Category Archives: Edgar G. Ulmer

Blu-Ray Review: The Black Cat (1934).

Directed by Edgar Ulmer
Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Screenplay by Peter Ruric
Suggested by the story by Edgar Allan Poe
Cinematography: John Mescall
Production Design: Edgar G. Ulmer
Music Supervisor: Heinz Roemheld

Cast: Boris Karloff (Hjalmar Poelzig), Bela Lugosi (Vitus Verdegast), DavidManners (Peter Alison), Jacqueline Wells (Joan Alison), Harry Cording(Thamal)

__________

When it comes to the creepy weirdness of 30s Horror, it’s hard to beat Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934). It makes almost no sense, piling depravity upon depravity (Karloff marries his step-daughter and has a basement full of dead women in glass cases; Lugosi skins Karloff alive) into some sort of Impressionist fever dream of a haunted house movie that’s absolutely original in every way. The posters screamed “STRANGER THINGS THAN YOU HAVE EVER SEEN… or even dreamed of!” — and, for once, they’re weren’t kidding.

It opens like about 157 movies you’ve already seen, however. A group of travelers wind up in a creepy house in the middle of nowhere after their bus crashes during a storm. Anything but original, right? But from then on, things get plenty weird, fast.

Lugosi is there to settle a score with Karloff, who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of men during the war — and made off with Lugosi’s wife and daughter while he was a prisoner of war. If that isn’t enough, Karloff chose to build his Art Deco home on top of the ruins of the fort he commanded — the scene of all those deaths.

Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff): The phone is dead. Do you hear that, Vitus? Even the phone is dead.

Before its crazed 65 minutes are over, ailurophobia (the fear of cats), a satanic sacrifice, drugs, the basement full of dead women in glass cases and Karloff being skinned are added to the mix. Something for everyone!

Edgar G. Ulmer was a master at making something out of nothing, and today he’s known for his quickie noir masterpiece Detour (1945). But here, Universal gave him two of their biggest stars, Frankenstein and Dracula themselves, and he created Universal’s biggest hit of the year. He also worked on the screenplay and designed the sets.) After a scandal (an affair with a producer’s wife), Ulmer was blackballed by the major studios, and he spent the rest of his career working largely on Poverty Row.

Only once did a movie creep me out so bad that I checked out. That was Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), which I have no intention of revisiting. But as a kid, The Black Cat really got to me, and I bring that creeped-out memory to it every time I see it. It’s a very weird movie, dealing with some very heavy stuff — a sense of doom and evil is burned into every frame.

The Black Cat is the first of four Karloff-Lugosi films in the Scream Factory’s Universal Horror Classics Vol. 1. The Others are The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936) and Black Friday (1940). Are all given the real Cadillac treatment and all look wonderful — with a healthy batch of extras. With Gary Don Rhodes, Gregory William Mank and Tom Weaver involved in commentaries and documentaries, you know you’re in good hands.

I first saw The Black Cat on the late show. The station ran a pretty battered 16mm print with murky contrast, a few scratches and some changeover cues where previous stations had marked where they wanted their commercials to go. To see it on high-definition is a revelation. I rarely freeze movies as I watch them, but I stopped this one several time to study Ulmer’s sets and just take in the striking quality of the transfer.

This thing is an absolute must.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Edgar G. Ulmer, Pre-Code, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #247: Universal Horror Volumes 2 & 3.

Scream Factory has two more collections of Universal horror pictures on Blu-Ray on the way.

Actually, I think Volume 2 is already out. Just take a look at how many feature Lionel Atwill or were directed by George Waggner — true signs of quality.

Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2

Murders In The Zoo (1933)
Directed by A. Edward Sutherland
Starring Charlie Ruggles, Lionel Atwill, Gail Patrick, Randolph Scott

The Mad Ghoul (1943)
Directed by James Hogan
Starring Turhan Bey, Evelyn Ankers, David Bruce, George Zucco, Robert Armstrong, Milburn Stone

The Mad Doctor Of Market Street (1942)
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Starring Lionel Atwill, Una Merkel, Nat Pendleton

The Strange Case Of Doctor Rx (1942)
Directed by William Nigh
Starring Patric Knowles, Lionel Atwill, Anne Gwynne, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, Samuel S. Hinds

Universal Horror Volume 3

Tower Of London (1939)
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
Starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Barabara O’Neil, Vincent Price

Man Made Monster (1941)
Directed by George Waggner
Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Lionel Atwill, Anne Nagel, Frank Albertson

The Black Cat (1941)
Directed by Albert S. Rogell
Starring Basil Rathbone, Hugh Herbert, Broderick Crawford, Bela Lugosi, Alan Ladd

Horror Island (1941)
Directed by George Waggner
Starring Dick Foran, Peggy Moran, Leo Carrillo, Eddie Parker, Fuzzy Knight

The first volume, which focused on Karloff and Lugosi, is terrific. It features one of the great horror films of the 30s, Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934), looking splendid!

3 Comments

Filed under Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, DVD/Blu-ray News, Edgar G. Ulmer, George Waggner, George Zucco, Joseph H. Lewis, Lionel Atwill, Lon Chaney Jr., Randolph Scott, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #214: The Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi Collection.

The Titans Of Terror relax on the set of The Black Cat (1934)

Scream Factory has really done it this time. Their upcoming The Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi Collection brings some of the weirdest, sickest and best-est horror films of the 30s to Blu-Ray. All four were Universal pictures.

The Black Cat (1934)
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Lucille Lund, John Carradine

Edgar Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934) might be the granddaddy of all Pre-Code Horror films. It spends so much time hinting around at all kinds of awful stuff, it hardly makes any sense. But it’s so creepy, so twisted, so wonderful, who cares?

The Raven (1935)
Directed by Lew Landers
Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Irene Ware

How could you ever approach the supreme weirdness of The Black Cat? With The Raven (1935), Karloff, Lugosi and Lew Landers gave it the old college try.

The Invisible Ray (1936)
Directed by Lambert Hillyer
Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Frances Drake

Lambert Hillyer turns Boris and Bela loose on leftover Flash Gordon sets. The results are every bit as cool as you’re imagining right now. This one will be a real treat in high definition.

Black Friday (1940)
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Anne Nagle, Paul Fix

Lugosi’s role is pretty small in this one, and he and Karloff don’t have any scenes together. Curt Siodmak’s script plays around with ideas he’d use again in Donovan’s Brain — his 1943 novel and 1953 film.

This is essential stuff, folks. And it’s coming in April.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray News, Edgar G. Ulmer, John Carradine, Lambert Hillyer, Lew Landers, Pre-Code, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

DVD/Blu-Ray News #210: Detour (1945).

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Starring Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald

Detour (1945) is a cheap little noir picture from Poverty Row. So why is Criterion bothering with it? Because it’s also one of the finest examples of film noir out there — and maybe Edgar G. Ulmer’s best film.

For decades, Detour‘s many devotees have suffered through horrible video transfers that make it look even more low-rent than it really is. In some ways, it’s the perfect picture to get Criterion’d.

There’s some controversy about just how quick, and cheap, Detour was actually made. But regardless, Ulmer did his usual very much with very little. Fatalism drips off the screen. Ann Savage is without doubt the worst femme fatale ever — and Tom Neal is the poor sap she squashes like a bug.

This is a terrific, crazy noir picture — and it’s as essential to human existence as oxygen. Coming in March.

2 Comments

Filed under Criterion Collection, DVD/Blu-ray News, Edgar G. Ulmer, PRC

Screening: Detour (1945).

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Starring Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald

Glenn Erickson’s CineSavant is one of my favorite movie blogs, and he recently pointed out that the restoration of Edgar Ulmer’s Detour (1945) will be shown next month at the Egyptian Theatre.

There’s some controversy about just how quick, and cheap, this picture was made. But regardless, Ulmer did his usual very much with very little. This is a terrific, crazy noir picture — and not to be missed.

Sunday, December 16, 7PM
Egyptian Theatre
6712 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood

A big fat thank you to the George Lucas Family Foundation for funding this restoration.

10 Comments

Filed under Edgar G. Ulmer, PRC, Screenings

Blu-Ray News #109: The Man From Planet X (1951).

the-man-from-planet-x_1951

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Starring Robert Clarke, Margaret Field, Raymond Bond, William Schallert

Another no-budget miracle from the incredible Edgar G. Ulmer. The Man From Planet X (1951) movie creeped me out so bad as a kid — and it still has an odd, unsettling quality to it unlike any other film I can think of.

1950-the-man-from-planet-x-015-pat-goldin

Filmed in just six days at Hal Roach Studios, on sets left over from Joan Of Arc (1948), it looks like most of the shoestring budget went to juice for the fog machine. It ended up being one of the first ( some say the first) alien-comes-to-earth movies. And I’d put it near the top of my Edgar Ulmer list.

fmc56-strange-vehicle

Shout Factory has this one touching down on Blu-Ray this summer. Highly, highly recommended. Let’s hope more Ulmer makes its way to Blu-Ray.

2 Comments

Filed under 1951, DVD/Blu-ray News, Edgar G. Ulmer, Shout/Scream Factory, William Schallert