THE CLIMAX.  Universal Pictures, 1944. Boris Karloff, Susanna Foster, Turhan Bey, Thomas Gomez, Gail Sondergaard, George Dolenz, June Vincent, Ludwig Stossel, Scotty Beckett. Screenplay by Curt Siodmak and Lynn Starling based on the play by Edward Locke. Directed by George Waggner.

   What do you do when you have lavish opera house sets left over after making a major production like Universal’s remake of The Phantom of the Opera with Claude Rains in the lead?

   If you are Universal Studio in the Forties you make another horror movie with an operatic background capitalizing on those sets, film it in Technicolor as you did the first, and fill it with familiar faces and best of all a famous horror star to lead, Boris Karloff.

   The Climax for reasons unknown to me is one I had never even heard of before, much less seen, and while it is, like the Claude Rains Phantom, as much musical romance with comedy elements as horror or mystery, it is still well worth seeing for it handsome sets, and variations on the original.

   We know from the beginning, so no spoilers are involved, that Dr. Friedrich Hohner (Karloff) the physician who cares for the performers at the opera house murdered the beautiful soprano Marcellina (June Vincent) and hid her body using the secret passage between the opera and his nearby dwelling so it appeared she ran off. He was her rejected lover, and furious that her voice gave her such fame it was taking her away from him.

   He is, of course, quietly mad in only the way Boris Karloff could be quietly mad, but it is nice to see him getting to be so in white tie and tails in beautiful Technicolor lush surroundings and not so much as a mad scientist hair out of place. He must have appreciated the change too because there is no sense of overacting to his subtle, and more threatening for it, killer even when he finally cracks.

   I suppose for many that was a drawback, but I for one appreciated the break.

   Enter the beautiful soprano Angela Klatt (God that name!) played by Susanna Foster and her musical coach and young want to be lover Franz Munzer (Turhan Bey). They are auditioning at the opera house operated by director Thomas Gomez when Hohner overhears Angela singing exactly as Marcellina did and passes out in a dead faint.

   Not too shocking considering he murdered her to silence that hated voice.

   Gomez, who is of course having trouble with his annoying current Diva Jarmilla (Jane Farrar) and obsequious tenor (George Dolenz), is delighted to have such a great talent at hand and immediately cast her in a key role in his current production. Her debut is brilliant, and with its success Gomez determines to produce again the opera Marcellina was to star in when she disappeared.

   But unknown to any of them the night of her debut Hohner convinces Angela to come back to his office where he must examine her after her performance and there he hypnotizes her telling her only he can control her voice and gives her a spray which reinforces his hypnotic suggestion each time she uses it.

   When she leaves he goes upstairs to the locked room where the beautifully preserved body of Marcellina is kept on a filmy tier among lush satin curtains and swears he will destroy the voice that once took her away from him again.

   At the press affair announcing the new production her voice does fail, and Karloff suggests she must stay with him while she recovers. But of course under his hand she does not recover.

   Munzer is suspicious though. With the help of old soldier and opera employee Carl Bauman (Ludwig Stossel) Munzer sets out to free Angela though he has no idea from what exactly. When Gomez reluctantly cancels Angela’s performance, Munzer and Carl, using Carl’s status as a highly decorated soldier get the boy king (Scotty Beckett) to order Angela perform at a command performance.

   With the help of Carl and Hohner’s housemaid (Gale Sondergaard) who had been Marcellina’s maid and worked all these years for Hohner hoping to prove he murdered her mistress, Munzer gets Angela away from Hohner and summons the police.

   At the opera Munzer smashes the bottle of throat spray freeing Angela from Hohner’s hypnotic grip, but just as she begins to sing Hohner overpowers Carl and …

   For most of you, I assume there will be far too much light operatic singing, too many musical numbers, nowhere near enough suspense, horror, or drama, and while attractive neither Bey nor Foster quite romantic enough to compensate, but despite that the film is handsomely produced, well directed and written, and has a certain charm of its own. Sans the big dramatic moments of Phantom I frankly liked it a bit more than the Rains film, maybe because I didn’t have to put up with Nelson Eddy or Edgar Barrier chewing scenery or compare it to the Chaney original.

   It’s a curious little film, something different on Karloff’s resume, and one I suspect he enjoyed filming having a decent budget for once, elegant costume, and no prosthetic make up to suffer under. There is something to be said for getting to see a master flex his muscles without breaking a sweat.