[jahsonic.com] - [Next >>]

The Black Cat (1934) - Edward G. Ulmer

Related: 1934 - horror film - black - cat


Before we leave the 1930s, I have to mention the one film that seemed to belie all rules of good Hollywood horror fare. Edward G. Ulmer's The Black Cat (1934) is a preposterous mess, but a damn entertaining film that has acquired a well-deserved cult. Bela and Boris are teamed once again, this time placed in a story that takes in everything from witchcraft (Karloff's character was based on British Satanist Aleister Crowley) to a character being skinned alive (and who will ever forget Lugosi's immortal line "Supernatural - perhaps; baloney - perhaps not"!). There might be a hidden message about the horrors of warfare - Karloff's castle stands on a battlefield where thousands of Hungarian soldiers lost their lives - but it's exceedingly difficult to tease this out when you have Lugosi throwing knives at black cats and Karloff spouting cod-Latin during an unintentionally hilarious Black Mass. The Black Cat needs to be rediscovered! --Noel O'Shea

Edgar G. Ulmer

Film director Edgar G. Ulmer (1904-1972) is mostly remembered for the movies The Black Cat (1934) and Detour (1945). These stylish and eccentric works have achieved cult status, but Ulmer's other films remain relatively unknown. As a young man Ulmer lived in Vienna, Austria where he worked as a stage actor and set designer while studying architecture and philosophy. He set designed for Max Reinhardt's theater, served his apprenticeship with F. W. Murnau, and worked with collaborators including Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann, and Eugen Schüftan. Ulmer came to Hollywood with Murnau in the 20s to assist with the art direction on Sunrise (1927). In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich he also recalled making two-reel westerns in Hollywood around this time. The Black Cat (1934), starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, is an early example of Ulmer's striking visual style.

Ulmer's career was spent mostly in Poverty Row cinema: after an early success at Universal with The Black Cat, Ulmer, for both personal reasons and a desire for creative independence, left the major studios behind. He specialized first in "ethnic films", notably four in Yiddish. The best-known of the Yiddish films is Green Fields (1937), co-directed with Jacob Ben-Ami. Ulmer then found a niche making melodramas on tiny budgets and with often unpromising scripts and actors for PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation). Through the rest of his career, Ulmer worked mostly on low-budget films in America and Europe. In the 40s he did get a chance to direct two films with larger budgets, Ruthless (1948) and The Strange Woman (1946). The latter is an example of Ulmer at his best, featuring a strong performance by Hedy Lamarr. Detour (1945) has achieved considerable acclaim as a seminal example of film noir, and was picked by the Library of Congress as one of the first group of 100 films worthy of special preservation efforts. Wife Shirley Ulmer acted as script supervisor on nearly all of her director-husband films from 1934 on. He directed his last film, The Cavern, in Italy in 1964; several years later, he suffered a crippling stroke, and died September 30, 1972.

Bibliography Bogdanovich, Peter, Who the Devil Made It, Knopf, 1997 --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_G._Ulmer [Feb 2006]

See also: b-movie - 1945 - detournement - film noir

Detour (1945) - Edgar G. Ulmer

"murderers... must be brought to justice" --Production Code

Detour (1945) - Edgar G. Ulmer [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Detour is a 1945 film noir cult classic that stars Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake and Edmund MacDonald. A B-movie, it was shot in six days. The film, budgeted for $89,000, ended up costing $117,000 to make. To preserve the films right-to-left orientation used in the cross-country scenes, the movie's director reversed many of the hitchhiking shots so that now the cars are on the wrong side of the road.

The movie was adapted by Martin Goldsmith and Martin Mooney (uncredited) from Martin Goldsmith's novel, and was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. The 68-minute film was created and released by the Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). Because the 1945 Production code mandated that "murderers... must be brought to justice" in all films made, director Ulmer satisfied censors by ending the movie with Al the hitchhiker being picked up after predicting his arrest earlier.

A piano player, Al (Neal), sets off hitchhiking his way to California to be with his girl. Along the way, a stranger in a convertible gives him a ride. Al and the paranoid stranger pull over to put the top up only to find the driver dead at the wheel. Al panics and dumps the body in a gully and drive off in his car. Later, he picks up another hitchhiker. Vera, (Savage) a femme fatale, threatens to turn him in for the supposed murder unless he assumes the identity of the dead man to collect an inheritance.

The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Critical response to the film today is almost universally positive. Time Magazine lists the film in the magazine's All Time 100 Films while Roger Ebert wrote: "This movie from Hollywood's poverty row, shot in six days, filled with technical errors and ham-handed narrative, starring a man who can only pout and a woman who can only sneer, should have faded from sight soon after it was released in 1945. And yet it lives on, haunting and creepy, an embodiment of the guilty soul of film noir. No one who has seen it has easily forgotten it."

I know. Someday a car will stop to pick me up that I never thumbed. Yes, fate, or some mysterious force can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all.

--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detour_(movie) [Feb 2006]

your Amazon recommendations - Jahsonic - early adopter products

Managed Hosting by NG Communications