5 stars for "Tower of London" various stars for the other fi
Wayne Klein | My Little Blue Window, USA | 08/14/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Not to be confused with the other Karloff collection this is the one to get. All the films here look extremely good. Occasionally specks and dirt appear but it's rare . Of all the films here "The Black Castle" looks a bit inconsistent but overall looks quite good. "The Climax" has deep rich color capturing the original Technicolor hues although flesh tones appear to be off a tad and probably should have been color corrected. Audio goods good with no distortion and dialogue is clear on all the films. Extras include the original theatrical trailers and nothing else.
"Tower of London" features Karloff in top form with Vincent Price appearing in one of his earliest film roles. Using the sets for "Son of Frankenstein" director Roland V. Lee tells the infamous story of King Richard III. Karloff plays Mort his club footed assistant and the executioner who kills those in the line of succession so that Richard can reach the throne. This features one of Karloff's finest performances from the 30's as Mort the Executioner. Rathbone and Price are also both terrific in their performances as well. This film certainly deserved an audio commentary but doesn't get one.
"The Black Castle" features Karloff with Lon Chaney Jr. with the real heavy being played by Stephen McNally. Sir Richard Burton (Richard Greene) investigates the disappearence of two of his friends. He suspects that Count Von Bruno (McNally) has murdered them. Karloff plays the court physician with Chaney playing a giant mute named Gargon. Director Nathan Juran ("The 7th Voyage of Sinbad")gets the most atmosphere out of this b-movie minor classic. Writer Jerry Sackheim creates an appealing script with witty dialogue (as he did on "The Strange Door")borrowing liberally from other films. Karloff's role in the film is small but memorable and sympathetic.
In "The Climax" Dr. Hohner (Karloff)plays a theater physician with a mysterious past. It seems he murdered his mistress who was the star soprano years before. When a young beautiful rising opera star appears she reminds Hohner of his mistress and he becomes obsessed with making her his own private songbird if not that he's prepared to murder her. Directed by George Waggner ("The Wolf Man", "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man")it's a period piece that will appeal to some Karloff fans. It's more melodrama than horror.
Originally "The Climax" was thought of as a thriller to follow up the Claude Rains version of "Phantom of the Opera" by its producer/director George Waggner ("The Wolf Man"). Using the same standing sets as "Phantom" the film has much larger production values than the budget for the film and looks terrific in this transfer. Fans should be aware that like "Phantom" there's a lot of singing (it is, after all, set in the world of opera). "The Climax" will be an acquired taste for Karloff fans as he's not front and center.
"The Strange Door" was part of a package of two films that Karloff made in the 50's along with "The Black Castle" which use the same sets. Of the two "The Strange Door" is a very good gothic horror thrillerthat benefits from strong performances by Karloff and Charles Laughton. Filled with witty, droll dialogue and sharp direction by TV and film vet Joseph Pevney ("The Wild Wild West", "Star Trek")the film is a real winner. Dennis de Beaulieu (Richard Wyler)is kept hostage and forced to marry the niece (Sally Forest)of Sire de Maletroit (Charles Laughton ably chewing the scenery)as part of a bizarre plot of revenge against Maletroit's brother (Paul Cavanagh). With the help of Voltan (Karloff) a servant Dennis and Blanche hope to escape the mad Maletroit.
"Night Key" is one of the few films here I don't recall seeing before. Karloff plays an inventor who has a special alarm system. His ideas stolen he plots revenage with the help of crooks using his special night key that will circumvent older wire alarm systems he designed. Featuring nice performances "Night Key" provides a great vehicle for Karloff as an actor but it's not really a horror film. It's a solid B-movie that fans of Karloff and the crime genre will enjoy.
Karloff fans can rejoice even the least of these films have solid performances from Karloff and the other actors. Now if we can just have a DVD set with his TV performances and the classic series "Thriller" Karloff fans will be completely happy.
THE MASTER GETS HIS DUE
Ghoulchick | Bronx, New York United States | 06/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Universal Home Video has another winner with THE BORIS KAROLOFF COLLECTION. Five classics are featured:
Night Key (1937) Tower of London (1939) The Climax (1944) The Strange Door (1951) The Black Castle (1952)
Ok, somebody please release A Legacy set for Vincent Price!"
Karloff is Consistently Better than the Material
J. Michael Click | Fort Worth, Texas United States | 10/26/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"With this collection of five films on three discs, Universal has pretty much cleaned its vault of Boris Karloff films waiting to be issued on DVD. What fans are given here, in a nutshell, are two of Karloff's lesser starring vehicles plus three of varying quality in which the horror icon is featured in supporting roles.
"Night Key" (Movie: **** _ DVD Transfer: ****), released in 1937, is the oldest film in the package, as well as the only one set in modern dress. Boris stars as one of his trademarked elderly inventors who falls victim to evil forces that thwart his original benevolent intent, in this case an unscrupulous rival (Samuel S. Hinds) and a hardened crime boss (Alan Baxter, in a performance that brings new meaning to the term "underplaying"). Jean Rogers makes an appealing enough heroine as Karloff's loving daughter, and at 67 minutes, the film fairly whizzes through to its predictable conclusion. It's hokey fun, and includes the theatrical trailer as a bonus feature.
"Tower of London" (Movie: **** _ DVD Transfer: ****), an historical thriller with Karloff in a meaty supporting role as Mord the Executioner, in service to the treacherous Richard III of England (top-billed Basil Rathbone), is definitely a mixed bag. Released in 1939, the film boasts an impressive supporting cast (including Ian Hunter, John Sutton, and Vincent Price), wonderful sets and costumes, and superb cinematography. Unfortunately, the film is ultimately done in by a wildly uneven script, some poor editorial choices, and a laughably poor performance from the usually reliable Barbara O'Neil who scored a triumph that same year as Scarlett O'Hara's mother in "Gone With the Wind". Despite its flaws, this is probably the most eagerly-awaited film in the collection, and is still worth a look for Rathbone's and Karloff's sterling performances.
Despite being filmed in Technicolor, 1944's "The Climax" (Movie: ** _ DVD Transfer: **) is undoubtedly the worst film of the lot. Although Karloff is superb as a mad doctor obsessed with the memory of the opera diva he murdered years before, too much screen time is devoted to Susanna Foster as the vocal reincarnation of Karloff's former lover. Foster's voice has an impressive range, but her on-screen charisma is nil, and her acting abilities negligible. The worst performance in the film is turned in by Turhan Bey as the romantic lead; his simpering adoration of Foster quickly grows embarrassing, and the long sequence in which he unconsciously eats his theatre program with a rapturous expression while watching her onstage is almost unbearably trite. Gale Sondergaard is wasted in a supporting role as Karloff's housekeeper. The film-to-video transfer on this one is terrible, with the actors' fleshtones appearing too orangey. This is the only other feature in the collection besides "Night Key" to be accompanied by its theatrical trailer.
Your enjoyment of "The Strange Door" (Movie: *** _ DVD Transfer: ****1/2) will most likely be predicated upon your reaction to Charles Laughton's hammy performance as the wicked ruler of an isolated estate whose life has been devoted to ruining the life of his estranged brother's comely daughter (Sally Forrest). Released in 1951, this costume melodrama - based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson - wastes Karloff in the thankless role of a doctor who lives under Laughton's roof. The film is largely an unmemorable affair, but the DVD transfer is exemplary, featuring excellent contrast and a clear, sharp picture.
"The Black Castle" (Movie: **1/2 _ DVD Transfer: ****), relased a year later, is cut from the same cloth as "The Strange Door"; it's another gothic melodrama featuring another castle inhabited by yet another ruthless ruler (Stephen McNally) whose heart is set on vengeance. Once again Karloff receives co-starring billing for what is a small supporting role unworthy of his talents; the major roles are played by McNally, and top-billed Richard Greene as the dashing hero who rescues the damsel in distress (Paula Corday as McNally's endangered wife). Lon Chaney Jr. has a couple of scenes as a mutilated servant, but neither he nor Karloff are onscreen long enough to save the film from mediocrity. If only the film were as commendable as the DVD transfer, which is fine indeed.
One other comment about this DVD release, a criticism regarding its packaging. The three discs are housed in one of those hard plastic gatefold "clamshell" cases that Universal is so fond of, with Disc One on one side of the case, and the other two discs packed one on top of the other on the opposite side. It is irritatingly difficult to remove the discs from these cases without damaging them or breaking the tabs on the cases. Surely Universal could follow the lead of Columbia/Sony and Warner Home Video and package their sets in the ultra-slim keep cases! Universal, are you listening?"
Not Karloff's "Most Frightening Roles"
Harley P. Payette | Phillipsburg, New Jersey United States | 10/04/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The box art for this says "The Master of Horror in his Most Frightening Roles". While Karloff's position as THE master of horror is indisputable, this is not where you would come to find that out. Although this is a useful set in collecting some Karloff titles that have never been on DVD, or in some cases even video, this is hardly a definitive sample of the master's work.
First, while all five films in this set- "Night Key", "Tower of London", "The Climax", "The Strange Door", and "The Black Castle" have elements of horror or sci-fi, none can be strictly considered horror. "The Tower of London", "Black Castle", "Strange Door", with their galleries of tortures and grotesques, come closest in the Grand Guignol tradition. However, they all could also be considered period costume dramas in the historic, swashbuckler and romantic traditions. One could argue that their links to those traditions are stronger.
What's more, the movies here are not especially Karloff heavy. The master has maybe an hour of screen-time combined in "The Climax", "The Strange Door" and "The Black Castle". In the latter two films his screen time is extremely limited. What's more, he's not that frightening as in all but "The Climax" and "Tower of London" his characters are sympathetic or heroic.
That being said, there are some interesting pieces here. Although it was Karloff's first color film, it's safe to skip "The Climax". Karloff walks through an uninspired slowly paced film. "Phantom" it ain't. Still, if you're a buff, as I am, you'll want to see it for curiosity purposes.
"Night Key" is a kind of a low rent gangster picture. It's worth seeing for the vulnerability Karloff brings to his role as an aging scientist fighting off encroaching blindness. When his glasses break in the street and he's fumbling around in a panic attack, you really feel for him. The plot in this film is also not bad as criminals force Karloff to use an invention of his that unlocks a popular security system. It's bogged down though by a conventional romance and budget conscious action. Still, it's fun.
"Strange Door" has very little Karloff but is also fun in a trashy way with Charles Laughton chewing up the scenery and an elaborate climax. Told from the point of view of a man rendered catatonic by a drug and about to be buried alive, "Black Castle" has a cool Poesque atmosphere. There's also the use of that great cliche' of a torture device- the crocodile pit. Again precious little Karloff.
"Tower of London" is a near major film. A loose retelling of "Richard III" it has beautiful production values and convincing battle scenes. It has also has terrific performances by Basil Rathbone as the humpback Richard and Karloff as his club footed executioner. In his best tradition, Karloff's character is both sadistic and sympathetic. He almost drools over the violence he commits. But we understand by his obsequious/pathetic manner with Basil/Richard that he desperately craves the approval denied him by his deformity and low birth. He not only courts Richard's favor, he needs it. "Tower" is also a very intense and violent movie for 1939. Well worth the purchase on its own.
The packaging of these items could be better. While I was pleased as punch that Universal had included three discs and abandoned the two sided presentation, I was put off by the fact that there are no chapter menus. This is virtually unheard of in a major studio 2006 release. There are chapter breaks if you press the forward button on your remote but no direct access. This is the case even on disc three which contains only "The Black Castle", a film that's a mere 82 minutes long.
The only special features are trailers for "The Climax" and "Night Key". An audio commentary for "Tower" would have been nice.
On the other hand, the films all look and sound exceptional. You would never guess that these films are 50-70 years old. Even the oldest film here- "Night Key" from 1937- looks great with sharp images and clear picture. Universal did good work on restoration.
So, it's mixed package. If you love Karloff or "The Tower Of London" it's worth picking up. But if you want his best and most frightening roles look elsewhere. This is the guy who did the Frankenstein movies, the original "Mummy", "Black Sabbath" and a series of great collaborations with Bela Lugosi. Explore those first."
Karloff's other great films.
G. Seth | Woking,UK | 02/21/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Best known for Frankenstein and The Mummy plus several notable films with Bela Lugosi this collection features five classic forgotten gems. Tower of London is a big budget historical epic with Karlof as the kings brutal exicutioner.Notable also for an early Vincent Price cameo! Night Key is a crime drama as Karloff plays an inventor of a security system kidnapped to aid gansters on a series of robberies. The Climax was originally to be a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera but the idea was changed, although it features several Phantom cast members.Karloff is a doctor obsessed by a young singer who's voice resembles his dead lovers. Based on a R.L.Stevenson story The Strange Door features Charles Laughton co-starring as an evil nobleman who's prisoners have only Karloff as his servent to help them escape. The Black Castle is a similar film to The Strange Door only this time Karloff is a doctor who uses drugs to help young captured lovers escape. Each film is unique and worth investigation as many are lost classics.The only fault is the extras, a couple of trailers is all there is.A documentery on his long and varied career would have good.A nice addition to the Lugosi collection in the same series."