent. See more »
After everyone goes to bed, Poelzig enters Werdegast's room to "settle" things. But Alison and Werdegast have switched rooms. Werdegast enters the room to reveal this fact and is wearing only pajamas. Werdegast and Poelzig then exit the room. When the scene cuts to Werdegast's room, he is now wearing a robe. See more »
[looking over Joan's passport]
Mr. and Mrs. Alison, Car 96, Compartment F. Orient Express, Budapest, Visegrad.
See more »
This isn't the best film ever made - my vote goes to All About Eve - but it by far my favorite. The combination of favorite actors, wonderful music, excellent sets, good cinematography and excellent direction make it the best horror film ever made. Other reviewers are right: it doesn't make a lot of sense. I liken it to having a strange dream that is completely compelling at the time but upon awakening, seems unbelievable.
Many reviewers have described the plot so I'm not going to repeat it here. I want to take on some the interesting aspects that you may not have noticed. Much of the music is arranged for full orchestra that was originally for smaller pieces, piano quintets, concertos, etc. Heinz Reimheld is to be commended for seeing the possibilities in these thinner pieces. I've done my best to acquire original versions of all the works used. I find the chosen music and timing among the best in any film. Think of Karloff grabbing the statue during Shubert's Unfinished. In the recent restoration of The Magacian (1926)for Turner, the orchestration leaned heavily on The Black Cat music.
The coven is full of interesting actors besides John Carridine. Michael Mark (little Maria's father in Frankenstein) helps tie up the heroine. King Baggott was in films since about 1912 and did horror roles in early silents. And then there's John George, the hunchback dwarf who added interest to so many films: Prisoner of Zenda, The Bells, Don Juan, The Unknown, Mark of the Vampire, Bride of Frankenstein, Tower of London and Picture of Dorian Gray among many. You won't remember him because he's usually part of the scenery. But if you look for him he pops up in films like A Streetcar Named Desire, The Killing and Ocean's Eleven.
Some reviewers comment that the set is cheap. Nothing could be further from the truth. In "the phone is dead" scene you can see a fully furnished dining room in the background that went unused in the film. Details like these make the set completely believable.
Some of the scenes were re-shot after Uncle Carl saw the finished product and had a fit. You can read the details in Gregory William Mank's: Karloff and Lugosi, A Haunted Collaboration. I have the 1990 edition. Mank expanded the work in a 2009 edition. I don't know if he added more to what is known of The Black Cat. Used 1990 editions may be had for about $17.00 at Amazon. During the re-shoot a costuming error is obvious. David Manners' jacket shoulder is ripped in some scenes but not in others.
Now for some personal remarks. Early in our marriage my wife and I adopted a puppy. We named him Koolgar so that when people asked about the name I could quote Bela: "Have you ever heard of Koolgar? It is a prison below Amsk....' We live in a modern house with an intercom system. When my wife calls me to dinner she says over the intercom, "Docter Vertigast has arrived." And finally, I've toured the so-called "Black Cat House" in the Hollywood hills. It is the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Ennis-Brown House. It has been used in many other horror and adventure films besides House on Haunted Hill. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer the exterior was used for Angel's hideout. The interiors were used in Rocketeer. Last I heard tours are held one Saturday a month by reservation only.
Now, I'm not a nut case over this film. I've visited many obscure movie sites. And I've tried to identify music used in other films. It's that this film is just so right; a pleasure to watch over and over.
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