Monday, October 26, 2020

HALLOWE'EN FUN: The Black Castle, 1952

Ah, Hallowe'en! Crunchy leaves underfoot, cozy sweaters, and movies. Oh, the movies! The Universal Studios logo, the Swan Lake theme, and the familiar and welcome chills. Of course, that is when we go back to the early 1930s with The Mummy and Frankenstein and Dracula. Today let's visit with a favourite from my childhood, the Universal-International release of The Black Castle, 1952.

Academy Award-winning art director (How Green Was My Valley) Nathan Juran (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) directed the story and screenplay by Jerry Sackheim (The Strange Door, The Boy and the Pirates). It is, to quote a character in the movie, "a mad adventure."


The castle in the Black Forest is the domain of Count Karl von Bruno played by Stephen McNally. Within the castle walls is a crowded and desolate graveyard. It is that graveyard that is our introduction to the story. Two servants are preparing the coffins of their mistress Countess Elva von Bruno played by Paula (Rita) Corday* and the dashing Englishman Sir Ronald Burton played by Richard Greene.

*Our leading lady's birth name was Jeanne Paule Teipotemarga. She was billed as Rita Corday from 1943-1947, as Paule in The Exile, 1947 and Paula until leaving the profession in 1953. I am sticking with "Rita" throughout this article.


Richard Greene

Of one fact, the servants are unaware; the couple is about to be buried alive! They know their fate and so does the Count. The Count is a madman and a murderer, and that is what brought Sir Ronald to the castle under an assumed name.

Count von Bruno had crossed paths in Africa with a group that included Sir Ronald and his two closest friends, Sterling and Brown. Sir Ronald was not involved in the confrontation, but it was a violent one in which Count Bruno lost an eye. The Count eventually took vengeance by killing the two Englishman. At least, that is what Sir Ronald hopes to prove by accepting an invitation as Richard Beckett to hunt in the Black Forest.


Michael Pate, John Hoyt, Stephen McNally

Count von Bruno has friends of his own who emulate his brutality and lack of morals. Michael Pate as Count Ernst von Melcher and John Hoyt as Count Steiken have met Sir Ronald and found him a man not to be trifled with as a sword fight in the local tavern proved to their surprise. Count von Bruno hopes to get some amusement out of the situation but realizes the guest will require watching.


Boris Karloff

A man such as Count von Bruno would certainly retain a physician of sorts at his estate. Boris Karloff plays Dr. Meissen, whose enigmatic smile keeps the audience guessing as to his thoughts and his motives, although it is clear he enjoys arousing the ire of his betters.



Lon Chaney Jr.

Lon Chaney Jr. plays Gargon, a longtime servant of Count von Bruno. He lost his tongue to natives in that battle in Africa. Does he recognize Sir Ronald from that time? He may be confused about the guest, but he is not confused about his duties as he gleefully helps his master torture a leopard imported for the pleasure of the hunters assembled at the castle.



Stephen McNally, Richard Greene, Rita Corday

Countess Elga is a sensitive soul who cannot bear to see the leopard ill-treated. Married to the Count by contract six months previously, they are a poorly matched pair and the audience can see her valiant struggle to maintain her own personality under such power. It is not a surprise that she and "Richard Beckett" are drawn to each other.


Richard Greene, Rita Corday

The castle is filled with disturbing characters and incidents. It has a working dungeon, and it is filled with hidden passageways and booby-traps. Beckett and Elga discover this on an impromptu tour. Beyond this passage is a drop to a pit of alligators. They escape unscathed this time. Who will not?



Rita Corday, Richard Greene

The night before the hunt a ball shows the side of the Black Castle shown to the aristocracy. Tenents only enter to pay ever-increasing taxes to the Count. Enemies, as we know, see an entirely different side of the estate. Note: Bill Thomas, a nine-time Oscar nominee and winner for Spartacus was in charge of the costumes for The Black Castle, and I would love to see these in colour.



Tudor Owen, Lon Chaney Jr.

There is proof of murder in Elga's jewellery, a trap in the hunt of the leopard, loyalty, and perfidy on display as the "mad adventure" of Sir Ronald Burton unfolds. The loyalty of Sir Ronald's servant Romley played by Tudor Owen broke my heart as a child which plays directly into my nostalgic affection for The Black Castle

First seeing the movie as a youngster, it was part of my experiencing the world of Boris Karloff beyond Charlie Chan at the Opera and of Lon Chaney beyond The Wolf Man. The movie had a certain Classics Illustrated vibe with its stalwart hero, damsel-in-distress, over-the-top villain, and the setting of a castle where anything might happen. Much applause to the Art and Set Direction for the foggy forest, the windy wayside, and the booby-trapped castle. 



Henry Corden

Perhaps you have a youngster who has not yet become jaded by the video games and comic adaptions of today who might enjoy a good, old-fashioned mysterious castle filled with horror icons. If so, I heartily recommend this movie. Perhaps you know a fan of The Flintstones who might find it interesting to see Henry Corden who was the voice Fred from 1977 on as one of the Count's servants. Fender is a bigger than usual role for the Montreal-born Corden at this time when he was usually uncredited on-screen.

I look back with fondness at my first viewing of The Black Castle. The chills may have abated somewhat with the passage of time, but I have not become so cynical as to not enjoy the thrills and delights offered by this entertainment. For the timid youngster, you may assure them that "they lived happily ever after."



Richard Greene, Rita Corday


If we could interrupt our leading lady and leading man, I am certain they would wish you a very HAPPY HALLOWE'EN!
















16 comments:

  1. Impressive looking castle. Probably a miniature, but still.

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    1. It is very cool. That must be what happens when the director began as an art director.

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    2. I was thinking the same thing, Rich. That is an epic castle, a perfect setting for these characters and their gongs-on.

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  2. I can see why you loved this film as a kid: John Hoyt AND Boris Karloff! ("arousing the ire of his betters" - so neatly put!) PLUS Lon Chaney Jr! AND a pit of alligators! (Every movie should have one.) This definitely sounds like a must-see - Thanks so much for highlighting it for October!

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    1. I had a lot of fun revisiting it and sharing The Black Castle. Thanks for reading. I'm sure you'll have fun with the movie.

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  3. HENRY CORDEN was the second person to do the voice of FRED FLINTSTONE. ALAN REED was the first. I remember Henry from an ep of THE DORIS DAY SHOW where he played JOE WHITECLOUD. Joe was a friend of Doris Martin's dad BUCK WEBB(DENVER PYLE). From THE BLACK CASTLE to DORIS DAY!

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    1. I first saw Henry Corden on TV as the landlord on The Monkees.

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  4. I wrote my earlier post before I read the whole article so I hadn't seen the part about FRED FLINSTONE yet. So Henry Corden didn't get to work with BEA BENADERET(one of your favorites) because her passing, sadly, was in 1968. MISS BENADERET had a great and impressive career!

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    1. Henry did a guest voice on The Flintstones during its early years. He tried to rob Fred. Also, he and "Cousin Pearl" were in an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. It is interesting how careers can cross.

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  5. I've mentioned before that BORIS KARLOFF had a part in THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI. It starred TOMMY KIRK and DEBORAH WALLEY. In her movie career Deborah got to work with FRANKIE AVALON, ANNETTE FUNICELLO and ELVIS PRESLEY. She was the second GIDGET. I just thought of something. Deborah was in BEACH BLANKET BINGO with LINDA EVANS and BENJI with PETER BRECK. Linda and Peter-two of THE BARKLEYS from THE BIG VALLEY!

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    1. I recently saw Deborah in an excellent episode of Route 66 (YouTube) called "Ten Drops of Water." I must make a point of watching the Route 66 episode Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing with Boris, Lon Chaney Jr., and Peter Lorre this week. No better time.

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  6. Now, how did I ever miss this one? Some beloved cast members, and you can't go wrong with a mysterious castle. I always say.

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    1. Oh, you and your mysterious castles!

      The Black Castle is a genuine Hallowe'en treat. It is a candy apple of a thriller.

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  7. Speaking of HALLOWEEN I read that the LEAST favorite candy that people liked was candy corn. The person that wrote the article couldn't believe that people liked those "circus peanuts" better than candy corn. I like candy corn sometimes. When I was a kid I liked those circus peanuts but later they tasted too sweet. They're probably nothing but sugar!

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    1. Rockets were a favourite of mine when I was a trick-or-treater. I liked their sour flavour. I think they are called Smarties in the States.

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