Crimes At The Dark House (1940): Lady In White Is Messing With Me
0 comment Saturday, April 12, 2014 |
Directed by George King
Written by Edward Dryhurst, Frederick Hayward, and H. F. Maltby, Based on the novel "The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins
Starring Tod Slaughter, Sylvia Marriott, Hilary Eaves, Geoffrey Wardell, Rita Grant, Elsie Wagstaff, and Hay Petrie
"Wenches like you want taming badly!"
Surprisingly, our drama opens up completely free of any type of prologue or other creative segue like so many of Slaughter�s other films. We�re immediately catapulted into the sweltering atmosphere of Australia circa 1850 just as a ship sets sail from a large mining field. Percival Glyde is just getting ready to tucker in for some long-deserved rest on the ship, taking one last glance at his jingling sack of gold coins before going to sleep. It turns out that it was indeed his last glance as we spy the boots of some fiend stalking across the ship, stopping momentarily to retrieve a sharp wooden stake from the ground. We soon see that the fiend is none other than Mr. Tod Slaughter himself who gets straight to business by pounding the stake into Glyde�s head with one powerful blow from his mallet! Ay caramba!
Not satisfied with just robbing the cranially pulverized corpse of its rings and coins, Toddy retrieves a letter from the dead man�s pocket, informing Glyde that since his father has unfortunately passed away he is to inherit the estate at Blackwater Park as the new baronet. Well, who wouldn�t take the opportunity to steal the dead chap�s identity in order to reap all of his prestige and money? Toddy�s no fool, as evidenced in his guttural chuckling at reading the letter. Sounds like trouble is a-comin� to London!
Apply directly to the forehead.
The new and improved Percival Glyde, all thin mustached and bedecked in swanky designer clothes, is driven up to his newly (and ill-) acquired mansion in a carriage as all the servants prepare for the arrival of their master. And who better than Margaret Yarde (a.k.a. La Pinan from The Face at the Window) as housekeeper Mrs. Bullen to get those silly little servants into shape to impress Big Papa as he grandly returns from his gold digging expedition? No one, that�s who! Glyde delights in hearing from Mrs. Bullen that none of the current servants remember their master. Phew, crisis adverted! Glyde also makes his intentions well known when he spies the delightfully curvy maid Jessica (Rita Grant), causing him to lick his lips lasciviously and make really obvious groping gestures with his hands. You can practically see his trousers starting to get a little tighter.
Meeting family lawyer Merriman (who thankfully has sketchy memories of Glyde as a boy) in the library, Glyde begins to bask in his new found position until Merriman drops the proverbial ball onto Glyde�s lap. Turns out there�s a massive mortgage on the house and property, not to mention the real Glyde�s father has left a hefty debt in his name. Having spent all of the gold from the Australian mines on his new wardrobe, the false Glyde is in some serious shit.
But wait! It seems that the elder Glyde was promised by the patriarch of the Fairlie family that his daughter Laura would marry Percival as payment for a favor that Baron Glyde did for the family. Percy now seeks to marry Laura so that the poor girl will take his outstanding overdraft, in addition to giving him more money to swim in and a beautiful and obedient girl to boss around. Things are looking brighter already!
At the Fairlie residence, Laura (Sylvia Marriott) is painting a mural and talking with her beloved sister Marion (Hilary Eaves) about cute boys and shopping. Turns out Laura has a crush on her art instructor Paul Hartwright (Geoffrey Wardell) but gaps in social status has made public expression of their feelings impossible. Add to that Laura�s whiny and hypochondriac Uncle Frederick who is constantly bemoaning his imagined pains and reminding the stubborn girl that she is to marry Percy and only Percy and you have the formula for great living. He lets her know that Glyde will be calling on her that night to make his proposal and probably molest her in the process. Sounds like a date.
Pardon me. I'm still a little stuffed from that baby I had for lunch.
Glyde isn�t a one-woman type of guy though, for he�s busy scheduling a risqué rendezvous with Jessica back at the mansion to take place at night. In the woods. Shady much? Mrs. Bullen ruins Glyde�s game to tell him that he has some guests who are requesting an appointment with him in the study. The baronet discovers that it is Dr. Isidor Fosco (Hay Petrie), head physician of the local asylum, and the ebony-veiled Mrs. Catherick (Elsie Wagstaff). The little man claims that Glyde is the father of Catherick�s mentally disturbed child Anne, having had bedtime relations with the woman before shipping off for Australia.
Of course Percival denies these atrocious rumors, saying that he couldn�t possibly be the man responsible for Catherick�s pregnancy. The woman agrees with the man, too. But that�s because she claims the devil standing before her is not Percival Glyde! Toddy is outraged by these claims, but his guilt is written all over his face. Although Fosco is at first puzzled by this change in gears, the greasy doctor soon figures out the name of the game and decides to make a proposition of his own after leading Catherick out.
He blackmails the impostor into paying him a hefty sum of money in order to keep the deranged Anne (whose complete devotion to her mother is only matched by her intense hatred of her estranged father) locked away in the sanitarium under proper care. The false Glyde concedes, but he lets Fosco know that he�s not one to be crossed, saying: "Be loyal to your trust and it will pay you handsomely. Betray it and I will feed your entrails to the pigs." Slaughter delivers this line in sweaty relish, spitting out the last word but making it sound like honey-dripped poetry. Fosco informs Catherick of the deal and the matter is then settled.
Laura is dreading the arrival of her odious suitor, seeking consolation in the strong, safe arms of Paul. It�s a rather well-composed scene, with the shadows of ivy leaves playing across the lovers� faces in a very Romantic fashion. But then Percival shows up and breaks up all the prettiness, acting like a complete ass to Paul (as per Slaughter�s habit) and tickling Laura�s fingers with his delightful facial hair. Glyde wants their wedding to take place immediately, nary listening to one word the poor girl has to say as he ravishes her mouth. Laura�s in the dumps, Percival�s high on life, and Anne has escaped from the asylum. Wait, what?! Turns out the Catherick girl has busted free from her cell and is now head hunting for daddy dearest, as Glyde learns from Fosco who meets his back at the mansion. So much for the doctor�s tight security!
Is this your chewing gum?
Oh well, Glyde can�t let a little homicidal maniac get in the way of his mojo. Letting the blushing Jessica into his private compartment, the two embrace in a lustful kiss. But Jessica�s got the blues, mainly because Glyde�s proposed to Laura, leaving the poor maid all alone with child. Thaaat�s right! Percy has gone and knocked up his saucy little chamber maid. For an on-the-fly impostor, he�s sure doing a great job picking up the real Glyde�s old habits! Toddy�s a little dampered by the news, but that certainly won�t bring his spirits down.
Oh wait, there�s a wild-eyed Anne staring at the couple mid-embrace from the window! Now things are bad! Jessica screaming up the stairs of ghosts, Glyde hurls a glass at the shadowy form of his non-daughter. Awakened by the noise, a sleepy Fosco in pajamas is ordered by Glyde to hunt the witch down, but he complains that he doesn�t even have pants on yet. In one of the most brilliant pieces of dialogue ever written for the screen, Glyde screams, fists shaking in the air, "Curse your trousers! Curse you! Oooh, curse everything!" Pure. Gold.
Out on the windy grounds, Paul spots the billowing white gown of Anne Catherick as he�s strolling through the night. Trying to catch up to her, he notices a note the girl posted to a tree, the message persecuting Glyde as a scoundrel. Paul confronts the baron over the matter and the two exchange heated words, the handsome painter promising to give the aristocrat a good thrashing if he dares harm Laura in any way.
The mess on Percy�s hands doesn�t end there, as the ever-weeping Jessica begins to grate his nerves. Seeing a resolution to this angle, Percy plans on eloping with his dimpled darling that night, saying he will meet the girl in the creaky old boathouse on the grounds. Hmmm, suspicious? But Jessica dutifully arrives, falling into her lover�s arms even as he begins strangling her. Woops, slight change in plans! Cackling that Jessica is now "a bride of death," Percival unceremoniously dumps the gal�s corpse into the lake�s depths.
Having satiated his murderous appetite for the moment, Glyde then weds Laura in a beautiful ceremony where rice is thrown and tears are shed. Taking both Laura and Marion back to Blackwater, Percival proceeds to feel Laura up right in front of Marion in one of the most beautifully awkward scenes it�s been my pleasure to watch. The evening doesn�t bring anything better, as a drunken Percival stumbles about the room slurring his words and thrusting his pelvis about willy-nilly.
On the left here are the bathrooms and on the right is certain death.
Although distressed by the tremendous space between the newlyweds� quarters and Marion�s room, the sisters retire to bed as Percival curses at the ethereal form of Anne when she looms in front of the house again. Setting his mind on more pleasurable matters, Glyde slowly ascends the staircase to the bedroom as Laura weeps on her pillows. Glyde�s claws grip the banister with wanton desire and, just as the door creaks open and Laura sees her new husband, Glyde�s depraved cackle rings out just before the screen fades out. Some pretty heavy stuff for an older film, but it�s a great moment that completely conveys Glyde�s villainy to full effect.
The next morning Percy is distressed by his immense pile of bills, so he attempts to fool Laura into signing a document that will entrust all of the woman�s funds to Glyde. Laura and Marion raise a fit because Percy won�t let Laura read the fine print, so Glyde explains in a calm, complacent, and gender-friendly manner "What do women know about business? If I explained it to you you wouldn�t understand it!" I can�t describe how hard it is to suppress laughter when Slaughter spouts these caddish bits. Percy claims his bride distrusts him and insults Marion when she tries to intervene, causing her to leave the house in a huff.
Having retrieved a letter from Anne that was addressed to Laura, Fosco and Percy plan to finally end the lunatic�s reign by striking at the soft spot in her heart. So naturally Percy sets an appointment with Mrs. Catherick in the boat house, and before you can cry foul play, Glyde has wrung the life from the woman�s larynx and sent her corpse to the fishies. Noting the rather strange and sudden disappearance of Anne�s mother, Dr. Fosco blackmails Glyde for an additional five thousand pounds to keep his trap shut. Percy agrees, but we all know he has other plans for the good doctor in the near future when he strokes his chin in morbid contemplation.
That night the deadly duo wait in the local cemetery by Catherick�s grave and, sure enough, the ghostly Anne arrives and collapses into a weeping heap upon the burial mound. Pouncing on their prey, Percy is astounded by the girl�s profound likeness to Laura and Fosco notes that she is extremely sick with pneumonia. Taking her back to the house, Fosco puts Anne in bed and cautions Percy to keep her as warm as possible. The least bit of chill could prove deadly in her condition�
My dear Fosco... you really do have a physician's touch.
Already we see the twisted gears in Glyde�s head turning, and he immediately sets about pushing the bedridden Anne up against an open window, letting the freezing night air blow onto her frail form. Executing the second part of his plan, Percy sneaks up on Laura (right as she�s praying no less!) and subdues her as he steals her away to Fosco�s sanitarium. Ahh, see where he�s going with this? Now with the dangerously insane Anne deader than a doornail and the fiery Laura locked away in a cell, Percy now has complete control over the situation. Brains and villainy prevail. The End.
Not really. After giving sniffling Uncle Frederick a verbal beatdown, Marion returns to Blackwater only to find the shrouded body of her "sister" in a casket. Poor Percy is just broken up over the early and insanely inexplicable death of his new bride. But hey, that�s life. At the asylum Laura is raving and ranting, claiming she is not the real Anne Catherick. Fosco comforts her with some warm condescension and later he and Percy drink to their success.
Marion and Paul are distressed and highly suspicious over the whole affair, so the artist poses as a solicitor and enters the asylum under the pretense of asking Anne about her mother�s belongings. Relieved at her lover coming to the rescue, Laura informs Paul of the whole dirty business. Then Paul unleashes the beast within him and takes down a guard in a flying fury of fists! Don�t let that artistic demeanor fool you� this guy can kick some serious ass.
Back at Blackwater, Fosco asks of his money and, ever the gentleman, Percy gives the doctor a mere fraction of what he asked for and tells him to shut up and like it. Fosco instead goes on a tirade, shrieking Percy�s laundry list of crimes and schemes to the heavens so that an eavesdropping Marion can hear all the dirty details. Not only is he now confronted with an informed Marion, but Percy is given another shock when Fosco threatens that he shall retrieve the record of marriage from the local church that states that the real Percival Glyde had married Mrs. Catherick before his departure to Australia! What a pickle!* So Toddy settles this by catching Fosco mid-flight and wrangling him into a faint, just before he snatches up Marion and carries her up the stairs to the bedroom.
*Since, ya know, the REAL Percival Glyde would have already known that he was married to Mrs. Catherick, so since Toddy didn't know that he must be an impostor. It's all VERY circumstamtial and I'm not sure how the marriage record would really prove anything, let alone in a court case, but let's just go with the show, folks! Dohohoho!
Death by Snuggie.
Paul and Laura race to the mansion just as faux Glyde attempts to get his grubby hands on Marion. The artist tussles with the cackling villain, the two rolling across the floor and trying to strangle each other. Getting the upper hand, Glyde snatches a pistol and shoots Paul in the arm just before he escapes out the window. Fosco, having awoken from his spell and made it to the parish church, tears the marriage record from the archives and determinedly states to bring the impostor to justice.
Too bad for the doc Glyde has snuck up on him, clubbing him with the pistol and then hanging the slimy toad by his neck from the church bell rope! The clanging of the bells alerts the group to Glyde�s whereabouts and they arrive just as the fiend sets fire to the room in order to destroy the evidence. With the gang banging at the front door, Glyde runs back to the archive room only to be trapped in the den of hellish flames! The murderer�s deranged screams of "I�m not Sir Percival Glyde! I don�t want to die!" go unheeded as the white hot embers consume him and the entire church, while the sisters and Paul can only look on in silence.
Along with Sweeney Todd and The Face at the Window, Crimes at the Dark House composes the definitive Three Musketeers of Villainy that makes up Slaughter�s most outstanding work. Here his heavy may be without a real name of his own, but he deserves just as much praise as the Demon Barber and Chevalier Lucio del Gardo. The False Percival Glyde, as he is credited, is without a doubt the biggest prick in Tod�s entire resume! Between his raging sexual deviancy and incessant chauvinism, Glyde gets under your skin in ways never touched with some of Tod�s other scoundrels. His tight, curly hair, round face, and twirly moustache give him the look of a fatal pussy cat, and he has all the condescending mannerisms and devilish tendencies that a personified feline would most likely embody!
Is that you, Bozo?
The cast is full of fresh, young faces to boot, with the exception of a few Slaughter regulars here and there. Sylvia Marriott and Hilary Eaves make a great team, two fiery-hearted sisters who bravely stand up to Glyde�s treachery with a bravery and independence that is to be applauded. Geoffrey Wardell is also a delight as Paul, playing the mild-mannered hero for the majority of the film before kicking the action into high gear during the climax when he reveals his amazing fighting capabilities. I especially love how he growls when he�s wrestling with Glyde� the boy�s got spirit! And of course what fun could we have if Toddy didn�t have a right hand man in deviousness? Hay Petrie is whimsical as the crooked physician, and the theatrical gesticulations he made while calling Glyde out on his crimes brought a bright smile to my face.
Truly, Crimes at the Dark House is on par with The Face at the Window, as it is a fully realized, organic cinematic creation. Both of them contain bombastic performances from Slaughter delivered with ghoulish delight and are engaging and fun right from their blood drenched openings to their adrenaline-infused climaxes. (On a somewhat unrelated note, watching these films, especially consecutively, makes a horror fan wish that through the innovation of technology and copious amounts of black magic there could be a massive gathering of all of Tod�s greatest villains in one film, forming a practical Legion of EEEVIL to terrorize all of Britain. The Chevalier and Faux Glyde on the same team? What wonders there would be! Hollywood producers searching for a formidable force of darkness for a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen sequel: LOOK NO FURTHER!)
While the story here is somewhat standard in the realms of Victorian melodrama skullduggery, all of the performers under George King�s direction imbue their characters and the events with a real passion that can�t help but inspire excitement in the viewer. The typical trappings of the windswept cemetery mansion and the dismal cells of the insane asylum are given vibrant life, creating a fast paced atmosphere that any terror connoisseur would greedily bask in. Crimes at the Dark House comes highly recommended for any self-deserving rogue looking to perfect their criminal skills and general disregard for all humanity. Tips on identity theft thrown in with no extra charge.
Ain't life grand, kids?

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