(director/writer: Roland West; screenwriters: from the play by Crane Wilbur/Albert Kenyon/C. Gardner Sullivan/Willard Mack; cinematographer: Hal Mohr; editor: A. Carle Palm; cast: Lon Chaney (Dr. Ziska), Gertrude Olmstead (Betty Watson), Hallam Cooley (Head Clerk), Johnny Arthur (The Under Clerk), Charles Sellon (Russ Mason), Knute Erickson (Daffy Dan), George Austin (Rigo), Walter James (Caliban), Edward McWade (Luke Watson), Ethel Wales (Mrs. Watson), Matthew Betz (Det. Jennings), Herbert Prior (Dr. Edwards), Charles Sellon (The Constable); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; MGM (Warner Archive Collection); 1925-silent)
“Rarely seen silent Old Dark House horror film that mixes comedy and suspense.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Rarely seen silent Old Dark House horror film that mixes comedy and suspense. It’s directed by noted theater director Roland West (“The Bat Whispers”/”Alibi”), who adapts the Broadway play by Crane Wilbur to the screen with Albert Kenyon C. Gardner Sullivan and Willard Mack. It’s an early mad scientist film, that Lon Chaney received top billing even if he had limited screen time. In the rural hamlet of Danburgh, wealthy farmer Bowman disappears while driving at night near Dr. Edward’s abandoned sanitarium. The insurance company sends Detective Jennings (Matthew Betz) to investigate, while Johnny Arthur (Johnny Goodlittle)), the ambitious nerdy clerk in Watson’s general store, receives his mail-order detective diploma and begins his own investigation. The clerk is trying to win the heart of Betty Watson (Gertrude Olmstead), the general store owner’s pretty daughter, by solving the mystery. His rival for Betty’s affection is the haughty head clerk at the store (Hallam Cooley). Soon Johnny and his fellow clerk discover that deranged sanitarium surgeon/scientist Dr. Ziska (Lon Chaney), along with three mental patients -Daffy Dan (Knute Erickson), Rigo (George Austin ) and Caliban (Walter James)- have overpowered Dr. Edwards and are doing unauthorized experiments with a few hostages to discover the secrets of life. Ziska is trying to transfer a female soul to a male body, and thereby discover the secrets of life. We are left wondering if the clerk will escape with Betty from Ziski’s clutches. It’s atmospheric with a creepy Old Dark House, an electric chair and secret passages, and it had a hammy Chaney sporting a manic-grin while tring to act urbane.
REVIEWED ON 11/1/2016 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/