Directed by Roy William Neill  — who gets mystery, after all, he directed eleven of the fourteen Basil Rathbone-starring Sherlock Holmes films as well as early noir like Black Angel — and written by Arthur Strawn and Henry Myers, The Black Room has a prophecy at its center: at some point, the younger brother of the de Berghmann family is cursed to kill his elder in the Black Room of the castle. Hmm — seems like something that would show up nearly forty years later in The Red Queen Kills Seven Times.

Boris Karloff seems to be having the time of his life in this movie, playing the dual role of the kindly Anton de Berghmann and his depraved brother Baron Gregor de Berghmann, who is about as blasphemous as the Hayes Code would allow. After all, he’s known for randomly killing the wives of the simple folk that make up his people.

When servant girl Mashka (Katherine DeMille) disappears, the people have had enough and take their pitchforks and torches to the castle. The Baron claims that he will be leaving forever, giving the kingdom to his more genial and popular brother. As they sign the papers in secret, the Baron leads Anton to his Black Room. By that, I mean he drops him like thirty feet into it and before Anton dies, he sees the dead body of Mashka and plenty more women.

Now, the Baron acts as Anton — even pretending only one of his arms works — and manipulates Thea (Marian Marsh), the daughter of family advisor Colonel Hassell (who also gets killed), into marrying him instead of her true love Lt. Albert Lussan (Robert Allen), who is jailed. Just when there’s no hope, Anton’s dog interrupts the wedding and basically shoves the man who killed his master into the pit that is the Black Room as the Baron is impaled on a knife held in his dead brother’s hand, fulfilling the prophecy.

This was shown often on TV as it was part of the Son of Shock package, along with Before I HangBehind the Mask, The Boogie Man Will Get YouThe Face Behind the MaskIsland of Doomed Men, The Man They Could Not HangThe Man Who Lived Twice, The Man With Nine LivesNight of Terror, The Devil CommandsBlack FridayThe Bride of FrankensteinCaptive Wild WomanThe Ghost of Frankenstein, House of FrankensteinHouse of DraculaThe Invisible Man’s RevengeThe Jungle CaptiveThe Mummy’s Curse and The Soul of a Monster.

It’s a really fun — and fast moving — movie with a huge cast of extras, making it seem like a way bigger movie than it really is.

Mill Creek’s Thrillers from the Vault set also includes The Man They Could Not Hang, Before I HangThe Man With Nine Lives, The Boogie Man Will Get YouThe Devil Commands, The Return of the Vampire and Five. Each movie has a commentary track — The Black Room has Dr. Steve Hoberman — and there’s also a documentary, Madness and Mayhem: Horror in the 30s and 40s. You can get it from Deep Discount.

Scrooge (1935)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

The sound of Victorian era church bells fill the air as I complete this review from my office in south London. Much like this great city, Scrooge (1935) is a film both old and new. A tale told dozens of times on stage and screen, yet one I had not seen before. The earliest sound adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, Scrooge (1935) was the inaugural production and release of Twickenham Film Distributors, Ltd. At just over an hour long, it’s an altogether more unpleasant, blunt, realistic version of the story, closer in-line with the novel source material which so clearly painted a picture of the horrors of poverty in Victorian England. While other later versions only hint at the horrible inequalities, here we are treated to a scene where the Mayor of London’s Chef who, while preparing a banquet in service to the Queen, literally throws out scraps to the masses from the window of the Mayor’s opulent mansion kitchen. A shocking image when compared to the stylized feel-good versions that likely would have had the populist author rolling in his grave. 

The performances are darker as well. When compared to the performance of Alistair Sim, who played Ebenezer Scrooge with an over-the-top humorous insanity who became bitter and twisted only following the death of his sister, star Seymour Hicks, who appeared as Scrooge over 2,000 times on stage, plays the title role as a right bastard, not likeable on any level. This is the version of A Christmas Carol we need in the winter of 2022 – known in the UK as “the winter of discontent.” A colder than average winter where just about everyone is on strike with nurses standing on line at the food banks and many working families unable to heat their homes while the wealthy worry about what Prince Harry said in his new Netflix documentary. 

This is the version, more than any other, where I felt a satisfaction in watching this greedy prick frightened into paying his underpaid, overworked employee Bob Cratchit a living wage. And with such a truncated script, it doesn’t take nearly as long for old Ebenezer to become repentant. Ghosts and spirits tend to have that effect on people. Especially when they’re voiced by Claude Rains (uncredited), as the invisible Jacob Marley is here. 

Speaking of ghosts, the spirits here rely more on a German expressionist visual style than later versions, with the ghosts of the past and future rendered completely using a combination of light and shadows rather than utilizing actors. Along with great lighting, the sets are wonderful and, while many shots are locked down in the style of a filmed stage play, there is a fair amount of camera movement including one long dolly shot during the Mayor’s banquet which must have been quite complicated for the time and visually crystallizes eloquently the difference between the classes in Victorian (and increasingly modern) England. I was not expecting such an old version of this well-worn tale to connect so relevantly to modern concerns. Colorized and black and white versions of the film are available online for free. Watch it.


Kane Richmond went from being a football star at the University of Minnesota as Fred Bowditch to becoming a film salesman before testing and getting the lead in the boxing serial The Leather Pushers and becoming a fixture in serials like Spy Smasher and Brick Bradford as well as playing Lamont Cranston — otherwise known as The Shadow — in The Shadow ReturnsBehind the Mask and The Missing Lady. His career moved on to playing supporting roles as well as TV work before retiring in 1966.

In The Lost City, he plays a scientist named Bruce Gordon who climbs the Magnetic Mountain and descends into the secret world of the Lemurians who are led by the evil Zolok. He’s played by William “Stage” Boyd, who was tired of being confused with actor William Boyd and added the middle name to somewhat haugtily proclaim that yes, he had stage experience. He also had a major drinking and drug problem that got so bad that — keep in mind this was during Prohibition — he started not only losing roles, but cost the other William Boyd his RKO contract because papers would print photos of the non “Stage” Boyd every time “Stage” Boyd got in trouble. This was his final role. As for his namesake, he changed his name to Bill Boyd and overcame being penniless in 1931 when RKO fired him and got the role that would change his life: Hopalong Cassidy.

When that film series ended up in 1948, Boyd had nearly bankrupted himself again by buying the rights to every film, something few actors did. He sold or mortgaged everything he owned, which didn’t pay off until he took one of his older pictures to the local NBC television station and offered it at a low rental cost, hoping that people would start talking. They did. He became one of the first national TV stars with every one of his films sold to NBC, got a new radio show and rebuilt his personal fortune.

Back to Lemuria.

Zolok has gone full Ming and created natural disasters to weaken the human race before his takeover. He’s also keeping Dr. Manyus (Josef Swickard) — and his daughter Natcha (Claudia Dell) — and forcing him to transform Lemurians into mindless giants as well as making his enemies, the spider loving Wangas, into weak slaves.

Back to Hopalong Cassidy. One of the other actors in this film, George “Gabby” Hayes, who plays the sidekick of Hopalong named Windy Halliday from 1935 to 1939. He quit that role when he felt he wasn’t being paid what he was worth and left for Republic Pictures. He had to change the name of his character to Gabby Whitaker and ended up being even more successful, appearing in 44 Roy Rogers movies, 14 Wild Bill Elliot films and 7 movies with Gene Autry. He also became a TV star once westerns became big on the new medium. While in the movies he was a gnarled up old man who spoke in strange gruff phrases, he was actually an intelligent and well-spoken man.

Gorzo, the dwarf bad guy in this, is played by Billy Bletcher, whose career is filled with nearly a hundred roles. He’s best known for playing the Big Bad Wolf and Mickey Mouse’s enemy Pete in the early Disney cartoons. He also worked with Pinto Colvig to do the ADR voices of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz.

The Lost City is not all that different from The Phantom Empire, taking that Gene Autry serial and moving it from a cowboy-friendly locale into the jungle. Producer Sherman S. Krellberg would edit the twelve episodes into four movies and added new footage to create new endings for each movie. The character Queen Rama and the Wangas, butthen made another version that had all of those characters and called it City of Lost Men. He also made another version of this in the 70s that is full of continuity issues.

Director Harry Revier made several early Tarzan movies but I know him best for the truly berserk Lash of the Penitentes, an early exploitation film promising women whipping themselves and, yes, delivering while cashing in on a then-well-known controversy.

As for Lemuria, it was a major obsession for occultists at this time. Theosophy founder Madame Helena Blavatsky had written a system of magic that involved Lemuria as the place where humans came from originally. We can also tie the underground world to another popular mid-20th century myth, The Shavers. Checkout films like The Mole People and the sort-of-doc Beyond Lemuria to learn more. Or ask me. I can talk about this kind of weird stuff for days.

The Lost City looks dated today but was state-of-the-art in 1935. Check it out for yourself and see how far movies have come.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 21: Murder by Television (1935)

You know how bad people wanted television in 1935? When an inventor comes up with a way of sending signals from anywhere, he’s murdered — for television more than by it — and we’re into this detective caper directed by Clifford Sanforth and written by Joseph O’Donnell who mainly worked on cowboy films.

This movie is 54 minutes long — it feels way longer and nothing happens until the last ten minutes of the movie — which is the length that all movies should be. It was originally called The Houghland Murder Case. It’s a bit too talky and not the best mystery ever, but it’s worth watching just to see Bela Lugosi play a good and evil twin.

Keep an eye out for Hattie McDaniel playing a cook a year before she won an Oscar for Gone With the Wind.

There’s a line that claims that television “will make of this Earth a paradise.” What shows would that be?

You can watch this on Tubi.

Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion: Life Returns (1935)

Eugene Frenke wrote and directed this film, and his Hollywood career is pretty strange. Born in Russia, he’d direct three more films (Girl in the CaseTwo Who Dared and Miss Robin Crusoe), with eighteen years between his last two movies. He also produced Lady in the Iron MaskThe Barbarian and the Geisha and more films, as well as acting as a production assistant on 1971’s Johnny Got His Gun.

Following a preview screening of the film, Universal pulled the film from general release and said that it was a “freak picture, not suitable for the regular Universal program.” In 1937, Frenke won a lawsuit and got his film back, re-releasing it through Scienart Pictures a year later.

On May 22, 1934 at the University of Southern California, scientist Robert E. Cornish — who appears in the film playing himself — surgically and chemically restored life to a dead dog. Frenke filmed this operation and included it in this film, if you can believe that!

Cornish even provided a note that is in the credits: “TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: The actual experiment of bringing the dead back to life, which is part of the motion picture “Life Returns” was performed by myself and staff on May 22, 1934 at 11:45 P.M. in Berkeley, California. This part of the picture was originally taken to retain a permanent scientific record of our experiment. Everything shown is absolutely real. The animal was unquestionably and actually dead, and was brought back to life. May I offer my thanks to my assistants, Mario Margutti, William Black, Ralph Celmer and Roderic Kneder, who are shown carrying out their respective parts. Respectfully submitted, Dr. Robert E. Cornish.”

Frenke was married to the Russian star Anna Sten, who Samuel Goldwyn hyped as “The Passionate Peasant” and tried to transform into a big star across the movies NanaWe Live Again and The Wedding Night. Her failure was so big that Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” refers to her: “When Sam Goldwyn can with great conviction / instruct Anna Sten in diction / Then Anna shows / anything goes.”

After this, the auteur wanted to make another film where a drowning man was brought back to life. After being sued by Frenke, one wonders why he’d come back to Universal. But he sure did and they turned him down.

You can watch this on Tubi.