I’m getting down to the nitty-gritty of the Time Out Best 100 List now, with only six titles left. By coincidence, all but one of the remaining films were made well before I was born – hell, before my parents were born! – so tracking them down has been a challenge. The latest one to struck from the list was James Whale’s 1932 film The Old Dark House.
Wary travellers seek shelter in a rickety old mansion during a raging storm, but soon find out that the inhabitants may be even more unpredictable than the inclement weather outside.
Whale made The Old Dark House fairly early in his career, releasing it in the four-year period between his two iconic films Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. I feel this film has a more intimate quality to it. It is largely one location and features copious amounts of animated dialogue, much like a stage play.
We’ve all heard the term “it was a dark and stormy night” and I wonder if The Old Dark House is the film genesis of this byline. Once inside the house though, it turned into fairly standard fare. Apart from some nice flourishes with shadow, I didn’t find there was much going on visually. The house is certainly a wonderful set piece, almost feeling like a character itself at some points, but I can’t say it really came off as menacing.
|Boris Karloff & Gloria Stuart in The Old Dark House.
Considering this was the first film that Boris Karloff received top billing, it didn’t really seem like he was given much to do. The few appearances he does make feature no dialogue – which could’ve been fine as we all know just his expressions spoke volumes – and his presence is, for the most part, ineffectual.
I think the most interesting fact about this film is that it was almost lost. When Universal failed to retain the rights, they were picked up by Columbia and the film was basically buried to make way for Bill Castle’s 1963 remake of the same name. It wasn’t until decades later when director Curtis Harrington took it upon himself to track down the only remaining copy that was hidden away in Columbia’s vault.
The Old Dark House is a curious little effort. It was a fun oddity to watch, but didn’t really strike me as something that deserved to be on the list – and certainly not as high as #57. Next up, will be another film from 1932, but from a different corner of the globe.