The danse macabre of The Black Cat replayed, Poe again "suggested" through the funereal timbre of Universal sets. The raven is a silhouette against a wall, or a ballet interpretation by the ingénue, but before anything else an opportunity to reteam Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff for more baroque wackiness, places switched for the crazy-scientist-vengeful-infiltrator spectrum since their spiritual arm-wrestling for Ulmer. As Dr. Vollin (Violin? Violence?), Lugosi is roused out of retirement one night to save the life of Irene Ware, whose spill off the road kicks off the picture; one look at her at the operating table and the surgeon's obsessions, hitherto dedicated exclusively to Edgar Allan, make room to accommodate the young gal. Samuel S. Hinds, her judge father, is an obstacle in his path -- enter fugitive Karloff, bearded and stooped first, then half his mug molded into lurching zombiedom, an illustration of a thesis ("if a man looks ugly, he does ugly things") and forced to do Lugosi's unsavory bidding. "Louis Friedlander" is the directorial signature on the credits, but Europeanized or not the director is still Lew Landers, merely pushing the story forward, missing the expressionistic buds that, in the same slender 61 minutes, Ulmer would have allowed to blossom. Still, Karloff gets to discover his newly deformed face in a room filled with mirrors, gun in hand as Lugosi cackles from above, madly in control of life and death. Vollin's godlike stature is tested by the weekend gathering offered to Ware, Hinds, fiancée Lester Matthews, and other bourgeois couples, a rendezvous where the alignment of fates constitutes the main pastime -- the rich play games while a storm rages outside, darkness kept within tuxedoes, oddly anticipatory of La Règle du Jeu, yet here the toys proudly displayed by La Cheyniest are slicing pendulums and flattening walls, vintage "delicious torture." With Spencer Charters, Inez Courtney, Ian Wolfe, and Maidel Turner. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce