I’m beginning to suspect that the powers that be at Universal began to rely on Boris Karloff’s talents to bring life to weak scripts. As I discussed in my entry on The Mummy, those efforts (with the help of Jack P. Pierce’s amazing make-up effects) paid off; with The Climax, not so much.
The main problem with The Climax is that it doesn’t know what kind of film it wants to be. Whenever Karloff is onscreen it’s a dark thriller, but the rest of the time it’s a light romantic comedy. Certainly, many of the classic horror films balance the scares and the laughs nicely, but not this time.
Karloff plays Dr. Friedrich Hohner, physician to the Royal Opera Company, whom years before fell in love with the company’s lead soprano Marcellina (June Vincent). When Marcellina’s star began to rise and their relationship began to take a backseat to her career, Hohner murdered her in a jealous rage and secretly enshrined her body in his home. Ten years later, Angela Klatt (Susanna Foster), a new soprano discovered by the company, sings with a voice much like Marcellina’s and the insane Hohner takes steps to control her, so that no one ever hears that voice but him.
As you might suspect, Karloff’s intimidating presence serves him well as usual, but the film suffers in his absence, and he doesn’t get enough screen time to keep the movie going. Most of the film is taken up by Turhan Bey, who plays Angela’s love interest, Franz Munzer, another hero who really doesn’t take much action but spends plenty of time making moon-eyed “gee, I’m in love” faces at his beloved. One particular scene where he literally chews up his program while watching Angela sing at the opera is out-and-out embarrassing. Of the rest of the cast, only Gale Sondergaard, as Hohner’s housekeeper Luise, is particularly engaging.
The other drawback of The Climax is that it just feels like there are too many shades of The Phantom of the Opera, and considering it features the same female lead and was filmed on some of the same sets as the 1943 version of Phantom that’s not exactly surprising. Just as I suspect the studio was looking for another Dracula with The Mummy, The Climax appears to be a further attempt to make lightning strike twice. Karloff certainly deserved a more worthy project for his color debut.
Popeye in Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936)
The Our Gang short A Lad an’ a Lamp (1932)
The Invisible Man Returns (1940) starring Vincent Price, Cedric Hardwicke, Nan Grey, and John Sutton