Subscribe Now!
GannettUSA Today

Thursday, September 14, 2006


More on Universal Home Video's "The Boris Karloff Collection" DVD boxed set:

"The Climax" (1944) provides a weird viewing experience for Boris Karloff fans. Back in the day, if a movie had a huge budget with opulent sets, costumes, music and Technicolor -- AND Karloff was in it -- chances are he was fourth-billed in a role that should have been 10th-billed.

But "The Climax" truly top-bills Karloff, and it's truly his movie! Well, he shares it with songbird Susanna Foster.

What happened was this: Karloff's movie career had recently taken a nose-dive. Following his amazing run of classic roles for Universal and MGM in the '30s, Karloff was now down to appearing in low-budget films such as "The Ape" (1940) and the "Mr. Wong" series (1938-40) at Monogram Pictures, home of the Bowery Boys. And so, Karloff packed his bags and headed East to star in "Arsenic and Old Lace" on Broadway to good reviews, healthy box office -- and a bounce in status.

Meanwhile, back in Hollywood, Universal scored with a big-budget "Phantom of the Opera" remake (1943) in Technicolor with Claude Rains (as Erik), Nelson Eddy and the aforementioned Foster. Technically, this was a "crossover'' film -- not merely a musical, but not quite a horror film. "Phantom of the Opera" did so well that Universal immediately began to develop a followup. (Nowadays, its title might have been "Phantom of the Opera II: This Time It's Personal.") What Universal came up with was "The Climax," a very watchable movie with lush production values and mildly horrific undertones. They hired Karloff, who conducts himself immaculately and looks quite dashing in evening clothes.

For horror fans, "The Climax" would be a washout if not for two VERY CREEPY scenes in which Karloff talks to the preserved body of a singer he strangled a decade earlier. The scenes echo two other Karloff films -- one earlier and one later. Compare them to "The Black Cat" (in which Karloff keeps the preserved body of the late wife of Bela Lugosi's character) and "The Terror" (in which Karloff talks to the not-very-well-preserved body of Jack Nicholson's real-life wife).

Two of Karloff's fellow horror veterans tip the scales in our favor: Turhan Bey (the Egyptian priest in "The Mummy's Tomb") and Gale Sondergaard (the title femme fatale in "Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman" and "The Spider Woman Strikes Back"). With its sometimes insufferable production numbers, "The Climax" will separate Boris Karloff fans from Boris Karloff fanatics. You know where I stand.


Post a Comment

<< Home