The Old Dark House (1963)

Article #1016 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-26-2003
Posting Date: 5-24-2004
Directed by William Castle
Featuring Tom Poston, Robert Morley, Janette Scott

An American car salesman tries to deliver a new car to the home of a man with whom he shares an apartment, and he ends up stranded in a house of eccentrics, one of which is intent on killing off the rest.

James Whale certainly does not need to worry that this movie poses any threat to the reputation of his own version of the story; the 1932 version is definitely the superior. This being said, I have to admit that I didn’t find this one without interest, and it piqued my curiosity about the J. B. Priestley novel (which I haven’t read) and whether either of the versions follows the novel. Though this version has certain similarities to the Whale version, the differences are somewhat interesting; the lineup of characters is different, with only one real outsider to speak of, and the family seems to be a very different one than the original movie, though some have similar names. Morgan, who was a butler in the original, is here an actual family member, though he is still a mute. There are several familiar faces in the cast, and some of the characters are quite interesting, particular Mervyn Johns’ Petiphar, a man obsessed with the inevitable onset of the biblical flood; unfortunately, his subplot results in the lousiest special effect of the movie, but I suppose they couldn’t use a real hyena for the scene. The movie does have some real problems; not only does it fail to be as funny as the original (it unfortunately relies on slapstick moments to try for laughs), but it also fails to reach the heights of real danger and tension that mark the climax of the earlier movie. And even though the movie never really gels as a whole, it does have its moments, particularly during the opening credits (in which the backgrounds are designed by Charles Addams) and a joke involving a horrible knitting accident. And I will also admit that the revelation of the killer’s identity did indeed catch me off guard.


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