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Cinema/TV, Fiction

Film review – Juggernaut (1936)

My notes on Juggernaut (1936)

The least-seen (and, frankly, least) of the handful of British films Boris Karloff made in the 1930s, when he would occasionally return to his homeland to get the sort of star vehicles which were surprisingly thin on the ground in Hollywood. It’s a drawing room melodrama with broad, theatrical performances and a ridiculous storyline – but it’s fun to see Karloff chewing the scenery in Tod Slaughter mode as Dr Sartorius, a terminally-ill physician obsessed with research into infantile paralysis he can’t get funded. After a prologue set in busy, bustling Morocco (cue turban extras and probably borrowed sets), the doctor relocates to the French riviera and gets deeper and deeper into evil as he consents to commit a tiny medical murder for a big pay-off then finds he has to contemplate more crimes to get away with it.

The basic set-up is an old, old story – bedridden millionaire Sir Charles Clifford (Morton Selten) calls in son Roger (Arthur Margetson) and gives him power of attourney over his flighty young French wife Yvonne (Mona Goya), who is running around casinos with a spendthrift gigolo (Antony Ireland). The scheming, resentful Yvonne brings Dr Sartorius into the household to expedite her inheritance, unaware that Sir Charles has changed his will to give Roger control of the estate after his death. After a fatal injection, nice nurse Eve Rowe (Joan Wyndham) loses the syringe in a magazine, and Sartorius becomes suspiciously paranoid and tyrannical about the missing item – prompting Eve to get suspicious, especially when Roger’s hand (seemingly bitten by Yvonne) goes septic and he takes dangerously sick. Karloff lurches all over the screen, exploding with furious gestures like tearing books in half, but also shows bitter regret after he’s committed murder for nothing.

When cast in potboilers like The Climax or Voodoo Island, Karloff would usually take the money and glower – but here he manfully chews chunks of scenery, and at least contributes to the entertainment. The cosy Clifford menage has that ghastly jollity which might make you sympathise with the villainess except Goya gives a truly atrocious performance as Yvonne, squeaking and mangling her lines like Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain (her horrorstruck reaction to the ‘injustice’ of learning that her stepson has power over the pursestrings is among the worst pieces of acting in the cinema). Joan Wyndham (a slender, attractive actress who wears evening gowns well) impresses by playing naturally and surprisingly made no more films after this – she’s the best thing here, and would seem to have had a lot of star potential. Director Henry Edwards works up a few minor mad lab scenes, but this isn’t a full-on horror picture.

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