Karloff, the Uncanny, plays John Ellman, a musician and former convict who is set up as a murderer of a judge by a group of criminals who wanted to see that judge dead and gone. Only two witnesses know about Ellman’s innocence, doctors Nancy and Jimmy. Sadly, their fear permits Ellman to die in the electric chair. Guilt-ridden, they contact their boss, doctor Beaumont (Edmund Gwenn from a ton of classics), who has been doing experiments in the resurrection of the dead, to bring Ellman back to life. And while the scientific world praises Ellman’s resurrection, Ellman has a different plan: revenge.
This was an interesting experiment, in that it mixed the Universal style horrors (along with one of it’s greatest stars) with the 1930’s gangster films that Warners was so good at. Directed by Michael Curtiz, it was a good mixture of both genres and predates film noir in a lot of ways. Karloff is as good as always, being both sympathetic and frightening in a role that was obviously modeled after his Frankenstein performance, but still his ability to be able to communicate make it a completely different vision of horror. His demeanor changes ala Jekyll & Hyde, when he’s alive and dead, almost like it was two different actors. And Karloff was a great actor, so he pulls it off with the greatest of ease. Edmund Gwenn shows up as well, Kris Kringle himself, in a role of a sympathetic yet ambitious scientist. This is one of the most underrated horror films of the 1930’s, features a lot of suspense and action, and good acting. The only weak thing about it is that it features a lot of dated comic relief, so prevalent in the Warner Brothers horror films (like Doctor X and Mystery In The Wax Museum). The ending is also pretty cornball, talking about how they shouldn’t have played with God and crap. Me smells the hands of the censor! But still, it’s a great film, and comes highly recommended.