Film & Water #112 – The Black Cat (1934)


Episode 112: THE BLACK CAT (1934)

Rob welcomes longtime friend Ryan S. Murphy to discuss Edgar G. Ulmer's THE BLACK CAT, the first on screen collaboration of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi!

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10 responses to “Film & Water #112 – The Black Cat (1934)

  1. This is a strange one. I heard for years and years that this was Universal’s darkest, most subversive classic horror film. It was hyped beyond belief in about everything I read. So when I finally saw it on TCM…I was disappointed. The story is just kind of all over the place. It has so many bizarre ideas its kind of hard to keep up with, and Lugosi’s psychosis over black cats seems tacked on ONLY to use that Poe title.

    BUT…Lugosi and Karloff make it worthwhile. Karloff never looked more sinister, and it is strange to see Lugosi as the sympathetic one, as Karloff, in nearly all his monster roles, does evoke pathos. Lugosi’s Dracula is charming, but ultimately he’s just an evil bastard. So the board is definitely flipped here. Lugosi’s acting style can sometimes come across as stagey hammy, but he did really tone that down as acting styles progressed and talking movies matured. Compare this to his sly portrayal of Ygor in Son of Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankesntein. And even his dialed-back take on Dracula in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, where he definitely could have went WAY overboard, but didn’t.

    And this movie does deliver into the subversive, as you guys pointed out! Necrophelia, incest, devil worship, flaying…are there any taboos they left off the table? Karloff does look great in this. Jack P. Pierce strikes again with another great “monster” design for Karloff with that severe flattop he has. Kirk Hammett of Metallica owns Karloff’s original svelte black suit, so it still exists!

    David Manners…he probably didn’t have much to work with, but that guy was so ineffective in every role at Universal, it’s no wonder every generation of fan ends up rooting for the far more interesting bad guy!!!

    I only saw the film once, a few years back, so I think it’s time to reevaluate it. Now that I know what to expect, I will probably enjoy it more, zany story and all. Please have Ryan back on! It’s nice to know that young fans still enjoy these classic films, and its good to hear from them.. especially when they know their stuff like he does!


  2. Very interesting discussion guys! I somehow missed this one over the years but will be sure to correct that ASAP.

    FYI If you are interested in “satanism” as a pop culture subject you may want to check out the documentary
    Mansfield 66/67 which covers Jayne Mansfield’s supposed ties to devil worshipers”

  3. I meant to bring up The Devil Rides Out. The satanic cult angle is similar, and then there’s also actors famous for Dracula playing the hero in each film. Of course Lee’s character is straight-up the protagonist, although you kind of wonder why he knows so much about black magic. Great film, let down slightly by some less than stellar effects at the end.


  4. Fantastic episode! I remember in the ’90’s when Universal re-released a lot of their monster films in “The Classic Collection” VHS format. Having discovered, and enjoyed, Bride of Frankenstein and Dracula’s Daughter this way, I wanted to try and complete the collection, like any good nerd. And that’s when I stumbled across “The Black Cat”. To convey my bewildered reaction to this movie is superbly summed up by you gentlemen in talking about some of the crazy scenes that happen in this movie. Scenes, that I feel, would be shocking by today’s movie standards, let alone 1934’s. It’s one of my favourites from that “Classic Collection”, but not one I could watch over and over again, if that makes any sense.
    This is fantastic podcast and it’s made me want to search out films I haven’t seen that you talk about so keep up the great work!


    P.S. – Here’s a commercial that was at the beginning of each of those VHS tapes that show some of the titles from the collection….

  5. Thanks for another entertaining show. It’s not exactly a Satanist film, but Michael Reeves’ The Sorcerers might make an intereresting double bill with the Black Cat, what with it being a very creepy movie involving Karloff and a young couple falling in with a dodgy crowd.

  6. My wife and I just saw THE BLACK CAT this weekend, so I was glad to hold off on listening to this episode until now. If anything, it helped me makes sense of it in my head!

    A couple of things:

    1) Did anyone else get a ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW vibe from this film?

    2) I couldn’t take the cheek-to-cheek “kisses” seriously because they reminded me of Madeline Kahn and Gene Wilder in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

    3) Whoa! I caught the MST3K reference with MANOS.

    4) Boris Karloff sleeping with Bela Lugosi’s wife and daughter predates Warren Beatty in SHAMPOO! (And maybe even Dustin Hoffman in THE GRADUATE? (which was an odd movie too because of all the vampire imagery that appears)) Whoa!

    5) The context you gents provided really helped make sense of a lot of things. Thanks!

  7. Though it has little to do with Poe’s short story, to be fair, it does feature other Poe tropes. Old friends at each others’ throats. A crime bricked over. Dead young women kept in pristine condition.

    It almost relates to Poe the way the film version of Naked Lunch relates to Burroughs.

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