THE CLIMAX (1944)
Directed by George Waggoner
Written by Curt Siodmak, Lynn Starling (screenplay), Edward Locke (play), George Waggoner (librettos)
Starring Boris Karloff, Susanna Foster, Turhan Bey, Gale Sondergaard, Thomas Gomez, June Vincent, Goerge Dolenz, Ludwig Stossel, Jane Farrar, Erno Verebes, Lotte Stein, Scotty Beckett, William Edmunds, Maxwell Hayes, Dorothy Lawrence, Jack Richardson
THE CLIMAX was set to be made as a sequel to PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and used many of the same stages from that film. Nevertheless, even without the title, add some opera madness with Boris Karloff and I’m in no matter what the hell the film is called.
Karloff plays Dr. Friedrich Hohner, a physician who treats those who work at the local theater and is obsessed with the star performer Marcellina (June Vincent). With Marcellina long dead (murdered in a jealous rage at the hands of Hohner), a new voice joins the theater, Angela Klatt (Susanna Foster) who seems to have the same talent and voice as Marcellina. This sparks Hohner’s obsessions once again, putting the rising star in Hohner’s sights. Hohner utilizes a hypnotizing machine to mesmerize Angela to sing for him and him alone, endangering her chances of singing the lead in the show.
While there are elements of horror and intrigue, THE CLIMAX is mainly a film that harkens back to the musical extravaganzas of yesteryear. Much time is spent showing the production of the opera behind the scenes and then the play itself. It’s a film that celebrates the love of the stage and director George Waggoner knows how to capture the spectacle of it all. The lavish colors of the musical numbers contrast greatly with the dismal streets outside of the theater where Karloff roams the streets in sorrow. The director also highlights the horror as he zooms in close and relies on our association between Karloff’s face and the feeling of terror to cause chills.
Karloff, of course, is fantastic. He has such an amazing presence. There’s a really cool moment in the film that reveals a lot about Karloff’s character Dr. Hohner hears Angela’s voice for the first time. When someone asks who that is, Karloff asks, “Do you hear it too?” It’s a quick line but it really speaks volumes about Hohner’s sanity and obsession. This is the first movie in which Karloff appeared in color to much of the world’s dismay as THE CLIMAX would actually reveal that the Frankenstein actor actually did have lime green skin. Just kidding. His skin was orange like Trump’s. All kidding aside, seeing Karloff in full color did prove to be somewhat of an odd experience as he is locked into my memory as always being in black and white. Sort of like Charlie Chaplin and the Three Stooges. Add color and something is just…different. Still and as always, Karloff delivers a memorable turn as the sinister Svengali.
While the film is an excellent example of mixing genres, I feel it leans a bit more on the musical side and less so on horror. While the presence of Karloff is great, it isn’t enough to make this one of his best films. Simply casting Karloff in a film doesn’t make it scary. He’s got to do something actually scary in it and aside from shooting out a creepy “Blue Steel” stare, there really isn’t a lot to shudder at here. The film basically follows the same story as PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (it also shares the same stage and set for it), though it also reminded me of the DR. PHIBES films as Karloff keeps his dead lover in a glass case under his home. Though familiar, this is a lavish film with wonderful performances and if you are a fan of those old musical films and horror, THE CLIMAX leans slightly into the macabre, but only by a bit.