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Monday, January 14, 2013

THE CLIMAX (1944)

After the big, if largely inexplicable, success of their lux TechniColor remake of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA/’43, Universal tried to repeat the formula . . . to disastrous effect. This time around, our creepy villain is HOUSE PHYSICIAN OF THE OPERA! (Oy.) Why it’s Boris Karloff as a sort of reverse Svengali, a man who hypnotizes the latest soprano sensation to stop her from singing.* The poor girl just happens to have the exact same voice as a soprano the good doctor strangled ten years ago. Now, with the power of hypnotic suggestion and a green atomizer as talisman, not even the love of a grinning Turhan Bey will coax out a note. (Really, that’s the plot.) The film is worth a look for a couple of gaudy interior sets (like the manager’s office at the opera house and Karloff’s bric-a-brac encrusted surgery), but everything else is gaspingly awful under George Waggner's plodding direction. That includes our star canary, Susanna Foster, who gets strangled all on her own with some freakishly high notes. More troubling is the way her voice cranks up on any entry above the staff. Hard to tell if the problem stems from Karloff’s powers of persuasion or just a faulty technique. But something was off. The following year, Foster called it quits. She was 21 years old.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: *Why not go with the original SVENGALI? There’s lots of versions to choose from, even one with Peter O’Toole & Jodie Foster. (YIKES!) But the old John Barrymore version from ‘31 remains tops, if only someone would clear the rights for a proper restoration. ROAN supposedly has the best DVD edition around now.

CONTEST: Early in the film, while listening to Ms. Foster audition, the resident house soprano & baritone paraphrase a famous Carnegie Hall riposte made at the American debut of a young instrumentalist. Name the three participants involved in the true story, the instrument being played, the (approximate) original gag lines and the year it took place to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of any NetFlix DVD.

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