Friday, October 10, 2014

Boris Karloff plays good twin, bad twin in 'The Black Room'

By Doug Gibson

Boris Karloff is pretty darn good in The Black Room as Gregor and Boris, evil and good twin brothers in Columbia's 1935 mystery/horror "The Black Room." It seems that there's a curse with the landowner's family that whenever twins are born, the younger kills the older in a part of the castle called "The Black Room." To end this fate, the Black Room is sealed off and the younger twin, Anton, is eventually shipped off to Budapest (Anton, by the way, has a paralyzed right arm) and the older twin, Baron Gregor, is left in charge.

Well, you guessed it, Gregor is an evil psychopath and serial killer of women as well. Just before the peasants are about to overthrow his authority, he sends for mild-mannered, kind Anton, eventually ceding his power to Anton and promising to leave. But, just before he does that, he takes Anton into the Black Room (Gregor has a built a secret entrance) and reveals his evil and murders to his brother before killing hapless Anton and taking his identity, complete with a faux paralyzed arm. He fools everyone except a faithful dog which knows he's not Anton.

Subplot involves a gorgeous colonel's daughter, played by Svengali star Marian Marsh, who is lusted after by Gregor. Her dad is opposed to Gregor pawing his daughter but would love Anton to marry her. You get what's happening. The colonel's daughter has a fiance, a lieutenant, but Gregor manages to kill the colonel and frame the lieutenant, which leads to a proposed marriage with the young lovely, while her intended awaits an execution date. Meanwhile, the dead Anton rests at the bottom of a pit in the Black Room, with the sharp end of a knife sticking out of his chest. At the marriage climax, the faithful pooch attacks Gregor, which leads to a wild chase toward the Black Room and a fulfillment of the family curse.

Karloff is excellent playing dual roles. As author Greg Mank has noted, his "Grinch Who Stole Christmas" voice almost 30 years later sounds eerily like Gregor. Katherine De Mille, wife of Anthony Quinn, has a small role as one of Gregor's murder victims. Starlet Marsh was still a big name in the mid '30s, but by 1940 her A studio days were over and she was on Poverty Row toiling at Monogram and PRC. Her last feature was "House of Errors" with Harry Langdon as a co-star.

All in all, a great film, highly recommended as among Karloff's best non Universal 30s work.

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