The Black Cat (1934)

65 or 70 mins | Horror | 7 May 1934

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HISTORY

According to production files at the USC Cinema-Television Library, the film's final cost was $95,745.31. The MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library reveal that many scenes were considered objectionable due to sexual suggestiveness and "gruesomeness," in particular the scenes in which Poelzig is flayed and in which the cat is killed. Included in the suggestions by the Hays Office of things to change or delete were a scene of a cat licking blood on Joan's shoulder; the original opening scene of a wedding; the appearances of corpses; the suggestion of German nationality of the people attending the ceremony; the suggestion that the ritual was a parody of an actual religious ceremony; any sexual intimacy or hint of homosexuality; and references to Czechoslovakians in which they were described as "people who devour the young." Although New York, Kansas, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania state censors approved the film without deletions, Ohio, Ontario, Chicago, Quebec and Sweden all required the deletion of the flaying scene. Great Britain (where the film was titled The House of Doom ) and Japan released it with further deletions. The film was rejected by censors in Italy, because "it could create horror," in Finland and in Austria, because it portrays an Austrian as a "military traitor and main criminal, thus offending the national feeling of the people." When the picture was re-issued in 1938, the Hays Office granted it certification.
       This was the first film in which Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi appeared together. In a modern interview with Peter Bogdanovich, Edgar Ulmer confirmed that although the film had little connection to the Edgar Allan Poe story, the credit to Poe was retained to ... More Less

According to production files at the USC Cinema-Television Library, the film's final cost was $95,745.31. The MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library reveal that many scenes were considered objectionable due to sexual suggestiveness and "gruesomeness," in particular the scenes in which Poelzig is flayed and in which the cat is killed. Included in the suggestions by the Hays Office of things to change or delete were a scene of a cat licking blood on Joan's shoulder; the original opening scene of a wedding; the appearances of corpses; the suggestion of German nationality of the people attending the ceremony; the suggestion that the ritual was a parody of an actual religious ceremony; any sexual intimacy or hint of homosexuality; and references to Czechoslovakians in which they were described as "people who devour the young." Although New York, Kansas, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania state censors approved the film without deletions, Ohio, Ontario, Chicago, Quebec and Sweden all required the deletion of the flaying scene. Great Britain (where the film was titled The House of Doom ) and Japan released it with further deletions. The film was rejected by censors in Italy, because "it could create horror," in Finland and in Austria, because it portrays an Austrian as a "military traitor and main criminal, thus offending the national feeling of the people." When the picture was re-issued in 1938, the Hays Office granted it certification.
       This was the first film in which Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi appeared together. In a modern interview with Peter Bogdanovich, Edgar Ulmer confirmed that although the film had little connection to the Edgar Allan Poe story, the credit to Poe was retained to draw public interest. According to a modern source, E. A. Dupont was slated to direct the initial project, based on a script drafted by Tom Kilpatrick and Dale Van Every, which was shelved by Universal due to financial problems of the studio. In 1934, Ulmer wrote a different draft of the story, which was expanded into a screenplay by Peter Ruric. Kilpatrick later wrote continuities for The Black Cat , and was assisted by script clerk Shirley Kassel, who married Ulmer a year later. Modern sources also note that Poelzig's home was painted on glass by Russ Lawson and was photographed by Jack Cosgrove. Modern sources credit Jack Pierce with make-up and include Paul Panzer and Herman Bing in the cast, although Bing's appearance as a maitre d' in the beginning of the film was cut from the final print. The film was re-issued in 1953 as The Vanishing Body . In addition to many other features based on Poe's story, in 1941 Universal released The Black Cat , based on the same source, although the plot differs markedly from the original. It was directed by Albert S. Rogell and starred Basil Rathbone, Hugh Herbert, Broderick Crawford and Bela Lugosi. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Film Daily
19 May 34
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
4 May 34
p. 3.
International Photographer
1 May 34
p. 16.
Motion Picture Daily
19 May 34
p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald
26 May 34
p. 42.
New York Times
19 May 34
p. 18.
Variety
22 May 34
p. 4.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Carl Laemmle, President
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITERS
Story
Contr wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
2d cam
Asst cam
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
MUSIC
Mus dir
VISUAL EFFECTS
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Scr clerk
Supv secy
Still photog
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe in United States Saturday Post (19 Aug 1843).
MUSIC
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach.
DETAILS
Release Date:
7 May 1934
Production Date:
28 February--17 March 1934 and retakes for 3 days beginning 25 March 1934
Copyright Claimant:
Universal Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
4 May 1934
Copyright Number:
LP4664
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
65 or 70
Length(in reels):
7
Country:
United States
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Budapest, honeymooners Peter Alison, a mystery writer, and his wife Joan board a train bound for a resort near a small Hungarian town, and are joined in their compartment by Dr. Vitus Werdegast, a Hungarian psychiatrist. When the young couple falls asleep, Werdegast strokes Joan's hair, but Peter awakens and catches him in the act. Werdegast explains that eighteen years previously he left his wife to go to war, and has just returned from spending fifteen years in an infamous prison camp. When they disembark at the same town, the three share a bus, but just as the driver explains how the area had been Hungary's greatest battleground during World War I, the bus crashes and the driver is killed. On Werdegast's instruction, Peter carries an unconscious Joan to the fortress-like home of Werdergast's Austrian acquaintance, famed architect Hjalmar Poelzig. Poelzig has built his home on the ruins of Fort Marmorisch, which he once commanded. After Werdegast successfully operates on Joan, he accuses Poelzig of selling the fort to the Russians, who killed thousands of Hungarians. Werdegast also accuses Poelzig of stealing his wife while he was in prison, but their conversation is interrupted by the appearance of Peter and Joan. When a black cat enters the room, Joan's behavior becomes erratic, and Werdegast throws a knife at it and kills it. He then explains that cats are symbols of evil and, when they die, their evil goes into the nearest entity. Poelzig, however, counters that black cats are deathless and that Werdegast merely has a phobia. That night Poelzig takes Werdegast to a dungeon, where Werdegast sees, ... +


In Budapest, honeymooners Peter Alison, a mystery writer, and his wife Joan board a train bound for a resort near a small Hungarian town, and are joined in their compartment by Dr. Vitus Werdegast, a Hungarian psychiatrist. When the young couple falls asleep, Werdegast strokes Joan's hair, but Peter awakens and catches him in the act. Werdegast explains that eighteen years previously he left his wife to go to war, and has just returned from spending fifteen years in an infamous prison camp. When they disembark at the same town, the three share a bus, but just as the driver explains how the area had been Hungary's greatest battleground during World War I, the bus crashes and the driver is killed. On Werdegast's instruction, Peter carries an unconscious Joan to the fortress-like home of Werdergast's Austrian acquaintance, famed architect Hjalmar Poelzig. Poelzig has built his home on the ruins of Fort Marmorisch, which he once commanded. After Werdegast successfully operates on Joan, he accuses Poelzig of selling the fort to the Russians, who killed thousands of Hungarians. Werdegast also accuses Poelzig of stealing his wife while he was in prison, but their conversation is interrupted by the appearance of Peter and Joan. When a black cat enters the room, Joan's behavior becomes erratic, and Werdegast throws a knife at it and kills it. He then explains that cats are symbols of evil and, when they die, their evil goes into the nearest entity. Poelzig, however, counters that black cats are deathless and that Werdegast merely has a phobia. That night Poelzig takes Werdegast to a dungeon, where Werdegast sees, to his horror, the body of his wife, encased in a glass coffin. Poelzig explains that he loved her and also Werdegast's daughter, Karen, who died of pneumonia two years after the war. Werdegast is enraged and attempts to kill Poelzig, but suddenly cowers when a black cat appears. Later, while Poelzig secretly visits Karen, who is alive and is his wife, Werdegast plots the murder of Poelzig with his manservant, Thamal. Werdegast realizes that Poelzig plans to keep Joan captive, and the two men compete in a game of chess to determine her fate. They are temporarily interrupted by the police, who are investigating the bus accident, and Poelzig mollifies them by promising to drive the Alisons to the train that night. Peter is alarmed, however, when he discovers that the car is out of commission, his gun is missing and the phone is dead. When Werdegast loses the chess game, Thamal holds Peter and Joan hostage in separate rooms, but Werdegast secretly reveals to Joan that Thamal is still working for him, and is obeying Poelzig's orders until the time is right to kill him. Joan is surprised by the appearance of Karen, who believes that her father is dead. When Poelzig hears Joan tell Karen the truth, he takes Karen into another room and kills her. Soon, guests arrive for a cult ceremony in which Poelzig, who is the high priest, intends to sacrifice Joan. When one of the guests faints, there is a commotion during which Werdegast and Thamal help Joan escape downstairs. Peter tries to escape but is knocked unconscious by one of Poelzig's servants. After Werdegast finds Karen's body, he and Thamal handcuff Poelzig and hang him by his arms, after which Werdegast proceeds to skin Poelzig alive. Peter revives and, hearing Joan's horrified screams, comes to her rescue. When he sees Werdegast trying to help Joan get the door key out of Poelzig's hand, he misinterprets Werdegast's attempt to help and shoots him. As Peter and Joan escape, Werdegast pulls a lever that sets off explosions destroying Marmorisch. Outside, Peter and Joan escape unharmed and flag down a car. Later, on a train headed for Budapest, Peter reads a review of his newest thriller, in which the reviewer discounts the credibility of the story. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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