This three-film collection showcases Boris Karloff in fine form, entering the acting arena of drama, adventure and crime. Although Karloff is still widely recognized as one of the true masters of horror in film history, and his success in the genre was incomparable, there were numerous roles in non-horror films in which he excelled. This collection presents three films starring Karloff: Devil's Island (1939), The Invisible Menace (1938), and West of Shanghai (1937).
These films are part of the Warner Archive Series, which means that they are REGION FREE DVD-Rs burned on demand. However, as many of their releases, just like any studio archive collection, they can be pretty pricey. This one can be seen as a bargain in comparison.
Boris Karloff didn't become a star until he was 44 years old. These three films are vintage Karloff, released in the most prolific decade of his career. It's also worth nothing that, in the early 30s, Karloff co-starred in several critically lauded crime films. Yet, after the release of Frankenstein in 1931, his film career had an unabashed focus towards horror and thrillers. It wasn't until the 1940s that Karloff ventured into comedy and back to the stage, but in the mid-to-late 1930s, Karloff was already moving from Universal Studios horror to make an adventure film with John Ford at Fox Studios, while also developing the Charlie Chan serial series, and heading over to England to star in several great and recently re-issued classic horror films. West of Shanghai, The Invisible Menace, and Devil's Island are premium examples of Karloff venturing beyond horror during the prime of his career.
Devil's Island (1939) - 3 1/2 out of 5 Stars - Karloff plays a doctor who has been sentenced to Devil's Island prison for treason, and, after an altercation with the warden, is under the threat of death. However, after an accident occurs, and Karloff's medical skills are called upon, the drama is woven tighter. Devil's Island was the best film that director William B. Clemens ever made, however he was also recognized for his efforts in the Perry Mason, Philo Vance, Nancy Drew and The Falcon serial mysteries.
West of Shanghai (1937) - 3 Stars - Karloff plays a power craving Chinese general, who, acting in the means of a warlord, holds oilmen and missionaries hostage over an oil dispute in an outpost in Northern China. The film was directed by John Farrow, an artist adept at creating tension in adventure, as shown in his best efforts 1939's Five Came Back about plane crash survivors, and 1953's Hondo, a John Wayne western so good that it might be the best film the legendary John Ford didn't direct because it feels like a John Ford film throughout. West of Shanghai might not be on the same level, but it's darn close.
The Invisible Menace (1938) - 2 1/2 Stars - Karloff plays a suspect after a murder at an Army camp. It is a crime-based mystery that grows into a standard thriller. It's another film directed by John Farrow.
Devil's Island is the best of the lot, however, the other two films are very deserving of repeated viewings, and they will appeal to fans of classic films and fans of Boris Karloff. You know what you get when you purchase from the Warner Archive, Paramount Archive, Universal Vault, Columbia or MGM Collection. The quality of the print is far better than what has previously been out there, the sound quality has been mastered, and, although there are no bonus features, the only real qualms viewers have concern the price and not the film or disc. At least Warner decided to put three films in one collection instead of selling them separately, and for the same price ($19.99).
West of Shanghai is my second favorite in the collection, I think that it might also be a BETTER film than Invisible Menace. It might have been easy to write off these films considering how prolific Karloff was during this era, but they are premier examples of his work. These films, along with Howard Hawks' Scarface, John Ford's The Lost Patrol, Juggernaut, Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Peter Bogdanovich's Targets, are three of the finest examples of Karloff the well-versed actor, working outside of the horror genre, with the same graceful, yet sometimes sinisterly defined presence and pure acting class.
Great triple feature. One of the best that Warner Archive has released. If it wasn't a triple feature, it would be inarguable that the price is too high, especially for a DVD-R with no bonus features. However, I am all for the print, and I'm glad there were two of Boris' films that I knew I enjoyed and one that I had the subtle pleasure of watching for the first time.