Film Review: The Black Cat (1934)

Also known as: The Vanishing Body
Release Date: May 7th, 1934
Directed by: Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by: Peter Ruric, Edgar G. Ulmer
Based on: The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Heinz Eric Roemheld
Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, John Carradine (uncredited)

Universal Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“You must be indulgent of Dr. Verdegast’s weakness. He is the unfortunate victim of one of the commoner phobias, but in an extreme form. He has an intense and all-consuming horror of cats.” – Hjalmar Poelzig

The Black Cat is a film that fits under the Universal Monsters banner, even if it was a one-off and not apart of their bigger series like Dracula and Frankenstein. But it does feature the stars of both those franchises: Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

The film was also directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, a guy who wouldn’t reach superstardom in Hollywood but would direct some pretty notable pictures and make a few worthwhile film-noirs.

The best part about this film is it puts Lugosi and Karloff together and not as creatures or men in heavy makeup or prosthetics. They actually get to play off of each other as humans, Karloff being the mad man and Lugosi being a heroic doctor that still exudes his Count Dracula vibe.

The name of the film comes from an Edgar Allan Poe short story. Within the film, it is a reference to Lugosi’s character and his abnormal fear of cats.

Karloff plays Hjalmar Poelzig, a difficult name to pronounce. He is an Austrian architect. Once our heroes, a newlywed couple and Lugosi’s Dr. Werdegast meet on a train, they are stuck together for the rest of the film, most of which takes place at Poelzig’s lavish and futuristic looking home. In fact, the interiors resemble a film-noir set from the late 1940s. The cinematography is also similar and maybe this is what led to Ulmer directing film-noir a decade later.

The Black Cat isn’t a great film but it is a better than decent 1930s horror flick that stars the two biggest horror icons of the time. It is a pretty significant picture for films of the genre and the era.

Film Review: It Happened One Night (1934)

Release Date: February 22nd, 1934
Directed by: Frank Capra
Written by: Robert Riskin, Samuel Hopkins Adams
Based on: Night Bus by Samuel Hopkins Adams
Music by: Howard Jackson, Louis Silvers
Cast: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert

Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“You know, I had you pegged right from the jump. Just a spoiled brat of a rich father. The only way you get anything is to buy it, isn’t it? You’re in a jam and all you can think of is your money. It never fails, does it? Ever hear of the word humility? No, you wouldn’t. I guess it would never occur to you to just say, ‘Please mister, I’m in trouble, will you help me?’ No, that would bring you down off your high horse for a minute. Well, let me tell you something, maybe it will take a load off your mind. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m not interested in your money or your problem. You, King Westley, your father. You’re all a lot of hooey to me!” – Peter Warne

It Happened One Night is a motion picture that came out during the brief pre-Code era in Hollywood. In fact, it dodged the bullet of the Motion Picture Production Code by just a few months. Maybe that’s why this film got away with that “racy” hitchhiking scene that the film’s star Claudette Colbert thought was “unladylike”.

This film is a romantic comedy. Yeah, I’m not a big fan of the genre but some of the classics are pretty damn good and even in the modern era, one may sneak in once and awhile and surprise you (The Big Sick, for instance). It Happened One Night works really well because of the chemistry of its two leads, as well as its style of humor. Clark Gable delivers his lines like the pro he is and really gets to display his humorous side.

The story is pretty simple. A rich heiress wants to marry a guy her rich daddy doesn’t approve of so she runs off. The reporter keeps running into the girl and he promises to help her and not call her father if he gets an exclusive scoop. They end up traveling from Miami to New York together with a few wacky situations on the way. At a point, they get separated and then realize that they have fallen in love. Don’t worry, there’s always a happy ending in these old lighthearted movies.

It Happened One Night is considered a true classic by many and really, it is. There aren’t a lot of rom-coms that are worth a damn but this one exists on a level that the others do not. In fact, it is a good movie in spite of its genre. It actually shows that the rom-com thing has been poorly crafted and executed for decades, except for a few good pictures once in a blue moon. It Happened One Night is that “once in a blue moon”.