• The Black Cat (Umbrella Entertainment) DVD Review

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: June 5th, 2019.
    Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
    Cast: Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, David Manners, Julie Bishop
    Year: 1934
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    The Black Cat – Movie Review:

    Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer in 1934 and very loosely based on the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name, this film introduces us to honeymooners Joan (Julie Bishop, credited as Jacqueline Wells) and Peter Alison (David Manners). They’re travelling by train through Hungary when a train attendant asks them if they would be kind enough to share their compartment with one Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi). Since they’re getting off in a short while, they oblige. As they travel with Werdegast they learn of his past, and how he’s returning to his ancestral home after being held as a prisoner of war for over a decade.

    When they all get off at the same station, they travel by carriage but when said carriage has an accident in the middle of the night, the Alison’s are brought back to the home of Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), an eccentric architect and friend of Werdegast’s. It’s then that things start to get strange and the story ties into the pasts of both Werdegast and Poelzig while Peter tries to figure out what’s going on and what his wife has to do with all of this. Oh, and there’s a cat involved in all of this too.

    The Black Cat is a seriously great film. At just over sixty-five-minutes it’s briskly paced but we get enough character development here to work. The movie is also quite stylish, at least in its second half (the early scenes on the train aren’t the most exciting to look at but what they build to matters quite a bit) and there’s some really cool costume and set decoration on display here. The script, by Ulmer and Peter Ruric, certainly won’t qualify as the most faithful Poe adaptation ever made but it does offer some great twists and the opportunity to create some genuinely eerie set pieces. There are moments of humor involving a sergeant and his lieutenant that stick out a bit alongside the otherwise quite serious film, but aside from that, this is top notch stuff.

    As to the acting, Karloff and Lugosi are both in fine form here. They both give very solid performances and create memorable characters in the film. Karloff in particular is quite chilling towards the end, cutting a very imposing figure during the finale. David Manners, who acted alongside Lugosi in 1931’s Dracula where he played Jonathan Harker, is quite good as the hero of the story while beautiful Julie Bishop makes a very fine damsel in distress.

    The Black Cat – DVD Review:

    Umbrella brings The Black Cat to DVD in its proper 1.33.1 aspect ratio. This looks very nice for a standard definition transfer. Likely taken from the same source that was used for the domestic DVD release years back, contrast is good, black levels are fine and detail levels are about as good as you could expect for a DVD, particularly one sourced from elements as old as these ones are.

    The Dolby Digital Mono sound mix on the disc is fine. It’s clean, clear and properly balanced and there aren’t any problems with any hiss or distortion worth noting. There are no alternate language options or subtitles provided on the disc.

    There are no extra features on this disc, not even a menu screen.

    The Black Cat – The Final Word:

    The Black Cat is a beautifully twisted slice of surprisingly effective horror from the late thirties that serves as a great showcase for both Lugosi and Karloff. Umbrella’s DVD release is barebones, but it looks quite nice and the movie itself is fantastic.