Snoozin’ at the Opera

The Climax’s horror isn’t typical. Rather, it’s drawn from a place of sinister quiet – psychological more than physical. Direct from the early ‘40s, The Climax was co-penned by Lynn Starling, adding a definite feminine slant. Boris Karloff sets this story in motion through jealousy and inadequacy, killing his wife when she refuses to obey. It’s chilling, even now.

Resentment becomes a theme for The Climax. Opera singers begrudge their understudies and newcomers. They bicker over parts, and whine when not given starting roles. That carries into Karloff’s part of the controlling husband, unwilling to let his lover work or let other men pay to see what he claimed as his. So he kills her.

The domestic abuse is brief but cold and unflinching as depicted in flashback. Starling’s script speaks for women hoping to do more than stay at home; there’s a call for career women to break out in this story, made gorgeous through set design, color, and costumes. Released during WWII, The Climax stands for social change amid worldwide fighting, unusually persistent, and indirectly horror.

… bit parts introduce light comedy, never enough to lift The Climax from a barren existence

Karloff spends the runtime chasing Susanna Foster, a sound-a-like to the wife he killed. No one can sound like her, so he says. For the stakes, The Climax needs urgency; that’s never given, leading to a limp finish after the grisliest material happens in the first reel.

Universal sought to recoup their costs after their Phantom of the Opera remake, using this story more for recycling sets than injecting new thrills. That’s costly, and seemingly charging into battle against MGM’s musicals based on the litany of operatic performances stuffed into this snoozer. Yes, even for an opera movie, it’s too much.

With limitless production power, the film strangles itself and its pacing, and listlessly developing characters. A few bit parts introduce light comedy, never enough to lift The Climax from a barren existence. Ominous qualities recede, if invisibly present when Foster is forced to consider what happens if she disobeys Karloff. That’s thematically potent, then swallowed by elongated stage scenes with no narrative value. They simply look great, and that’s all The Climax seems interested in, not the suggested reality running in the undercurrent.

Video

If only everything could look like this…

The Climax comes from a Technicolor source. The endless array of color, the sheer density, and massive saturation makes that clear even without the technical knowledge. Every hue glows, magnificent and bold, with unreal yet striking flesh tones. It’s pure, flawless fantasy.

Scream/Shout Factory’s new scan dazzles too, limiting source damage to almost nothing. Perfect grain reproduction reaches a needed standard, no artifacts anywhere. Detail flourishes in these conditions, pulling precision detail from costumes and Oscar-nominated set design.

Contrast is nothing less than dynamic. Karloff primarily wears black, with little to no definition lost in the shadows. Density doesn’t let up, stellar contrast pure magic at its peak, slight clipping aside. All of this gives understandable leeway to dissolves. Those unavoidably lose the luster.

Audio

Credit this 1944 feature for keeping the upper registers in check, not so easy considering how high the singing voices go. In DTS-HD, The Climax holds together losing zero detail in the highest notes. Orchestral touches have range, strong in the low-end.

Dialog likewise fares well. Age does little if anything to diminish quality.

Extras

Historians Kim Newman and Stephen Jones handle commentary, with trailers and image gallery following.

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.

The Climax
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Movie

While challenging social norms and casting Karloff as a vicious, manipulative husband, The Climax lacks any energy or drive in its storytelling.

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