In 1952, Boris Karloff would star in the second film as part of his three picture deal with Universal. The Black Castle would see Karloff get second billing behind Richard Greene, who is perhaps best remembered for his 143 episodes of the television The Adventures of Robin Hood in which he had the starring role. Again, Karloff’s high billing was misleading as he really was only a supporting character. But, Karloff was happy for the lighter film schedule as he continued to also keep himself busy with radio and television appearances as well as traveling with his fifth wife Evelyn, whom he would be married to for nearly 23 years until his death in 1969.
In The Black Castle, Sir Ronald Burton (Richard Greene) travels to Austria hoping to find out what happened to his two friends while they were visiting the sinister Count Karl von Bruno (Stephen McNally, Winchester ’73). Von Bruno is actually seeking revenge against the men who are responsible for setting some wild natives upon him in Africa, costing him his right eye. Von Bruno is married to Countess Elga (Paula Corday, The Body Snatcher), a marriage she had forced upon her. Wild animals and death traps lurk at every corner as Sir Ronald seeks vengeance while also trying to escape with his life and that of the woman he has fallen in love with, Countess Elga.
Karloff stars as Dr. Meissen, personal physician to the Count. However, his loyalties are with Countess Elga as he ultimately sees what an evil man the Count really is. His medicinal knowledge plays a key role in the final plot twist which involves premature burial. The role of Dr. Meissen is actually smaller than that of Voltan in The Strange Door. He is once again playing the part of the hero, which is certainly against type considering what he had been doing for the previous 20 years or so in Hollywood.
The Black Castle would mark only the second time Karloff worked with Lon Chaney Jr. Their first film together, House of Frankenstein (1944), would see both actors in an equal role. However, by 1952, Lon Chaney’s star status had slipped dramatically due in large part to his alcoholism. Here, Lon Chaney plays the mute Gargon, a brute who meets a rather unfortunate end.
Sharps eyes will recognize Michael Pate, who stars here as Count Ernst von Melcher. He was also in The Strange Door as Talon. Sci-fi fans might also recognize John Hoyt as Count Steiken. He was the first doctor on the television series Star Trek, playing Dr. Philip Boyce in the pilot episode “The Cage.”
Visually, The Black Castle surpasses The Strange Door, due in large part to producer William Alland. He would find even greater success two years later with Creature from the Black Lagoon. I find both movies have a lot of similarities, mostly to the gothic settings and expansive sets. I would lean a little more towards The Strange Door because of Charles Laughton’s performance. Karloff’s roles in both films are mostly interchangeable but he fairs better in The Strange Door. Both films are part of the Boris Karloff Collection and well worth your time.
Karloff would complete his Universal contract with Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953). He would spend a lot of time over the next several years on television as well as some rather poor film appearances (The Island Monster, not a horror flick, and Sabaka) before returning to the horror genre. Tomorrow, we’ll see what’s happening on Voodoo Island (1957).