Yes, Halloween is over. Yes, you're starting to see tinsel line department stores everywhere now. But don't fork over your leftover trick or treat candy to the neighbor kids just yet, as Chapman University's Dodge College will be hosting a screening of the 1934 horror classic The Black Cat Tuesday November 3 at 1pm at the school's Folino Theater.
The Black Cat is regarded as part of the canon of early Universal horror films, starring two titans of the genre, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. As such, daughter and son of those stars, Sara Karloff and Bela Lugosi Jr. will join the screening and talk about their parents' careers, growing up with two of the scariest actors in Hollywood, and field any other audience questions.
If I remember my Famous Monsters, The Black Cat is based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe, but 'based' is a generous word. The film concerns a young husband and wife on their honeymoon who meet Hungarian doctor Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi) on a train on his way to meet with his friend Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff). After an accident injuring the wife, Joan (Julie Bishop) they make their way to Poelzig's home for help. While she is being cared for, Werdegast accuses Poelzig of stealing his wife and betraying him in the war they fought fifteen years earlier. I won't go too in depth of spoilers, but there are two things of note: (1) the only connection to Poe's short story in this movie is Karloff's Poelzig having a black cat, which he strokes as he looks at (2) his collection of wives stored in glass, which is coincidentally the scene the film is most famous for today.
Although this film paired two of the most famous horror actors of the time, there has always been much speculation (or belief) that Karloff and Lugosi were rivals, a rumor that was fueled by Universal studios to boost ticket sales. Karloff is widely known as the bigger money-maker and bigger box office name, while Lugosi's star faded, a touchy subject rekindled in the 1994 Tim Burton biopic Ed Wood. Lugosi, played by Martin Landau in an Oscar-winning performance, believably channels the actor in the winter of his life, especially in the scene where he flips his shit over a fan calling him "Karloff's sidekick"
Many film historians and fans would also believe this rivalry, but Sara Karloff has spoken out against this. "The studio had this twosome at their beck and call, and it was certainly a money-making venture to promote a rivalry, I don't know to promote animosity, but I think that came later and supposition on the part of people that there must be animosity since Bela had some difficulties and my father was fortunate enough not to, but I think the rivalry is of studio-making," says Karloff in the documentary series Rivals. Lugosi Jr. has also gone on record to discredit this.
Karloff and Lugosi (or Lugosi and Karloff, if you're #TeamLugosi) acted together in at least three more pictures together and are still some of the most recognized faces in horror movie history. There's no denying that whatever sort of frenemy relationship they had going on in their careers, they've built a wide enough fan base and film credits to dispel any thought of it– until, that is, you reach The Black Cat's face-off between Karloff's Poelzig and Lugosi's Werdegast, which will no doubt get under your skin (you'll see what I mean).