TV & Film
#88 - THE BLACK CAT (1941)
The ‘old dark house’ tale was a staple of the horror genre for decades. It still shows up in the 21st century but most of the time it drops the gothic accoutrements for a less antique view of a creepy location. In the 1940’s the ODH story had become a standard for both straight scary tales and horror comedies wishing to use the tropes of the genre as easy set-ups for humor. Such is the case with Universal’s 1941 film THE BLACK CAT. While it treats its mystery with some seriousness it is often pushing events toward a silly joke from the film’s comic relief character. As with any scary movie incorporating laughs as part of its storytelling there is the chance that the humor will not appeal to each viewer. Smartly, the writers employ several different kinds of jokes throughout in an attempt to hit as many potential targets as possible. That means we get some clever dialog in places and some fairly broad comedic bits in others. But does the film as a whole work?
Troy and I walk into this old creeper looking to see how it fits in with the types of chillers Universal was producing at the time. We revel in the excellent cast that is so packed with talent that it even sports a young Alan Ladd in an early role. How can any film with Bela Lugosi, Basil Rathbone, Anne Gwynne, Brodrick Crawford, Cecilia Loftus and Gale Sondergaard be less than entertaining? We take note of the ways the film adheres to the Old Dark House tropes (hidden passages, family hatreds, romantic betrayals, cruel Last Wills & Testaments, etc) and the strange ways it alters those ideas for the times. We remark on the unnecessary confusion caused by the softening of the violence in the story and the clever ways that the spirited investigators piece together clues. Our man Bela looks great in the film but is only given a limited amount of screen time. Luckily, he makes the best of it with some creepy moments and an unexpected humorous scene as well. And, while we both love cats, we have much sympathy for Crawford’s character as he deals with an allergy that we kept waiting to be part of the denouncement.
If you have any comments about THE BLACK CAT (1941) or any other of the Universal horror films of the 1940’s please drop us a line. The show can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or over on the show’s FaceBook page. We thank you for downloading and listening to the podcast and we’d be thrilled if you could spread the word about what we’re doing here. Thank you for any help getting out the word to a wider world. Talk to you again soon.
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