The Black Cat (1934): Erotic nightmare

The Black Cat (1934)

Edgar G. Ulmer’s trash-noir Detour (1945) has a cult following. The film relates a fatalistic story of a guy so dumb he blames fate for the consequences of his own foolishness. Anne Savage, as the street-wise dame who incredulously falls for the sap, is memorable.

Earlier in 1934 Ulmer directed The Black Cat starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Loosely based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, the movie is a camp masterpiece.  Set in the wonderfully gothic modernist house of a sinister architect, it is a mad expressionist tale of abduction, revenge, sexual obsession, camp horror, and unbridled eroticism.  Sex is the primary motif and there is a sense of unreality with the action moving with the strange fractured incoherence of a dream. In a sense Ulmer prefigures the oneiric and sexual motifs of the classic noir period. A must-see.

This trailer I have created focuses on the pervasive eroticism… see the shapely legs of the comely heroine get the Von Sternberg treatment!



  1. Hi! Tony,
    What a very interesting and very concise review…with the added feature…the trailer. Which compliment your review very nicely…By the way; I have never watched Ulmer’s 1934 film The Black Cat” Therefore, I must seek it out to watch sometime this week…perhaps(?!?)

    Tony said, “This trailer I have created focuses on the pervasive eroticism… see the shapely legs of the comely heroine get the Von Sternberg treatment!

    Oh! Yes, I remember that you pointed the Von Sternberg treatment out in the 1952 film “Macao” starring actress Jane Russell and actor Robert Mitchum.

    “Wow,…The Black Cat”

    Thanks, for sharing…as usual.
    DeeDee ;)

  2. You certainly did eroticize this Tony! I have always loved that line that Karloff delivers when he intones “He has an all-consuming fear of cats.” THE BLACK CAT, with its art-deco backgrounds and hokey melodramatic trappings has always been my favorite Ulmer, and I was riveted to the images and dialogue you featured here in your very special homage. BTW, I just love the name of Karloff’s character in the film –Hjalmar Poelzig!

  3. Hey Sam, yes I love how Karloff rolls his eyes wide on “cats” and turns pointedly to Lugosi. Those names are great! And Dr. Vitus Werdegast for Legosi :)

  4. Hi! Tony,
    I hope to be watching the 1934 film The Black Cat very soon…considered the fact, that I just ordered the Bela Lugosi, box set over the weekend.

    Once again, Thanks for pointing it out to me and your readers too!
    DeeDee ;)

  5. Tony, excellent summary. The Black Cat is wonderfully atmospheric and one of Ulmer’s best films. I have had this on VHS for years and glad to see it is getting a well-deserved DVD release.

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