Fri 21 Nov 2008
THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU. Columbia, 1942. Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, ‘Slapsie’ Maxie Rosenbloom, Larry Parks, (Miss) Jeff Donnell, Don Beddoe. Director: Lew Landers.
This movie came before the filmed version of Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), but from all accounts, thereís no coincidence involved in the fact that the plot of Boogie Man so closely resembles that of Arsenic. Boris Karloff was still in the Broadway run of the latter, and from what Iíve read, the movie was done to cash in on its popularity.
(For some reason thatís not entirely clear, Karloff wasnít offered his Arsenic role in the movie; Raymond Massey played the part, but Peter Lorre, on the other hand, was in the Arsenic film. You tell me.)
The main concept of Boogie Man is that Boris Karloff, as mildly befuddled and bemused Professor Nathaniel Billings, a role he could have played in his sleep but never did, is trying to create a legion of super-powered zombies in his basement laboratory.
Unfortunately all of the door-to-door peddlers he tries his invention on fall out of the machine as corpses Ė and no super-powers. That’s delightfully dimwitted powderpuff salesman Maxie Rosenblum as one of the subjects right here on the left.
Some reviewers whose comments Iíve happened to read have complained that nothing in this film is very scary. It is to laugh. In spite of the title, this is not a horror film at all. It is a comedy. And while I donít think I laughed out loud, I may have giggled to myself a few times. I know I smiled a lot.
Playing against Mr. Karloff is Peter Lorre as Dr. Lorencz, the local sheriff, undertaker, and justice of the peace, along with a few other titles. The good doctor favors a wide-brimmed black hat and a long black coat with a Siamese kitten with a nose for crime and corruption in one of the inside pockets.
I got the feeling that Boris Karloff was playing it straight (or as straight as he could be, knowing full well that it was a comedy) and Peter Lorre, whose comedic skills are much greater than you may ever have realized, was doing his best in a droll, expressive deadpan way (not a contradiction) to throw his fellow thespian off-balance.
They make a good team, and after this movie they made a two or three other horror films together that were also really comedies, including The Raven (1963) and The Comedy Of Terrors (1964).
Also in the cast are Jeff Donnell, later to become George Gobelís wife Alice on his TV show in the mid-1950s, and Larry Parks, later to become Al Jolson.
As the blissfully unaware divorcee Winnie Shaw, who oohs and aahs over every decrepit aspect of the rundown country inn the professor is more than willing to sell to her, as long as he can keep working in the basement, Miss Donnell made more of an impression on me than he did.
One warning. I said that this was a comedy, not a horror movie. Before wrapping up this review I went to IMDB to read what the commenters there had to say, and sadly to say, some of the humor went right over their heads. Theyíre too young, I guess, but I have to admit that some of the funny stuff was awfully corny. Itís part of the charm, thatís all I can say.