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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

The Old Dark House [Blu-ray]


(James Whale, 1932)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Universal Pictures

Video: Cohen Media Group



Region: FREE (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:12:01.942

Disc Size: 31,802,053,248 bytes

Feature Size: 23,779,596,288 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.99 Mbps

Chapters: 8

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: October 24th, 2017



Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



LPCM Audio English 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit

LPCM Audio English 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit
LPCM Audio English 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit



English (SDH), none



Feature length audio commentary by actor Gloria Stuart
Feature length audio commentary by James Whale biographer James Curtis (James Whale: A New World Of Gods And Monsters)
• Interview with director Curtis Harrington on the rediscovery of this once thought-lost film (7:09)
Daughter of Frankenstein - Sara Karloff and Dean Otto on The Old Dark House and Boris Karloff (14:45)
re-release trailer (1:57)





Description: From the director of Frankenstein, a group of stranded travelers stumble upon a strange old house, and find themselves at the mercy of the highly eccentric, and potentially dangerous, Femm family. This well-performed, atmospheric thriller features the first starring horror role for Boris Karloff, as the hulking, disfigured butler. Based on the novel Benighted (1927) by J. B. Priestley. The Cohen Film Collection is proud to present this stunning new 4K restoration.



The Film:

William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton); and Porterhouse's no-better-than-she-ought-to-be lady friend Gladys DuCane (Lillian Bond). Under the baleful eyes of ungracious, atheistic host Horace Femm (Ernst Thesiger) and Horace's religious-zealot sister Rebecca (Eva Moore), the group sits around conversing, slowly coming to the realization that first impressions are most deceiving. Normally, that would be the whole story -- except that the old dark house contains a dark secret involving 101-year-old Sir Roderick Femm (played by "John Dudgeon," actually an actress named Elspeth Dudgeon) and pyromaniac Saul Femm (Brember Wills). Lumbering ominously throughout the proceedings is top-billed Boris Karloff, who plays Morgan, the mute, alcoholic family butler (the opening credits felt obligated to tell 1932 filmgoers that, yes, this was the same Karloff who'd portrayed the Monster in the previous season's Frankenstein). Directed with sinister verve by James Whale and brimming with unforgettable dialogue, The Old Dark House is one of the most enjoyable and least formulaic of the Universal "scare" pictures of the early 1930s. The film was based on J.B. Priestley's Benighted, although Priestley's hero dies in the book and does not in the film (this appears to have been a last-minute decision -- and a wise one). Long thought lost, The Old Dark House was rediscovered in the early 1970s; copyright problems with the lukewarm 1963 remake kept it off television until 1994, at which time a sparkling new print was struck, replacing the washed-out dupes with which film buffs were all too familiar.

Excerpt from B+N located HERE

It doesn't take long to develop a sense of déjà vu. A group of travelers, caught in the kind of torrential downpour that's most often seen in the movies, seek shelter in a gothic mansion that's populated by a group of oddly hospitable weirdoes. After a night filled with unnerving banter, dark family secrets, and, of course, attempted murder, the travelers retreat to their cars. There's even a psychotic relative locked in an upper room, but revealing much more than that would spoil the fun.

The old dark house's rain-drenched "guests" are played by Douglas, Laughton, Gloria Stuart, and Lilian Bond. The house-dwellers are Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, Eva Moore, and John Dudgeon...although Dudgeon's actual identity isn't so easily pinned down. But we'll get to that. This was the first time Karloff received top billing in a picture, after the publicity stunt of being billed simply as "?" in Whale's hugely popular
Frankenstein. The credits of The Old Dark House even helpfully specify that, yes, this is the same "Karloff" you're thinking of.

Excerpt from TCMt located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The Old Dark House arrives on Blu-ray from Cohen Media and the 4K-restoration looks magnificent. The 1080P strikes a perfect balance between the lush, consistent grain textures and the superb contrast. This pre-code Gothic-esque-aura film is on a dual-layered transfer with a max'ed out bitrate and the HD visuals significantly advance the viewing experience. There are some minor speckles but detail, in the film's many close-ups is so impressive. The darkness of the film's scenes never overwhelms the visuals - nor is there any flaring. In short - it looks splendid with only a handful of imperfect instances although always maintaining the film's evocative ambience. This Blu-ray video is immensely impressive - the restoration will get plenty of mention in our year-end poll.


























Audio :

The audio is transferred via a linear PCM (24-bit). This is an early talkie and dialogue is, predictably imperfect - hollow and less even. There is mood music in the opening and there is Singin' in the Rain sung by Melvyn Douglas a cappella, with modified lyrics, Oh! Mr. Porter improvised on by Melvyn Douglas, The Roast Beef of Old England performed by Charles Laughton. There is some pleasing bass. There is also a simple Dolby surround effort as an option. There are optional English subtitles (sample above) in a large white font and my Oppo has identified it as being a region FREE playable worldwide.



Extras :

Cohen add two commentaries - an older one with actor Gloria Stuart ('Margaret' in the film) who passed in 2010 - some reminiscing/recalling but generally a light and enjoyable listen. We also get a deeper one with James Whale biographer James Curtis (James Whale: A New World Of Gods And Monsters) who has plenty of details, isn't overly-dry and I could appreciate the education. Great additions. There is a 7-minute interview with director Curtis Harrington on the rediscovery of this once thought-lost film - he describes his relationship with Whale and efforts to archive this important film - he's another guy I like to listen to. Daughter of Frankenstein has Sara Karloff and Speed Art Museum curator Dean Otto who both discuss The Old Dark House and Boris Karloff. It runs for 1/4 hour. There is also a re-release trailer and liner note booklet.



The image quality of The Old Dark House on Cohen's Blu-ray
is so breathtaking that it adds a whole new layer to the film's ironically rich atmosphere. This Whale pre-code scary delight is an absolute keeper to revisit for the rest of your life. The commentaries augment this brilliant package with a superlative a/v presentation. Our highest recommendation!

Gary Tooze

November 20th, 2017



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