Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Featuring a villain of an architect named (after the prominent actual architect Hans__), "Poelzig", (Boris Karloff), a machine-age mansion with brightly lit strip-windows standing in for the familiar medieval, crenellated-towered castle at the top of a misty, winding mountain, and starkly cold and beautiful sets that borrow from Russian Constructivism (angled walls), German Expressionism (steeply raked views to deeply shadowed cellar stairs), American Raymond Loewy-esque streamlining (curvilinear handrails, sliding pocket doors, neon adorned & accentuated speaker grilles), and French Art Decoratif, (back-lit glass block, Eileen Gray-esque tubular furniture, polished terazzo floors), the design of this movie is the up-front-and-center star of the show.
Although one character comically characterizes the interiors by saying "I suppose we've got to have architects, too. If I wanted a nice, cozy, unpretentious insane asylum, he'd be the man for it!", there's no doubt that director and set designer Edgar Ulmer loved the sources he was borrowing from.
There is, tellingly, a running explanation in the narrative for the proof of the engineer/architect's villainy: during WWI, he was responsible for the deaths of 10,000 men and built his clinically austere abode on their graves. Near the end, Karloff takes his place on a podium that incorporates in its canted design a simulacrum of chaos & devastation. The plot ends with the whole place exploding, in views (seen by our escaping heroes), that seem deliberately to evoke the bombed-out fields of war, that, by the 1930s would be familiar to audiences, and scary for reasons not at all supernatural.
Still, you gotta love these sets!
Dig the flush-mounted, continuously-lit ceiling panels -
That's some nice bowl of water to wash your hands in -
The drawer is completely flush with the body of the night-table -