Classic Literature on Film blogathon – Crimes at the Dark House (Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White)


The stupendously hammy Crimes at the Dark House (1940, dir. George King) follows a plot not too dissimilar to that of the wonderful The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, the book it is loosely based on: a man pretending to be Sir Percival Clyde (Tod Slaughter) begins his murderous spree in a wealthy manor in order to inherit his estate, with the help of Dr Fosco (Hay Petrie). This is all very well, but I’m not going to lie: Crimes at the Dark House is bad. The Woman in White is not. In fact, it’s probably one of the best books of its genre and it was the first one that came to mind when my friend Paul from Silver Screen Classics announced his Classic Literature on Film blogathon. But the low-budget, melodramatic horror film does not do it justice, nor, I suspect, did it ever think it would. For starters, the book’s opening sequence is grand, mysterious and eerie, and while Crimes at the Dark House opens quite dramatically, it is entirely different altogether. Then, it’s only one hour and seven minutes long and, as a result, it overlooks a lot of subplots and key elements – the sisterly relationship between Laurie (Sylvia Marriot) and Marion Fairlie (Hilary Eaves), for instance, could have been better explored, as it is in the book. The film is dramatic and suspenseful when it needs to be, but apart from that, it lacks all the things that make the book great and, at times, it’s downright laughable. Now I’m not saying I don’t understand why it came to be that way. I get it. These George King-Tod Slaughter melodramas came out at an alarming rate and without the necessary budget, in order to fill a quota, and to be honest, they are not entirely un-enjoyable. I just found it interesting to witness the differences between the book and the film and I can’t help but wonder what Robert Siodmak would have done with it. Or even Edgar G. Ulmer. But alas, we’ll never know.

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7 thoughts on “Classic Literature on Film blogathon – Crimes at the Dark House (Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White)

  1. Pingback: The 2020 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon Is Here – Day Two – Silver Screen Classics

  2. Brian

    A recent issue of The DarkSide magazine had an extensive cover story on Tod Slaughter that I enjoyed quite a bit. As in your review, the article notes how Collins’ novel had to be severely condensed into 70 minutes, but it notes that even in that short running time, Tod as Sir Percival “murders a record five people… sets fire to a building and expires in a frenzy of babbling…” I still have yet to see a Tod Slaughter film, but after reading your review, I double-checked one of by Mill Creek DVD collections, and sure enough, it has Crimes of the Dark House along with The Crimes of Stephen Hawke. So one of these days… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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