Entering Without Breaking

Minus Boris Karloff, Night Key easily slips into the pantheon of forgotten double bills. It’s rudimentary, quick, cheap, and thrill-less until the end.

In steps Karloff though, and suddenly Night Key holds a definite bravado. He’s not asked to do much, playing an elderly scientist, slowly going blind, and looking for a fair payout from a crooked security business owner. Rather than a monster or mad scientist, Karloff acts gentlemanly. Developing the technology to break an alarm system, he uses this ability merely to annoy and pester rather than steal.

Night Key still sees electricity as fantastic; Karloff isn’t far from Frankenstein in that regard. But, there’s a next step, using an early laser system to better electronic alarms. In the loosest way, that puts Night Key into the sci-fi genre, although now it’s less fiction.

Night Key entertains as much as speaks for the working class

Center to this post-depression story is that of a man seeking payment for his work. That’s universally relevant. The ‘30s brought about significant Union activity, that which might have saved Karloff’s character grief when his patents were stolen. Night Key entertains as much as speaks for the working class.

There’s an additional layer to this cheapie too, that of a privatized police force run by Samuel Hinds. Ironically, Hinds himself lost his savings during the stock market crash, only to turn in this role where he plays an exploitative businessman seeking to turn this city in his favor through his company. Not only does the city pay for his services (under the banner Ranger Security), but it’s Hinds who knows – before the police – where break-ins happen; his team arrives first, creating immediate publicity and marketing potential.

This plays out through middling dialog, taking a turn when Karloff finds himself forcibly working for a local mob crew. Enter Alan Baxter as “The Kid,” stiffly portraying the gang leader, offering zero emotion. Night Key finally gains some energy through Baxter’s role though, a bit of wild science splashing visual effects on screen, then leading to a car chase finale copied from any number of the period’s organized crime flicks. Good guys win, all is made right, roll credits. Comfort food, and little else – aside from Karloff.

Video

A premium example of vintage transfers, Shout Factory’s fourth Universal Horror Collection set begins with this brilliant presentation. Organically soft yet untouched by digital tools, the images bask in classical qualities. Encoding precisely manages grain, working to establish detail from what is, undoubtedly, a modern scan.

A few brief scratches aside, Night Key’s print shows limited damage. No gate weave either. Flawless gray scale works extremes as well as the middle grades. Strong black levels capture grand shadows when sneaking into stores at night, and adding boldness to electrical beams during an action scene.

Fidelity excels. Facial definition even appears in a few close-ups, unusual for the era.

Audio

Excuse the stock score. As the tracks begin (the first around 6:55), heavy static invades the DTS-HD mono track. That’s unfortunate.

Everything else sounds great, noticeably recorded via on-set mics, sightly loose yet natural. Marginal echo doesn’t impede quality, rather pairing to a usual ‘30s era aesthetic.

Extras

Tom Weaver could commentate the history of phone books and it would be worth hearing, as is his commentary track on this disc. He’s briefly joined by Dr. Robert J. Kiss, author and Karloff historian. Trailers and galleries follow.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Night Key
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  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

Night Key isn’t prime Universal, but it’s raised in stature by way of Boris Karloff’s starring role in an otherwise typical b-feature.

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