The Old Dark House (1932)

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*. Faces. James Whale loved faces. He even liked to fill the screen with them in close-ups, which wasn’t typical at the time.
*. And he liked odd, eccentric faces. Boris Karloff in crazy make-up. Ernest Thesinger’s nose, so capable of throwing dramatic shadows all on its own. Charles Laughton’s fleshy masterpiece. Eva Moore distorted in a warped mirror. “John” Dudgeon in whiskery drag. Brember Wills’s face transforming itself before our eyes (and behind Melvyn Douglas’s back). What a gallery!

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*. But mostly, in this movie, he loved Gloria Stuart’s face. What a remarkable, intelligent, watchable face. There always seems to be something knowing going on behind it, which is a rare quality even for a twenty-two year old. Or perhaps she shared with, or caught from Whale some of his sense that the whole business was a bit of a joke.

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 *. This was an American production, Universal of course, but British to the core. Which may explain why the film did very well in England and not at all well in the U.S. The time had not come for wit and eccentricity in American film.
*. An odd, loveable movie that many people count among their favourites, but one that still doesn’t receive a great deal of recognition. I wonder how much of that is due to there not being a very good print available. Though we should count ourselves lucky that we’ve got what we have. This could easily have been a lost film from the period.

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