The Old Dark House (1932) Ĺ
I swear to you, I really donít hate all movies made between 1930 and 1950, although I have to admit that a person could be forgiven for forming that impression of me from the reviews I've written so far. Itís mainly just that I donít see what all the fuss is about. On the other hand, ďhateĒ probably would not be too strong a word to describe my feelings for James Whaleís The Old Dark House. I hadnít heard all that much about the film before I watched it (mostly, I knew that William Castle did a remake of it about 30 years later), but what little had found its way to my ears was uniformly positive. Take a look, for example, at the listing on the Internet Movie Database to read the words of a few of its encomiasts. Honestly, that should have tipped me off right there, but for some reason, my judgement wasnít working properly, and I actually allowed myself to feel hopeful. Well, the encomiasts are wrong; The Old Dark House stinks like 10,000 dead fish in August.
Stop me if youíve heard this one before... A man (Raymond Massey, from The Face at the Window and Things to Come), his wife (The Invisible Manís Gloria Stuart), and a friend of theirs (Melvyn Douglas, of The Vampire Bat and The Changeling) are driving at night in the Welsh countryside in the middle of a ferocious thunderstorm. A mudslide blocks the road behind them, flooding blocks the road in front of them, and they are forced to stop in at this creepy old mansion for shelter. This mansion proves to be inhabited by a family of vaguely threatening eccentrics who have something they donít want their guests to know about up in the attic. The eccentrics grudgingly allow the stranded party to stay in their house, the assembled group eats a tense, uneasy dinner together, another couple (Charles Laughton, from Island of Lost Souls and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Picture of Dorian Grayís Lilian Bond) arrives at the door looking for lodging for the night, and not a goddamned thing happens for an entire fucking hour! Finally, Morgan-- the drunken, mute butler (Boris Karloff)-- lets Saul (Brember Wills), the dangerously insane eldest son, out of the attic, said son tries to burn down the house, a scuffle ensues which results in Saul the pyro falling head first onto something hard enough to kill him, and everybody wakes up the next morning to go blithely on about their business as if the roads were not blocked by mud and floodwater, nobody had tried to burn anything, and nobody had died.
At the time I watched this, it was well past my bedtime on a weeknight, and I was stricken with insomnia. Well, The Old Dark House sure as fuck solved that problem, yes sir! The only reason I have not consigned this movie to the lowest reaches of the zero-star abyss along with Craze/Demon Master/The Infernal Idol is that I am trying, against my better judgement, to be merciful and take its extremely advanced age into account. People were less sophisticated in those days, Iím telling myself, and thought that darkness and weird people with Rasputin beards and facial scars were frightening in and of themselves. The movies were still fairly novel, Iím saying, so people hadnít learned yet to spot the complete absence of character motivation, nor had they been listening to dialogue (rather than reading it) for long enough to recognize crappy delivery when they heard it. And besides, I try to convince myself, The Old Dark House is often cited as the movie that spawned the dramatically bankrupt, do-nothing genre of the Sit-Around-In-the-Dark-and-Look-Frightened-for-No-Reason movie, and if thatís true then this would at least have had the dubious benefit of novelty when it first appeared. I wonder... how many times do you think Iíll have to tell myself that stuff before I believe it really makes any difference?