|The Climax (1944)
Run time: Unrated | 86 min | Horror, Musical, Thriller
Director: George Waggner
Writers: Curt Siodmak, Lynn Starling
Stars: Boris Karloff, Susanna Foster, Turhan Bey
A young soprano of the Vienna Royal Theatre is an unfortunate “problem” for the creepy house physician (Karloff). Filmed in gorgeous Technicolor, this suspenseful melodrama blends music, murder, and gothic madness.
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"The Climax" provides Boris Karloff not only with his first Technicolor film, but audiences with a handsome, humdinger of a mustache-twisting Victorian melodrama.
True, the story is not supernatural, but what does that matter when Boris keeps his deceased girl friend preserved beneath a gauze shroud in a secret room? If this is not sufficient, then just savor the mouth watering color photography, art direction and costumes.
This is one of the most visually handsome color films from the 40's, and ranks favorably against Minnelli's "Meet Me in St. Louis" in the warmth, depth, and clarity of its chromatic range, whilst simultaneously recalling Twentieth Century Fox's lighting schemes from "The Little Princess," and anticipating "Blanche Fury" in its tonal subtleties.
The settings are both sumptuous and historically accurate, (sharp eyed viewers will note that some of the same props show up later in Ulmer's "Bluebeard,") and provide the perfect background for the cloak and dagger theatrics.
Not to be outdistanced are Vera West's (one of Hollywood's most undervalued designers) late Victorian gowns–each a marvel of velvet, chiffon, plumes, and various embroideries, not to mention being a testament to the lost art of dressmaking.
Susanna Foster not only wears them charmingly, but sings like an angel, until Boris hypnotizes her. Thereafter, she is a bit somnambulistic–something of a problem given an impending operatic engagement.
Not to worry though, a turban-less Turhan Bey will save the day, in a nick of time, allowing Susanna to hit her high C on opening night, as scowling villain Karloff rushes off to a succulent fate.
That fate, as depicted, with Uncle Boris collapsing on a curtained bier that is laden with the corpse of his long dead (though still photogenic) inamorata, as they both go up in flames, is as aesthetically and dramatically delicious as they come.
One can almost imagine the the whoops of the popcorn patrons as they cheered this pyrotechnic finale in the Rialto's of yesteryear.
Not to be missed.
This is a psychological horror film with very little horror, owing a great deal to PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Karloff plays a mad doctor on the loose within an opera house but he is not as sinister as we would hope. Gale Sondergaard does well as the watchful housekeeper, but it is the state of the art Technicolor that is the real star here. It is impeccable. The Art Direction earned a deserved Oscar nom but the costumes also are deserving, though the category did not exist at the time the film was released. The excellent Score as well deserved Academy recognition but did not receive it. Enjoyable more for the visual splendor than anything else.
Even though the legendary Boris Karloff gave image to hundreds of cinematic monsters, psychopaths and mad scientists, he never played the titular character in Gaston Leroux' acclaimed masterwork "The Phantom of the Opera". Other contemporary horror stars did, like Lon Chaney and Claude Rains. Perhaps this production was Universal's attempt to involve Karloff in a horrific opera film-production anyway, re-using the expensive sets of the Phantom-film that was released one year earlier. The story is set in a prominent Vienna opera building where Boris stars as the resident physician, Dr. Hohner, and successfully hides a dark secret from his friends and co workers. After a short intro and a truly well choreographed flashback, we learn who Dr. Hohner murdered his fiancée and upcoming star-singer Marcellina because he feared her magically developing voice would come between their relationship. Now, ten years later, the new promising singer Angela with a voice almost identical to Marcellina's arrives at the theater and once again awakens Hohner's maniacal lusts. He hypnotizes her into never singing again, but Angela's young and devoted lover Franz carries on battling to make Angela share her wondrous voice with the world. "The Climax" is a beautiful movie to look at, with the terrific use of color and a nearly endless amount of great decors, but it surely could have used a slightly better screenplay. It's a rather predictable film with very few action scenes and only a bit of old-fashioned, legitimate tension during the last 15 minutes. There are many marvelous yet overlong opera sequences, even a lot more than in the actual "Phantom of the Opera", but they naturally slow down the film's pace and eventually even affect (negatively) the acting performances of Boris Karloff and Gale Sondergaard. It's an enjoyable mystery/thriller to a certain extent, but if you want to see Karloff at his most malicious, check out Val Lewton's "The Body Snatcher" or "Bedlam".
From the opening music to the final scene, this has got to be one of the most beautiful horror films ever made. Unfortunately, as I said before, technicolor can’t do everything for a film. While it is visually stunning in every way, it lacks a credible storyline, and that is what drags the film down. I guess one shouldn’t call it a horror film, rather it might a psychological type film, as there is only one murder( and a rather mild one at that). I thought that the opera singing was a bit too much, but what did I expect when the film is about an opera singer!! But I found it to be just like "The Shadow", they are beautiful to look at, but there isn’t anything else for the film to succeed.