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The Old Dark House (1932)

Not Rated | | Comedy, Horror, Thriller | 20 October 1932 (USA)
Trailer
1:58 | Trailer
Seeking shelter from a storm, five travelers are in for a bizarre and terrifying night when they stumble upon the Femm family estate.

Director:

James Whale

Writers:

J.B. Priestley (from the novel by) (as J.B. Priestly), Benn W. Levy (screen play)
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1 nomination. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Boris Karloff ... Morgan
Melvyn Douglas ... Penderel
Charles Laughton ... Sir William Porterhouse
Lilian Bond ... Gladys (as Lillian Bond)
Ernest Thesiger ... Horace Femm
Eva Moore ... Rebecca Femm
Raymond Massey ... Philip Waverton
Gloria Stuart ... Margaret Waverton
Elspeth Dudgeon ... Sir Roderick Femm (as John Dudgeon)
Brember Wills ... Saul Femm
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Storyline

Seeking shelter from a pounding rainstorm in a remote region of Wales, several travellers are admitted to a gloomy, foreboding mansion belonging to the extremely strange Femm family. Trying to make the best of it, the guests must deal with their sepulchral host, Horace Femm and his obsessive, malevolent sister Rebecca. Things get worse as the brutish manservant Morgan gets drunk, runs amuck and releases the long pent-up brother Saul, a psychotic pyromaniac who gleefully tries to destroy the residence by setting it on fire. Written by Doug Sederberg <vornoff@sonic.net>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

storm | butler | guest | night | fear | See All (67) »

Taglines:

Beware the night!


Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

20 October 1932 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

El caserón de las sombras See more »

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Box Office

Gross USA:

$25,678

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$34,649
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Universal Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Sound System Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In a 1988 interview, Gloria Stuart recalled that Boris Karloff ran back and forth across the stage to achieve the desired effect of being out of breath. She asked him, "Can't you just FAKE it?" and he said that wasn't the way he worked. See more »

Goofs

When the butler falls down the stairs, he's slightly on the side, but when cut to the next scene he's on the floor face down, obvious cut from scene to scene (perhaps for changing the stunt man to the original actor). See more »

Quotes

Horace Femm: We make our own electric light here, and we are not very good at it. Pray, don't be alarmed if they go out altogether
See more »

Crazy Credits

After the introductory credits there is a 'producer's note' (on some prints it appears before the studio logo) : 'Karloff, the mad butler in this production, is the same Karloff who created the part of the mechanical monster in "Frankenstein". We explain this to settle all disputes in advance, even though such disputes are a tribute to his great versatility.' See more »

Connections

Referenced in Rewind This! (2013) See more »

Soundtracks

The Roast Beef of Old England
(uncredited)
Lyrics by Henry Fielding
Music by Richard Leveridge
Performed by Charles Laughton
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Superb sets and photography but ultimately just a well played farce
7 June 2006 | by Camera-ObscuraSee all my reviews

Director James Whale and his cast probably had a good time making this film. After the opening credits there's a "producer's note": 'Karloff, the mad butler in this production, is the same Karloff who created the part of the mechanical monster in "Frankenstein". We explain this to settle all disputes in advance, even though such disputes are a tribute to his great versatility.'

So you're know what you're in for, at least modern audiences should. Back then it must have been quite daring to openly "expose" and perhaps even undermine the potential scariness of the film, especially Karloff's role as the butler. I think many executives at Universal frowned upon this as well, in particular Carl Laemmle Sr., but Carl Laemmle Jr. probably shared the same kind of humor as Whale, so they let him get away with it.

The film is very loyal to J.B. Priestley's novel "Benighted" and took most of the wonderful dialogs and one-liners directly from the book. As one would expect from James Whale en co, the sharply written dialog is definitely one of the highlights with the best lines being handed to Thesiger, as in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. This supposedly being a send-up of Universal's horror conventions, it's not particularly engaging as a horror film. Eerie things do happen, absolutely, but they are so bizarre and sometimes so utterly over the top, that you either stop caring about the characters or simply lose track of the proceedings at all. But no complaints about the acting, especially the incomparable Ernest Thesiger who is a standout in a first rate cast. And the sets and photography are absolutely superb as is the whole atmosphere in general, largely due to the continuously (and well timed) stormy soundtrack, which greatly adds to the fun.

Many have pointed out that Whale presents us some kind of parody of the horror movie or some kind of archetypal English household. This seems a very modern, almost anachronistic vision to me. What things did he attempt to mock or make fun of? Essentially THE OLD DARK HOUSE is a well acted sometimes very funny stagy farce with a horror atmosphere at best. He certainly had the last laugh because he probably never intended it that way, although most of the critical acclaim came after his death.

A final note on the Special Collector's Edition DVD: Besides the obligatory stills gallery, nothing of particular interest. A six-minute interview with Curtis Harrington about him saving the original copy of the film. Good thing he did it but that's all we need to know. And truly worthless commentary tracks, James Curtis comments like he's reading a list with all kinds of facts about the movie. Suitable for a booklet, not for an audio commentary.

Camera Obscura --- 8/10


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