This is the third film I’ve watched from The Boris Karloff Collection box set that doesn’t really qualify as horror, not that I’m complaining, just a little memo to the people over at Universal’s home video department who promised it would contain Karloff’s “most frightening roles”. The Black Castle is more of an adventure film, belonging more with the likes of The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask than Frankenstein and Dracula. I think, though, the producers wanted to convince audiences they were coming to a horror film. Apart from casting two horror icons and opening music that seems to suggest that spooky things are on the way, there’s a number of horror clichés scattered throughout. There’s an alligator pit, the threat of being buried alive, and even an opening graveyard scene serenaded by a howling wolf.
But once the opening framing sequence in the cemetery ends, the adventure plot quickly unfolds. Sir Ronald Burton (Richard Greene) disguised as Richard Beckett investigates the disappearance of two friends, last seen in the castle of the sinister Count von Bruno (Stephen McNally). Matters become complicated when Burton falls in love with the Count’s wife (Rita Corday) and has to add a rescue from a loveless marriage to his mission. It’s a simple plot, and probably not the most original, but it’s well executed and has a pretty solid cast that also includes character actor Henry Corden who would go on to be the second actor to voice Fred Flintstone.
I am somewhat puzzled as to how Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. were reduced to supporting roles at this stage in their careers, but they are good performances. Karloff plays the Count’s good-hearted personal physician. It’s always nice to see Karloff as one the good guys, and the role has some dimensions, as his sense of self-preservation is greater than his sense of justice. Chaney’s role is downright mystifying. He’s convincing as a hulking mute servant, but it’s a role that could have been played by almost any beefy actor, it’s as if he’s only there to add one more name actor to the cast.
So, not horror, but still an enjoyable ride. Two more movies to go in the box set, I’m not sure what they’ll turn out to be, but I look forward to finding out.
This week’s supporting features:
Bugs Bunny in Buckaroo Bugs (1944)
The Our Gang short Dogs Is Dogs (1931)
Black Friday (1940) starring Boris Karloff, Stanley Ridges, Bela Lugosi, and Anne Nagel