J.B. Priestley

The Old Dark House (1932, James Whale)

The Old Dark House is a strange film about strange people doing strange things. Director Whale and screenwriter Benn W. Levy rarely let the film get a set tone–unless one counts the consistent mix of comedy and horror. It’s not straight comedy; the comic elements tend to be either absurdly strange or pedestrian. Husband and wife Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart bickering over his driving until the storm becomes too dangerous for an argument, for example.

Whale goes for peculiar horror elements–relying on his cast to be creepy enough in their performances sometimes, but other times utilizing for practical effects in scenes without a cast member having to do much. The editing, from Clarence Kolster, is spectacular. Whale often goes for a visceral reaction, like when Boris Karloff’s vicious manservant preys on Stuart.

But just like the mix of light comedy and horror, Whale and Levy take the time to deepen even Karloff’s character. All of the characters end up getting some depth, both the “regular” people and then the crazy family living in the titular house. The film’s both cynical and hopeful, with Lilian Bond’s chorus girl having an arrangement with industrialist Charles Laughton, but not one with expectations.

Because Laughton’s messed up, just like almost everyone in the film. Melvyn Douglas’s drunken, mildly broken World War I veteran is ostensible lead–it’s between him and Stuart–and the film subtly implies his problems.

It’s a deliberately, beautifully made, beautifully acted (Ernest Thesiger mesmerizes) film. Truly fantastic.



Directed by James Whale; screenplay by Benn W. Levy and R.C. Sherriff, based on a novel by J.B. Priestley; director of photography, Arthur Edeson; edited by Clarence Kolster; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Boris Karloff (Morgan), Melvyn Douglas (Penderel), Charles Laughton (Sir William Porterhouse), Lilian Bond (Gladys), Ernest Thesiger (Horace Femm), Eva Moore (Rebecca Femm), Raymond Massey (Philip Waverton), Gloria Stuart (Margaret Waverton), Elspeth Dudgeon (Sir Roderick Femm) and Brember Wills (Saul Femm).

An Inspector Calls (1954, Guy Hamilton)

For the majority of An Inspector Calls, I thought Alastair Sim’s delicate, thoughtful performance was out of place. The film’s incredibly melodramatic and contrived. After the twist ending… well, I’m pretty sure it’s still melodramatic and contrived, but it gives the impression of having an escape clause.

Regardless of title, it is not a mystery. Rather, it’s a British class piece (see the way I used the word “rather,” thought that choice was classy). But it’s a forceful class piece and not a subtle one. Subtlety probably would have helped some.

Even though he’s top-billed and he’s the best actor in the film, Sim is not the protagonist. He doesn’t even have the most screen time. But his every move is perfect.

Jane Wenham gets the most screen time and she’s good. Her role’s difficult, mostly because she never gets to act in a scene for herself; her scenes are always played for the other actor. Even when she’s alone in it.

Of the supporting cast, Eileen Moore and Bryan Forbes are good. Forbes is actually rather excellent, something not immediately clear because of the narrative structure. Brian Worth is sometimes good and sometimes bad. More bad than good. Both Arthur Young and Olga Lindo are comically bad. One has to wonder, especially at the end, if director Hamilton was instructing them to up the sinister.

Hamilton’s direction is solid and occasionally inspired. Francis Chagrin’s overblown score doesn’t help.

Sim’s great… but I’m not sure he makes it worthwhile.



Directed by Guy Hamilton; screenplay by Desmond Davis, based on the play by J.B. Priestley; director of photography, Edward Scaife; edited by Alan Osbiston; music by Francis Chagrin; produced by A.D. Peters; released by British Lion Film Corporation.

Starring Alastair Sim (Inspector Poole), Jane Wenham (Eva Smith), Brian Worth (Gerald Croft), Eileen Moore (Sheila Birling), Olga Lindo (Sybil Birling), Arthur Young (Arthur Birling), Bryan Forbes (Eric Birling), Norman Bird (Foreman Jones-Collins) and Charles Saynor (Police Sergeant Arnold Ransom).

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