The Dark Eyes of London Review

A deluge of horror features was piled higher and higher by Bela Lugosi in his post-Dracula high. He and other contemporaries spent much of their later careers chasing the initial success that had awarded them with the role of a lifetime as a great monster of literature. Boris Karloff at least fared somewhat better than Lugosi, who by the time The Dark Eyes of London was dumped on him had been assigned to the B-Movie merry-go-round after Paramount changed their production focus. It left Lugosi as a man whose name value would swiftly diminish, but could be capitalised on in the few years it had left to bulk up some smaller features that weren’t going to be remembered all that well. Case in point, The Dark Eyes of London, which has aged poorly and been remembered by few.

There are plenty of reasons for that, and few for StudioCanal to drudge it up and offer it a re-release. There is no shortage of cheap Lugosi horrors, but The Dark Eyes of London is the glummest and dullest of them all. It has the big project value of a late-1930s feature, with a focus on its titular setting providing an empty crawl for the opening credits and not much else. What follows is more or less the same. Old hat mentalities, Scotland Yard and trilby-affixed officers are all great stereotypes and iconographic choices for horror, but not when they have nothing to do. The Dark Eyes of London has as much to do with policemen investigating a series of bodies showing up butchered in the River Thames as it does with a man failing to capture his career-high.

Hugh Williams’ leading role is fine, but there is no build as to why he isn’t as trusted as other, nameless officers. The lack of depth is a stubborn block that frequently affects the intentions of director Walter Summers, whose articulation of these scenes is done with brief, basic flickers of the camera. Thankfully he utilises Lugosi as much as he can, drawing him as a supporting performer and more than just a name to staple to a project. Great it is to see Lugosi; it is not his finest work. That was, unfortunately, far behind him. It can be seen as he swans around the screen with ample performance behind him, but no way to cement himself as one of the greats. It’s a fault of the script and his failure to adapt an interesting role with simple lines.

At best, The Dark Eyes of London is a watchable piece with a series of unforgivably dull misfires that will leave deeply set horror fans satisfied, but everyone else itching for the barely 80-minute running time to let up. The Dark Eyes of London suffers often from its rather hammy supporting players, the one-room they are constantly stuffed into and the revolving door policy Dr. Feodor Orloff (Lugosi) appears to have, as agents, police and everyone else pops their head in for a chat and a plot point to pursue elsewhere. He could never escape the named intensity. An Orloff here, a Lugosi there. It was, at the end of it all, just another name to capitalise on a fading star, albeit one that gives him the decency of a role rather than a shuffling appearance.

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