The Walking Dead

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(5/10) In a nutshell: No, this has nothing to do with the TV-series. This is a 1936 mashup of gangster films and sci-fi horror films by Casablanca director Michael Curtiz, starring Boris Karloff in yet another Frankensteinean role. But despite the derivative scenes and the flimsy script, Curtiz and Karloff make this a surprisingly stylish and human effort.

The Walking Dead. 1936, USA. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Written by Ewart Anderson, Peter Milne, Robert Hardy Andrews, Lillie Hayward, Joseph Fields. Starring: Boris Karloff, Ricardo Cortez, Edmund Gwenn, Marguerite Churchill, Warren Hull. Produced by Louis F. Edelman for Warner Bros. IMDb score: 6.7

Boris Karloff as the resurrected pianist John Ellman confronts his killers.

Boris Karloff as the resurrected pianist John Ellman confronts his killers.

There is little doubt that Boris Karloff is by a long shot the actor that has risen from the dead the most times in cinema history. By 1936 this was already a trademark. Although a highly regarded actor for most of his later life, the years bewteen 1931 and 1936 can perhaps be called something of a golden age for the British expat. It was in this time he helped define the American horror genre with films like Frankenstein (1931, review), The Old Dark House, The Mummy, The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), The Ghoul (1933), The Black Cat (1934), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935, review) and The Invisible Ray (1936, review). But by 1936 he was also – despite stops on gangster films like Scarface (1932) and period dramas like The House of Rothschild (1934) – deeply stuck as a typecast actor. And by 1936 everybody wanted a piece of the Karloff magic, including Warner, a that put out cheap gangster flicks at the same speed that Universal churned out horror films. Continue reading

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Doctor X

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(6/10) In a nutshell: This early colour film directed by Casablanca-maker Michael Curtiz is a stylish and atmospheric old dark house thriller with a sci-fi twist. Decent acting and Fay Wray add to the allure, but too much comedy slapstick and slow pacing ultimately hamper the film.

Doctor X. 1932, USA. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Written by Robert Tasker, Earl Baldwin. Based on the play The Terror by Howard Warren Cornstock and Allen C. Miller. Starring: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Lee Tracy, Preston Foster, John Wray, Harry Beresford, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Leila Bennett, Robert Warwick, George Rosener. Cinematography: Rey Rennahan, Richard Towers (b/w). Editing: George Amy. Art direction: Anton Grot. Sound: Robert B. Lee. Makeup: Max Factor co. Special effects: Fred Jackman Jr. Produced by Hal B. Wallis, Darryl F. Zanuck for First National/Warner. Tomatometer: 71. IMDb score: 6.5

Preston Foster transformed into the monster.

Preston Foster transformed into the monster.

Here’s one that got away. Well into reviewing the forties, I stumbled upon this little semi-classic from First National Pictures/Warner from 1932. This was the year after Universal released both Dracula and Frankenstein (review), starting the craze of creature features. Warner was the first major studio to jump on the bandwagon with this film, followed by Paramount’s Island of Lost Souls (review) later the same year. Warner acquired First National in 1928, and after that FNP mainly produced the studio’s B-films, such as slapstick comedies and crime and mystery thrillers. Neither Warner nor FNP had been big on horror films, and those that it produced mainly fell under the moniker of old dark house. And that is basically what Doctor X is, albeit with a slight sci-fi/creature feature twist at the end. Continue reading