The Dark Eyes of London (1939) REVIEW

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CARL SYKES reviews The Dark Eyes of London, the first UK film to receive a H for Horrific Certificate!

Dark Eyes of London aka The Human Monster

TITLE: The Dark Eyes of London aka The Human Monster
DIRECTOR: Walter Summers
CAST:  Bela Lugosi, Hugh Williams, Greta Gynt, Edmon Ryan, Wilfred Walter, Alexander Field

Review of The Dark Eyes of London 1939

The Dark Eyes of London opens upon a body, floating in the Thames, slowly washing upon the shore.

We learn that five bodies have all appeared in similar circumstances over the last few months and Scotland Yard is suspicious about the manner of the deaths, especially as each person held a life insurance policy that was paid out upon their death.

Inspector Larry Holt (Hugh Williams) is assigned to the case and sets out to discover the truth behind the mysterious spate of drownings, accompanied by visiting American Lieutenant Patrick O’Reilly (Edmon Ryan).

Meanwhile, Insurance Broker Dr.FoedorOrloff (played by everyone’s favourite screen-vamp, Bela Lugosi) is loaning a large sum of money to a Mr Henry Stewart (Gerlad Pring), an inventor.

The grateful Stewart asks if there’s anything he can do as a show of gratitude and Orloff suggests he makes a donation or, better still, pays a visit to The Dearborn Home for the Destitute Blind to see the good work that is undertaken there.

When Stewart’s body is found in the Thames mud flats, his daughter Diana (Greta Gynt) vows to find out who killed her father whilst Holt begins to draw his suspicions towards Orloff.

Based upon the novel by Edgar Wallace, The Dark Eyes of London was made on a tiny budget with a script which appears, at times, to stumble from scene to scene and acting that is occasionally as wooden as the sets but, despite all this, the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

The scenes are often dark and brooding and Lugosi gives a stellar performance as awful Dr Orloff.

During the scene with Stewart (mentioned above), in true Dracula style, Orloff fixes Stewart in his gaze and, hypnotically, tells him exactly when to visit the Home whilst his victim sits entranced in his chair.

It’s a nice, and not-too-subtle, nod to Lugosi’s most famous role and adds an extra air of menace to the Orloff character.

There is a clear theme of ‘difference’ running through the film, most noticeably the difference of disability (often portrayed menacingly either by Dearborn’s blind and disfigured man-servant Jake or seen in Diana’s alarmed reaction to being surrounded by the men in the Blind Institute) or the difference of the foreign (Orloff’s accent and glare an indicator of evil, whilst the American O’Reilly provides moments of humour, often as a stark contrast to the stiff-upper-lip of the British cast).

The Dark Eyes of London (1939) REVIEW 1
Bela Lugosi tops the bill in Dark Eyes of London (1939) ake The Human Monster

The ending comes as quite a shock and is still disturbing some 60+ years later; audiences in the day must have been shaking in their seats, indeed this was the first UK movie to receive the H for Horrific certificate from the British Board of Film Censors on its release.

There is even a clever twist ending (which this reviewer has no intention of spoiling) that will catch some less observant viewers out.

The Dark Eyes of London is by no means the cream of British cinema but is a well-paced and menacing film which holds the audience’s attention from beginning to end and, perhaps even greater than that, it allows Lugosi to showcase his true talents, something which Hollywood often stifled, and to show what he was capable of given the right role.

CARL SYKES is an avid film fan living in South Wales. Outside of his full time job at a University, he spends his free time working as a Film and TV Supporting Artist and trawling for obscure and alternative films, which he then reviews on his film blog.

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