TCM Summer Under the Stars: Boris Karloff

Twice in one month!  Turner Classic Movies did it for Fay Wray about three weeks ago, now all day on August 26, it’s “Summer Under the Stars” featuring horror legend, Boris Karloff.  Included in the lineup are 17 must-see films.  Below, please enjoy mini-reviews for five of them.

I’ve seen all the strictly horror films airing on the 26th, but am looking forward to non-horror films like The Lost Patrol (1934), The Fatal Hour (1940), British Intelligence (1940) and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947).  Karloff is terrific in anything!

The Black Cat (1934)

Written by Peter Ruric
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi
US Release May 7, 1934
RT 65 min.
Home Video Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Classic Horrors rating = 6 (out of 10)


I haven’t read Poe’s The Black Cat in a long time, but not much of the movie version was familiar to me. Newlyweds Peter Allison (David Manners) and Joan (Jacqueline Wells aka Julie Bishop) are stranded in an architectural wonder of a house and become pawns in a psychological game of chess between Dr. Vitus Wergegast (Bela Lugosi) and Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff).

I was a little disappointed, based on the film’s reputation. However, it does have some pretty rough stuff for 1934. Apparently, this is one of the first movies to use a continuous background score and it is annoying! Rather than the on-screen chemistry between the two horror legends, I was more impressed by the youthful good looks and acting of Lugosi.

The Walking Dead (1936)

Written by Ewart Adamson, Peter Milne, Robert Hardy Andrews, Lillie Hayward
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring Boris Karloff, Ricardo Cortez, Edmund Gwenn
US Release Mar. 13, 1946
RT 76 min.
Home Video Warner Home Video
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)

Poster - Walking Dead, The_04

Definitely not related to The Walking Dead that we know today. When John Ellman (Boris Karloff) is falsely accused of murder and sent to the electric chair, Dr. Beaumont (Edmund Gwenn) revives him. Ellman has no specific memories, yet recognizes the people who framed him. He doesn’t eat brains; instead, simply stares at the villains and some type of supernatural force disposes of them one by one.

There’s a lot of story in the first 30 minutes leading to Ellman’s execution, but the result is different from other revenge/horror movies. I enjoyed an excellent scene when he’s playing the piano and stares at each villain; their reactions are great.

Bedlam (1945)

Written by Val Lewton, Mark Robson
Directed by Mark Robson
Starring Boris Karloff, Anna Lee, Billy House
US Release May 10, 1946
RT 79 min.
Home Video Turner Home Entertainment
Classic Horrors rating = 4 (out of 10)


Master George Syms (Boris Karloff) runs St. Mary’s of Bethlehem Asylum when Nell Bowen (Anna Lee) becomes concerned about conditions there. I grew drowsy watching it, so read the IMDb synopsis, which explains it better than I can.

I really did not enjoy this one. It started akin to Tower of London, which I enjoyed, but it soon grew tiring for me. It seemed like there was little action or suspense to keep me interested. While sinister, Karloff’s Syms did not come across to me as one of his better characters.

The Body Snatcher (1934)

Written by Philip MacDonald, Val Lewton
Directed by Robert Wise
Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi
US Release May. 25, 1945
RT 71 min.
Home Video Turner Home Entertainment
Classic Horrors rating = 6 (out of 10)

Body Snatcher

Cocky Dr. Wolfe “Toddy” McFarlane (Henry Daniell) and his assistant, Donald Fettes (Russell Wade) use bodies procured by Cabman John Gray (Boris Karloff) for practice so they can perform spinal surgery on a paralyzed child. Gray blackmails them and Joseph (Bela Lugosi) wants a cut, too.

Karloff is more a character in this one than a gentle, grandfatherly type. He’s fun to watch and his big scene with Lugosi is great. Overall, though, it seemed a little too complicated/subtle to be purely entertaining. 

Isle of the Dead (1945)

Written by Ardel Wray
Directed by Mark Robson
Starring Boris Karloff, Ellen Drew, Marc Cramer
US Release Sept. 1, 1945
RT 71 min.
Home Video Turner Home Entertainment
Classic Horrors rating = 5 (out of 10)


Nikolas Pherides (Boris Karloff) is a Greek general quarantined on the island where his wife is buried during a plague, but is this a natural plague or a supernatural one?

Of all the Karloff movies I’ve been watching, it fits somewhere in the middle as far as me liking it. The story is a little fuzzy as the potentially supernatural aspects are played way, way down. Val Lewton produced, but it doesn’t have the same atmosphere as the movies he directed.

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