Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics

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61Rbhvi6nzL__SL500_AA240_.jpgWell, the title's not quite accurate.  The four films on Warner's 2 DVD set Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics are actually two horror films and two comedies, and only one film in the collection (one of the comedies) has the two horror icons of the title, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, co-starring together.  But all four films, making their belated DVD debut, are quite entertaining in their respective ways. 

The first disc has a bonafide horror classic, 1935's The Walking Dead (directed by future Casablanca helmer Michael Curtiz for Warner Brothers)  in which Karloff portrays concert pianist/ex-con John Ellman, brought back from the dead after being unfairly executed for a murder he didn't commit.  However, the revived Ellman, who seems detached and partly paralysed, begins, practically by his very presence, to torment the true killers, a group of gangsters straight out of the James Cagney-Humphrey Bogart school.  The eerie photography and downbeat atmosphere make this one unforgettable. It's the best film in the set, with a great audio commentarty by author Gregory William Mank, who fills us in on the film's script revisions and other facts. 

In contrast, Frankenstein 1970 (1958; Allied Artists), also on the same disc, is notable only in that Karloff (who apparently took the role to finance a real estate purchase) actually potrays Frankenstein (or rather, a descendant) instead of Frankenstein's creature.  Otherwise, the film, which has Karloff's Baron Frankenstein terrorizing a film crew on his castle grounds in "Germany"  with his own creature (whose head is wrapped in what looks like a paper basket) while working in his secret underground lab, isn't that good.  The lab has it's own atomic reactor (which must have murder to sneak in and install without tipping anybody off), but aside from that (and the goofy-sounding device Karloff uses to dispose of bodies), there's no indication that this film occurs in the "future" of 1970.  (In the fun and informative audio commentary for this movie, film historians/authors Tom Weaver and Bob Burns, with 1970 co-star Charlotte Austin, note that the film, directed by Howard W. Koch, was originally titled Frankenstein 1960.)  The final scene reveals the creature's true face, but if you've stuck around to the end, you'll already know what the creature will look like.  Other than for Karloff fans, not an essential film.

Disc two features the 1940 musical comedy/thriller You'll Find Out.  Here, a group of debutanes and their guests, including then-popular bandleader/radio personality Kay Kyser (playing himself) and his band the Kollege of Musical Knowledge (with singers Ginny Sims and Harry Babbitt, plus comic relief Ish Kabibble, the Jim Carrey of his day), are trapped in a spooky mansion trying to prevent themselves, and especially a pretty young heiress, from being killed by Karloff's family retainer, Lugosi's phony medium (with a turban!) and Peter Lorre's (!) equally phony criminologist, all of whom stand to gain from the aforementioned heiress's death.  Some nice songs, perky performances by Kyser and his regulars and the commanding presence of the three heavies (although Karloff and Lorre can't seem to hide their contempt for the material) make You'll Find Out (directed by David Butler for RKO) pleasant but slight entertainment.

Bela Lugosi flies solo for 1945's Zombies on Broadway (great title!), again for RKO.  Directed by Gordon Douglas (Robin and the Seven Hoods; In Like Flint),  the plot has two NYC-based press agents ( Wally Brown and Alan Carney, who appeared together in previous RKO films as that studio's lightweight answer to Abbott and Costello) traveling to a Caribbean island to procure an actual zombie for their night -club owner boss (Sheldon Leonard) to appear on the club's opening night.  Played for laughs, the film has Brown and Carney run into mad scientist Lugosi (who's in fine form and even gets a few of the film's best intentionally funny lines), who's there trying to reproduce, in scientific terms, the island inhabitants' voodoo rites to create his own zombie!  Yes, there's a lot of groaners in this film, with Carney at one point putting on blackface(!) to "mix in" with the voodoo worshipers, but the film, while hardly a classic, is still entertaining.

You can reserve the library's copy of Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics online here.  And check out Gregory William Mank's new and updated (from his earlier 1990 work) book on the stars, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff: The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration here.

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This page contains a single entry by Ed published on December 17, 2009 12:44 PM.

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