Ulmer. On a shoestring budget Ulmer produced one of the best 1930’s horror films (The Black Cat) and one of the absolute staples and best films in film noir (Detour). Both show off Ulmer’s talents for truly outstanding visuals—you can draw a pretty direct line between them. Having both a top 500 film of all-time and two films in the top 100 of their respective decade is pretty rare here at spot #168—certainly the strength of Ulmer’s case. The archiveable filmography is light though and it isn’t lost on me that The Black Cat and Detour both run under 70 minutes so when you combine them they’re less that like half the films in the archives (about 2 hours 15 minutes).
Best film: Detour. Ulmer’s Detour is grimy, sweaty, intense and certainly a standout even in a genre loaded with brilliant films. It can go toe to toe with Double Indemnity and Out of the Past.
total archiveable films: 3
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 1 (Detour)
top 100 films of the decade: 2 (The Black Cat, Detour)
most overrated: Nothing for Ulmer. Detour is Ulmer’s only film in the TSPDT consensus top 1000 and it sits at #572 and I’m at #441 so I have it underrated.
most underrated The Black Cat is #1175 on the TSPDT list and I think that’s fairly close- but with those visual I’d find a spot for it most likely between 800-100.
gem I want to spotlight : The Black Cat
- Great film for multiple reasons: Yes, we have Bela Legosi and Boris Karloff going head to head but to the more seasoned admirer of cinema we have Ulmer’s expressionist work with shadows and set design
- Universal vehicle after Dracula and Frankenstein
- The Edgar Allen Poe story has nothing to do with the film
- Legosi’s mannerisms are very strong—it’s a performances that walks the line of effective over-the-top-ness and campy—I think it’s the former
- Ulmer shows what he’d do 11 years later in Detour/noir- we have constant rain and shadows here
- The Karloff cult here in Austria hints at Nazism
- Great use of lighting- the bed Karloff gets up in—lots of wonderful shadow work
- All atmosphere- the narrative isn’t brilliant- we have some bad pauses and an overall weak cast outside of the two dynamic leads—ulmer makes up for it with ominous house and architecture
- It’s pretty cool to see the two leads together like this- even if it’s not pacino and de niro in heat or stewart and wayne in liberty valance
- Tremendous set piece—the spiral staircase in the basement
- There’s a good tracking shot right after through the basement as well
- An awful wide edit to signify day change half way through
- The musical cues are not always on and solid
- Occult, uniform and symbolism
- HR- top 10 of the year quality film
- Might be the greatest director associated with inexpensive poverty-row filmmaking- B-pictures—he or Sam Fuller and this was long before Cassavetes and the term “indie”.
- A genre specialist- expressionist work with shadows, light and set design in both—film noir and horror
- Not surprised he was “discovered” by the French critics and championed as an artist
- Constant rain and shadow
- Austrian born
- The Black Cat
By year and grades
|1934- The Black Cat||HR|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives