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Friday, January 11, 2013

NIGHT KEY (1937)

The new owners of Universal Studios gave Boris Karloff a break from monsters & horror with the sympathetic lead in this neatly designed revenge tale. It’s picks up on some of the old Lon Chaney silents, like HE WHO GETS SLAPPED/’25, with long delayed personal vengeance striking back at the cold-hearted money men who stole his life’s work. But whereas the Chaney films were richly conceived A-pics, this ‘programmer’ skips over the first act set-up, holds to a far lighter tone, and sweetens the deal with a miserably unsatisfying happy ending. Even that’d be okay, if only the execution were up to snuff. Karloff is actually quite touching as the aging inventor of an electrified alarm system, but the romantic sidebar for his loyal daughter and the handsome stiff from the alarm company has little going for it. Lloyd Corrigan, on his penultimate film as director, shows brief flashes of visual flair, but these only point up how drab the rest is. Too bad, some intriguingly off-beat supporting players make their mark (Alan Baxter’s mob boss is downright peculiar) while a few well planted clues and design elements indicate that someone at the studio was taking a real interest in things, but couldn’t quite turn the corner.

DOUBLE-BILL: A couple of years later, Warners got a bit closer to the mark in reviving this lesser known side of the Chaney racket with Anatole Litvak’s THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE/’38 starring Eddie Robinson, Claire Trevor & Humphrey Bogart.

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