James Whale's "The Old Dark House"
This release was originally produced for laserdisc by Image Entertainment, and I have to give them full credit for holding up on its release until a better print could be found than the so-so one Kino put out on VHS. Happily, one surfaced in the form of a pristine 16mm print made from a negative struck long ago from the archival 35mmm print at George Eastman House. It was infinitely better than any previous copy released, and it more than justified the keener resolution a laserdisc could offer.
Now, twenty-one years later, Cohen Media has released the film on DVD and Blu-ray mastered from the 35mm elements on deposit at the Library of Congress, and the result is that "The Old Dark House" looks as good today--or perhaps even better--as any of the classic Universal horror films now available on home video.
When they first approached me to do the commentary track, I said okay--but were they aware that one of the cast members was still alive? They weren't, so I put them in touch with Gloria Stuart, who said, "Of course I'll do it--I'm the only one still breathing!"
We assembled at her house on Bundy in West LA one sunny afternoon, set up our equipment, and ran the film for her without sound and asked her to say anything that came to mind. She did, and was delightful in doing so.
Then we wound the tape back and ran key scenes, during which I asked her questions. The producer, Scot Campbell, had a bear of a job editing it all together, but the result was worth it--the only great Universal horror film with a commentary by one of its original participants.
I thought that with Gloria's commentary, mine would be unnecessary, but the aforementioned Mr. Campbell wanted it too (much to his later regret, I imagine). Talking on tape for 70 minutes is not one of my core compentencies, and although I guess it came out okay, it was a lot of work and I have no desire to ever do it again.
That said, buy this DVD for the superb quality of the print and for Gloria Stuart's commentary. Then boil some potatoes, dig the little black spots out of them, and gather around the set. And if anyone wants beds... well, you'll know what to tell them.
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