The Old Dark House

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The Old Dark House film poster


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The Old Dark House is a 1932 American pre-Code comedy horror film directed by James Whale. Based on the 1927 novel Benighted by J.B. Priestley, the film features an ensemble cast that includes Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart, Charles Laughton, Lilian Bond, Ernest Thesiger, Raymond Massey and Eva Moore. Set in interwar Wales, the film follows five travellers who seek shelter from a violent storm in the decaying country house home of the eccentric Femm family. The adaptation rights to Priestley's novel, a social commentary on contemporary British class structures, were acquired by Universal Pictures at Whale's insistence following the completion of Frankenstein (1931) and during development on The Invisible Man (1933). The screenplay was written by Benn W. Levy, who had previously scripted Waterloo Bridge (1931) for Whale and Universal, with uncredited contributions by The Invisible Man's R. C. Sheriff, and serves as a largely faithful adaptation of the story. Whale was entrusted with selecting the film's largely British cast, several of whose members were theatre colleagues of his with minimal film experience, and would appear in several of his later films.The Old Dark House failed to match the contemporary critical and commercial success of Whale's other films, and was withdrawn from circulation after Universal lost the rights to Priestley's novel, which was adapted for film again in 1963 by William Castle for Columbia Pictures and Hammer Film Productions. Initially deemed a lost film, Whale's colleague Curtis Harrington eventually succeeded in recovering most of its original elements, which were restored by the George Eastman House. With the re-evaluation of Whale's filmography, The Old Dark House has garnered widespread critical acclaim, and is recognized as both a cult classic and one of the director's most significant works. It was placed at number 71 on a Time Out poll of the best horror films.