When I first saw a poster for 'Night Key' I thought it was a horror movie. Indeed, the way it seems to have been marketed, with Karloff's looming face lit with green to the aghast expression of the movie's starlet, would lead anyone to believe that this was just another movie in which Karloff was some kind of demented scientist, doomed to utter his oh-so familiar line "But I must be given time to finish my experiments". Some posters even carried the tagline "Death! In A Wax Museum!".
What a surprise then to learn that it's actually a brisk crime movie that positively tumbles along without pausing for breath.
Karloff plays David Mallory, a scientist who has his revolutionary security system stolen years earlier by the scheming Stephen Ranger (Samuel Hinds). After suffering through years of poverty, he finally devises a system that can beat it. When he is once more double-crossed by Ranger, he resolves to bring down his nemesis once and for all by means of science. He will totally discredit his foe by attacking and beating Ranger's city-wide installed security systems.
However, it's not long before his activities attract the attention of a brutal gang of robbers, who kidnap Mallory's daughter (Jean Rogers) and force her brilliant father to aid them in the largest crime spree the city has ever seen. To make matters worse, Mallory is slowly losing his sight.
Not only is the movie huge fun, but it's all over, credits included, in 68 minutes. Karloff is seen here playing older, Einstein wig and jam-jar glasses, but his gentle-voiced Mallory shines through the disguise as always. It's no doubt his presence in the movie that has meant it is sometimes included in Universal Horror collections. Indeed, it was included in Universal's 'Shock Theater' package for television.
Odd then, when you consider that Universal considered horror to be a dead genre at the time. In fact, Carl Laemmle Jr, then the head at Universal, had specifically requested a new type of film for Karloff. This was the result, and yet it went on to be marketed with all the doom and gloom of Universal's earlier monster classics.
What a surprise, also, to see Samuel S. Hinds playing such an unapologetic bastard. Generally thought of as a paternal, warm presence (he played George Bailey's father in 'It's A Wonderful Life'), here he's utterly contemptible as the mogul slighted by the fact that the woman he loved, loved Karloff instead. Directed with snappy verve by actor Lloyd Corrigan (who stepped in when the original director pulled out), 'Night Key' is a cracking little thriller, and hugely entertaining. If you can track it down, it's the perfect way to spend 68 minutes.