-Ominous warning from Dave Mallory (Boris Karloff) in “Night Key”
By 1937, Universal Studios was changing. The Laemmle’s had sold the studio, the classic logo with the airplane circling the globe had been replaced and the ever-present horror films were nowhere to be seen. Boris Karloff remained under contract but since he had become so entrenched in scary pictures, Universal wasn’t sure what to do with him. After several projects fell through, Karloff found himself headlining a thriller called Night Key.
Karloff plays an elderly inventor named Dave Mallory who has spent the last fifteen years trying to perfect a new wireless alarm system that uses light projection. Time is running out as Mallory is going blind, so he’s eager to sell his new system. His attorney has arranged a meeting with Stephen Ranger, Mallory’s former employer who stole a previous alarm system from him and has amassed a fortune. Mallory trusts his attorney to secure his future as well as that of his daughter Joan Mallory (Jean Rogers, Flash Gordon). However, the attorney is working with Ranger and, once again, Mallory is cheated out of success. But this time, he decides to seek revenge by using a device that proves the old security system is fallible. Unfortunately, master criminal “The Kid” becomes aware of this device and decides to use Mallory, which sets a series of events in motion with several lives in the balance, including that of Joan Mallory.
Karloff does a wonderful job of portraying an elderly scientist here and, for a change, he isn’t mad nor does he have unscrupulous plans. Here, is simply out to prove his new alarm system is better. Of course, we have the usual love interest to help the story move along as Joan is initially followed and then romanced by security guard Jimmy Travers (J. Warren Hull, The Walking Dead). Alan Baxter turns in a fun performance as gangster “The Kid” while keen eyes will recognize Samuel S. Hinds (Stephen Ranger) from countless films including the Dr. Kildare series as well as Pa Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life (1947).
Night Key isn’t necessarily a classic and it never really rises above a standard B picture. However, Karloff’s presence elevates the movie and it really is great fun to see him in a slightly different type of role. The movie received good reviews at the time, especially Karloff’s versatility. However, the movie is often overlooked despite being part of the original Shock TV package. Watch the trailer and seek it out on DVD as it deserves to be part of your Karloff collection. It’s readily available either as part of The Boris Karloff Collection or individually through the Universal Vault Series.
Next time, we take a look at a very different Karloff performance from the same year…West of Shanghai!