The Climax

01/28/2019 07:20

Film: The Climax

Year: 1944

Director: George Waggner

Writer: Curt Siodmak and Lynn Starling

Starring: Boris Karloff, Susanna Foster and Turhan Bey



This film I sought out as it was listed in a Horror Show Guide encyclopedia that I'm working through. I was intrigued as this a one lesser-known Universal horror films. It is part of the middle of that run. Also seeing that it starred Boris Karloff, I was down to check it out. I’m giving this a rewatch as part of my Foray through the Fours.

Synopsis: a demented physician becomes obsessed with a younger singer whose voice sounds like his late mistress.

We kick this off with Dr. Friedrich Hohner (Karloff) as he leaves his home and walks to the nearby opera house. He is the doctor that attends there to make sure that the singers don't hurt themselves with overexertion and ensuring they are ready for their performance. He is sullen about something and we learn what it is. He was in love with the former star of the show, Marcellina (June Vincent). She's been missing for ten years. Dr. Hohner goes into a dressing room where we are given a flashback of the events that led to this singer’s disappearance.

In it we see that she slated to perform in front of the king. She is the focal point of this performance and Dr. Hohner, her lover, didn’t want her to perform for anyone but him. He then strangles her.

The present day, the prima donna of the opera house, Jarmila Vadek (Jane Farrar), is frustrated with management. Count Seebruck (Thomas Gomez) listens to her grievances with her co-star Amato Roselli (George Dolenz), who she feels is getting a little too handsy. When they ignore her, she threatens to not perform. Her understudy is brought in and she faints. It is then that they hear singing in another room. It turns out to be Angela Klatt (Susanna Foster). She is practicing with her fiancé, Franz Munzer (Turhan Bey). They decide they are going to give her a prominent role with how amazing her voice is. Her singing also attracts Dr. Hohner, as it reminds them all of Marcellina. It also upsets him.

After she has a great show, Count Seebruck decides to bring back the opera that Marcellina headlined before her disappearance. Dr. Hohner has Angela come back to his house to check her throat after the performance. It is there that he hypnotizes her and tells her that she doesn’t want to perform for anyone but him. We also see he is hiding a secret within his home. In his service is also the best friend of Marcellina, Luise (Gale Sondergaard) who isn’t very trusting of Dr. Hohner. When Angela can't perform, Franz doesn't everything he can to help her get over what is stopping her, drawing the attention of the mad Dr. Hohner.

That is where I'll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I'll start is that I found it intriguing about this film was that it was originally conceived to be a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. The only cast member coming back was Foster. Instead, they decided to make this a stand-alone film, which I think was a better choice in the long run.

Now that I've got that out of the way, I do think this has an interesting premise that is still relevant today and that is toxic masculinity. Now before anyone starts to freak out about this, hear out what I have to say. We have Dr. Hohner, who is in love with Marcellina, the star of the show. She worked her whole life to get where she is and she has a great honor to perform for the king. Dr. Hohner wants her all to himself and doesn’t want her performing for anyone else. She tells him that she no longer loves him. He then strangles her to keep her to himself. This has vibes of domestic violence and not respecting her as person. I felt slightly bad for him until we learned the truth. This also has the aspect of ‘if I can’t have her, no one will’. What is also interesting is that they are just lovers. I'll say here that Karloff does a great job as this villain who is also a mad doctor.

On the other side, we have Franz. He pushes Angela when she is telling him she can’t do it, but he does have her best interests at heart. He knows that she loves to perform and this is what she’s wanted to do her whole life. Franz will do whatever it takes to ensure that she does this, which is nice to see. He is an encouraging force and its positive. I thought that Foster and Bey were good here in their performances. They feel like a happy couple until Dr. Hohner steps in.

That will take us to what Dr. Hohner does in using hypnosis. I thought this was a good aspect to the story. The machine he used was interesting. The problem I had was the flashback. The effect used was cheesy, but with the time this came out, it makes sense and was a logical way of doing it effects-wise. I do think it would be better served to not just give us this back story this early on, but I get why we do.

I want to then take this to the acting. I've said already that I thought Karloff was good as our villain. He is brooding and sullen which fits. That makes you feel bad for him until more gets revealed. Foster and Bey were good as this young couple in love. Foster was attractive and her meek nature fit. I also thought her voice was amazing. The change that comes over her character is good after she's been hypnotized. Other than that, Sondergaard is good as this housekeeper who works for Dr. Hohner. She is given more to work with and I liked how it fit in. Gomez was good as Count Seebruck. I also like Vincent and Farrar as the divas. Dolenz as Jarmila’s co-star worked. Another underrated performance is Ludwig Stössel as Carl Baumann who tries to help Angela and Franz. The acting here is good across the board.

Let's then go to the last aspect which falls under filmmaking. I thought the cinematography was good. It captures the opera scenes well and makes them look grand. I do have a negative here though. I do think they focus on these a bit too much and it bogged the story down for me. It caused me to lose interest. I'll also say here that we have limited effects. It doesn't need them though either, it isn't that type of film. The machine used to hypnotize was solid. Other than that, would be the soundtrack. It's not my type of music, but it fits this movie.

In conclusion, this is a still a solid, lesser talked about Universal film in their classic run. There are story elements and themes that are relevant today. Karloff makes a good villain and the rest of the cast around him was solid. This is well-made. I think the cinematography is worthy in capturing the opera scenes, but that is something that I felt they focused on a bit too much. I don't find them as interesting even though Foster has an amazing voice. Not one that I would rush to. If you like movies from this era, give this a watch. I'd also recommend to fans of Karloff, Bey, Foster or running through all the Universal films.


My Rating: 7 out of 10