The Black Castle
the black castle | nathan juran | jerry sackheim | richard greene | boris karloff | stephen mcnally | lon chaney jr. | adventure | mystery | thriller | old dark house | united states | torture | rita corday | john hoyt | michael pate | nancy valentine | tudor owen
Film: The Black Castle
Director: Nathan Juran
Writer: Jerry Sackheim
Starring: Richard Greene, Boris Karloff and Stephen McNally
This is a movie that I discovered thanks to Letterboxd when searching for ones that were from 1952 and horror. What I didn’t realize until settling in was that this featured Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. as well as being a lesser talked about Universal film. This would be one of the last ones to come out from my understanding. I was quite intrigued to see what we would get here.
Synopsis: man investigates the disappearance of two of his friends who were the guests of a sinister Austrian count.
To give a bit more of information from the synopsis, the man who heads to Austria on invitation to hunt is Sir Ronald Burton (Richard Greene). He assumes the name of Richard Beckett. What we learn is that he was stationed in Africa and it is there he met Count Karl von Bruno (Stephen McNally). The two didn’t meet, but I take it their soldiers fought a battle. Richard is going to his castle in the Black Forest to go on a hunt. Accompanying him is his servant, Romley (Tudor Owen).
They head out with this information as well as the name ‘The Green Man’. This turns out to be a tavern. They are brought there by the count’s coachmen. It is at this place they draw the attention of two friends to Count von Bruno, Count Steiken (John Hoyt) and Count Ernst von Melcher (Michael Pate). A fight ensues with Richard besting them both. Romley points out that he should hide his ring as that could give him away.
This duo then goes to the castle and meets with Count von Bruno. He is an arrogant man that enjoys pushing buttons. He is married to Countess Elga (Rita Corday). There doesn’t seem to be much love there as Count von Bruno is counting a Therese Von Wilk (Nancy Valentine). Richard is smitten with the countess. This uneasy visit turns deadly when they hunt a leopard from Africa. Count von Bruno rigs it to hunt with Richard. This is just the start of an uneasy friendship that hinges on hiding the truth.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap as this doesn’t have the deepest story. Where I want to start is that I was shocked to see that this was a Universal movie. It is more that I just never heard of it until now. What hurts it is that it came so late in their run and doesn’t necessarily do anything new. I don’t mean to say that as a negative, but I believe that is why it fell into obscurity.
Where I want to start is delving a bit more into our set up. What I find interesting here is that this movie shines a bad light on these European powers. There is legit imperialism as to how Ronald knows Count von Bruno. They both were stationed there for their specific country in Africa and went against each other. Hearing this made me pause since around the time this was made, I’m sure there were sentiments about hating these powers for doing what they were on foreign soil, but I do not know how outspoken they were aside from those being oppressed.
Then going from there, I want to shift over to our villain as I think he is the more interesting character. Count von Bruno is ruthless. He feels like Prospero from The Masque of the Red Death, just toned down for the 1950s. He is a man who likes to partake in pleasures. This could be from importing a leopard and hunting it in the Black Forest. He is married to the beautiful Countess Elga but wants Therese. He is jaded due to his first wife passing away. That does make him a bit sympathetic, but not much. There is a torture chamber in the castle as well. I do wish they did a bit more with it there. This feels like a movie that just came out a bit before the times to make it more effective. I’ll give credit to McNally for his portrayal as the count.
With that fleshed out, let me go over to our heroes. I don’t want you to think that Greene does a bad job or that Ronald aka Richard is a bad character. The problem that I had was that it is generic. He feels like the golden boy who is there to do the right thing. He does fall for the countess and flirts with her. She is neglected though so it is fine. I also don’t blame her. This just came out in an era where our hero needs to be as close to perfect as possible without depth. He puts his life on the line, but it feels more like he supposed to.
Where I want to go then would be to the acting. I’d said my piece on Green and McNally. What is wild are the best actors are minor characters. Karloff is Dr. Meissen who works for Count von Bruno. He wants to help Ronald and Elga to escape. The other is Chaney who is Gargon. This character is a bit of a hunchback who is used a lackey for the count. They both just take over the scene when they’re on screen. Hoyt and Pate are good villains. Valentine is attractive in her minor role. I’d say other than that, Owen, Henry Corden, Otto Waldis and the rest of the cast are fine to round this out for what was needed.
The last thing to then to go into would be with the filmmaking. This is shot well. They don’t do anything out of the ordinary with the cinematography though. The setting is interesting with this castle. There are elements of ‘Old Dark House’ films, but they don’t utilize it enough for my liking. We don’t get a lot in the way of effects, but it also isn’t that type of movie. The soundtrack also fits for what was needed without standing out.
In conclusion, this movie is fine. It comes out late in the classic Universal run and doesn’t do much to set itself apart. I think that is why it is forgotten. It also comes out too early to go farther enough with elements like the torture chamber properly. We get a solid villain with Count von Bruno. The best performances are the side characters played by Karloff and Chaney. This is just a solid movie. It doesn’t do enough though and becomes a bit forgotten to me. I would still recommend it, if you enjoy older cinema, especially the Universal classics.
My Rating: 6 out of 10