A few words about…™ The Old Dark House (1932) — in Blu-ray

Cohen Film Collection's Blu-ray is a superb offering, based upon a 4k image harvest of beautiful 35mm elements. 4 Stars

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.

The stand-outs…

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

Recommended

RAH

Published by

Robert Harris

editor,member

21 Comments

  1. This is the release of the year. I never get tired of watching this film. I would recommend the Eureka version, however. It has the Producer's note at the beginning. The American Cohen version deleted it for some strange reason. The Eureka version has much more added content including a new making of documentary which goes into detail about the making of the production as well as bios on each actor — even the obscure ones. It also has some beautiful new artwork that is worth the addition. It also has an additional commentary. And it also has a better transfer even though it is supposedly the same version with higher bitrate and sharper, more saturated image.

  2. It is an astounding transfer, especially compared to what we had on DVD which was barely watchable. I had watched my DVD quite a few times, but watching the Blu-ray was like seeing it for the first time.

  3. Bill Everson, revered person of my youth in NYC. He allowed me to attend, gratis, his course on James Whale at NYU. So thanks to that course and the Universal Retrospective at MoMA, I was able to view Whale's complete output, including his unreleased final film. Bill was the kindest collector, the antithesis of Rohauer. I would walk into his apartment and walk out with several boxes of 16mm prints in a shopping cart which I would walk home 14 blocks uptown, screen in my apartment at my earliest convenience, and return to him for some more. It was like a lending library! What a big-hearted man he was. How I miss him…

  4. bujaki

    Bill Everson, revered person of my youth in NYC. He allowed me to attend, gratis, his course on James Whale at NYU. So thanks to that course and the Universal Retrospective at MoMA, I was able to view Whale's complete output, including his unreleased final film. Bill was the kindest collector, the antithesis of Rohauer. I would walk into his apartment and walk out with several boxes of 16mm prints in a shopping cart which I would walk home 14 blocks uptown, screen in my apartment at my earliest convenience, and return to him for some more. It was like a lending library! What a big-hearted man he was. How I miss him…

    He was an extraordinary gentleman!

  5. Robert Harris

    He was an extraordinary gentleman!

    Who changed his name to William K in honor of his great admiration for the director William K. Howard. His real name, a very British name, I'm sure he was very glad to shed.

  6. Matt Hough

    It is an astounding transfer, especially compared to what we had on DVD which was barely watchable.

    Agree. I gave the DVD a "D" for picture quality – and I grade on a "curve" for old movies, too!

    I gave the BD an "A-" for picture. It surpassed all expectations…

  7. Mr. Harris, or anyone else, do you have any idea what happened to the sound on this release? There is a loud hiss that begins when Saul appears and leaves when (spoiler) he falls off the catwalk. I don't remember this in the DVD version.

  8. I had never seen this movie till I got this release. It is amazing a film this old can look this good. However, for the movie itself, I was left disappointed. Some people take refuge from a storm in an old house with creepy residents. Then they leave the next morning. There were no real scares and the humor mostly escaped me.

    Was Boris Karloff's character supposed to be funny or frightening? This movie must have disappointed the audience of the day, after seeing Frankenstein. Boris must have been disappointed with his lack of lines.

    All IMHO, of course.

  9. Johnny Angell

    I had never seen this movie till I got this release. It is amazing a film this old can look this good. However, for the movie itself, I was left disappointed. Some people take refuge from a storm in an old house with creepy residents. Then they leave the next morning. There were no real scares and the humor mostly escaped me.

    Was Boris Karloff's character supposed to be funny or frightening? This movie must have disappointed the audience of the day, after seeing Frankenstein. Boris must have been disappointed with his lack of lines.

    All IMHO, of course.

    Yup!

  10. This isn't about story or scares… it's about contrasting personalities, forbidding mood and dark humor. It isn't like Frankenstein or the Wolfman. This is like a David Lynch movie with all the contradictions and black humor and uncomfortably strange atmosphere.

  11. For me it is more frightening that Frankenstein because this is a real homicidal maniac that pretends to be innocent but want to kill you after taking you into his confidence and even bites you on the neck!

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