Behind the Mask (1932)
This Columbia project checking in at a fast moving 68 minutes manages to combine the crime drama, the spy genre and the horror film all rolled neatly into one.
Silent film star Jack Holt having made the transition to sound opens the film in quiet conversation with fellow inmate Boris Karloff while on parade in the prison yard. Boris is biding his time while Jack wants to be back on the streets now. Boris gives Holt a contact that might offer him some cover and work at the same time.
Having successfully escaped Holt finds himself in the company of beautiful Constance Cummings whose father might possible be attached to a narcotics ring. This has to be the earliest dope film I’ve come across.
Claude King as her father appears to be under the thumb of a master criminal. Also popping up is a heavily bearded Edward Van Sloan as some kind of a weird doctor/scientist working at the King house as well.
Karloff shows up newly released from prison to take his place in the organization. That of chief thug and hitman. He’s quickly given a tongue lashing for sending Holt into the operation. Surprise! It seems he’s an agent of the law whose gone under cover to put a halt to their narcotics ring. Thankfully Holt is clean as someone has to turn out to be decent here to romance our leading lady Constance.
For excitement we’re treated to an airplane sequence on the ocean where “Dear Boris” is to leave a man behind and let him “sleep with the fishes.” The romantic angle picks up steam as we head towards the end and the horror element that awaits.
It’s off to the graveyard and more before the mystery of who runs the entire operation and where he gets his inside information of police procedures can be unveiled. Rest assured their will be a collision of our cast members to figure it out.
One look at the film poster should tell us that Boris was now bankable due to his portrayal of the Monster the year previously in James Whale’s classic Frankenstein. Lost over the years due to his association to the horror film is the fact that he could be quite menacing without the grease paint. He makes for a fine gangster at times.
Edward Van Sloan joins Boris once again having worked with him in Frankenstein as Dr, Waldman who met his end at the hand of the Monster.
I really was taken with the beauty of Miss Cummings. Her efforts on film stretched all the way into the eighties although the bulk of her work seems to be from the era of this film. She actually made her film debut in another gangster film featuring Karloff, The Criminal Code.
This programmer from the home of Harry Cohn’s Columbia studios is worth a look if you enjoy a rapidly paced mystery or like me try to see all things BORIS.