James Whale remains one of the great names of classic cinema. And his time at Universal, specifically from 1931 through 1936, provided an extraordinary series of quality motion pictures.
Frankenstein – 1931
The Old Dark House – 1932
The Invisible Man – 1933
Bride of Frankenstein – 1935
Show Boat – 1936
Using some of the the studio’s contracted talent, Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, the unique Ernest Thesiger, and Gloria Stuart, Mr. Whale fashioned an interesting take on the “house in control” genre. But in this case, not haunted, but encapsulating a worrisome group of inhabitants therein.
Typical set-up. Horrific storm forces travelers to seek shelter, but then things get interesting.
Cohen Film Collection’s Blu-ray is a superb offering, based upon a 4k image harvest of beautiful 35mm elements. Grain structure is lovely. Nice blacks, terrific shadow detail, and resolution. Clean and stable.
Everything that one might ask of a film from the era. Especially respectful, as it was photographed by the great Arthur Edeson.
The most interesting story here, is probably how the film ended up at The Cohen Collection, and not with Universal, who produced the work.
One would think that the answer is with the underlying literary by J.B. Priestley, which after apparently reverted to the author, somehow ended up in the occasionally nefarious hands of Raymond Rohauer (Cohen Collection wisely purchased the library), who had a penchant for chasing aged filmmakers, widows and heirs, to the ends of the earth, thereby acquiring films that they controlled. In the case of some underlying, he would then contact the studios, demanding their elements. And it seems that in a general sense, the studios acquiesced, as opposed to spending time on older titles.
There was another game that Rohauer played, which involved what were essentially improper copyright renewals. With help in tracking titles up for renewals, he would pounce on product that remained un-renewed several weeks or days before it was to go into the public domain.
That game was to copyright the film, under his corporate entity, and afterwards, make the actual owner aware that he had saved their film from disaster.
Sometimes the ploy worked.
Other times it didn’t, as copyright records will attest to multiple renewals – one appropriate, the other…
When it worked, he would end up with an agreement with the owner, and participation of some sort.
And so it goes…
As for what actually occurred with The Old Dark House, I’m not certain, but The Cohen Collection has done it proud with their new Blu – not that Universal would not, if they controlled the work.
For the record, the audio track could have used a bit of clean-up, as hiss is more obvious than usual, but not something that inhibits pleasure.
As to Mr. Rohauer, I recall having a discussion with Paul Killiam, who told me that he had just been visited by uber-collector and film historian Bill Everson. Mr. Everson had apparently stopped by to bring news.
First, he told Mr. Killiam that he had just gotten married. And second, that he had heard that Ray Rohauer had died.
Mr. Killiam, after a long beat, apparently responded, “Bill, I’m delighted to hear of your marriage, but I honestly can’t tell you which news makes me happier.”
Image – 5
Audio – 4
Pass / Fail – Pass
Upgrade from DVD – without a doubt
Cohen Film Collection's Blu-ray is a superb offering, based upon a 4k image harvest of beautiful 35mm elements.