Black Room (1935)

“This murder will happen again, just as it did before — in the Black Room!”

Black Room Poster

Synopsis:
In a desperate attempt to prevent an ancient family prophecy from coming true, a despotic baron (Boris Karloff) kills and impersonates his noble twin brother.

Genres:

Review:
This unassuming period thriller about fratricide, ancient familial prophecies, and lust for power remains an enjoyable treat for film fanatics, thanks primarily to the central performance by inimitable horror icon Boris Karloff. Karloff embodies the dual roles of both “good brother” (Anton) and “bad brother” (Gregor) with relish and nuance, immediately convincing us that they’re two different men — but his most impressive work comes once he’s playing Gregor-as-Anton, maintaining a simmering aura of calculated greed and sociopathic arrogance underneath a facade of noble charm. The screenplay is surprisingly tight and suspenseful — especially given that Anton is killed off fairly early — and the denouement offers a nifty resolution to the ancient prophecy. Atmospheric cinematography, creative direction, and appropriately baroque set designs add to the ambience of this compelling B-level flick.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Boris Karloff as Gregor, Anton, and Gregor-as-Anton
    Black Room Karloff
  • Atmospheric cinematography, direction, and sets

Must See?
Yes, simply to see Karloff in one of his best performances.

Categories

Links:

2 Responses to “Black Room (1935)”

  1. A must. In agreement with the well-put assessment.

    This is the kind of movie that (somewhat) jaded ffs (like myself) can come across with unexpected pleasure – one of those apparently-little-talked-about flicks that you catch and that catches you by surprise. 70 minutes long without a frame wasted; a lot is jam-packed in, so much so that it feels like a full-length film.

    Karloff does indeed turn in a tour de force, very controlled dual performance. It can be vastly satisfying watching a capable actor deliver multiple performances in a single film. Bette Davis apparently had so much fun going double that she did it twice (‘A Stolen Life’ and ‘Dead Ringer’). Jeremy Irons gave us memorable double-duty in ‘Dead Ringers’. And then, of course, there’s Peter Sellers’ work in ‘Dr. Strangelove’ (3 roles) and the astounding job of Alec Guinness in ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ (8, count ’em, 8!). The possibilities of the concept seem so endless that it’s surprising that cinema hasn’t capitalized on it more.

    What’s also of note here is the number of ways the script foils expectations. Yet, if you’re paying attention, the film’s end is telescoped early-on.

    Fave scene: the chess game scene post-cinch of the marriage arrangement.

  2. I love that Karloff essentially plays three roles in this film: Anton, Gregor, and Gregor-as-Anton. Each character is nuanced and you soon forget that Anton and Gregor are being performed by the same actor!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.