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Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

When my master says, "Krull, do this thing," I do the thing, whatever it may be.

Krull (Oskar Homolka)

Director William Castle emerges from the fog at the beginning of Mr. Sardonicus (1961) to warn us we’re about to see a story of “gallantry, graciousness, and ghouls.” He returns near the end of the film to ask us to vote whether the villain deserves “mercy or no mercy.” This Castle film is not a favorite of mine and needs this extra participation to spark some fun.


Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis), a London physician, has developed a treatment to cure paralysis. One day he receives a letter from Baroness Maude Sardonicus (Audrey Dalton), an old flame who summons him to Gorslava to treat her husband, Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe.) The Baron wears a mask to cover the frozen grin on his face and threatens to torture Maude unless Sir Robert cures him.


The main problem for me is the casting. We don’t need to see familiar faces in every movie; however, the owners of these unfamiliar faces have little charisma. Either that or they take things too seriously. I know there’s some dark material here, but the actors aren’t quite up to the task of delivering it without at least a little humor.


As Krull, the Baron’s henchman, Oskar Homolka fares best. His character has some… well, character. One eye is missing, but he doesn’t wear a patch and we must see the thin ropes of skin that keep his eyelids from opening all the way, without quite closing. He’s stereotypically a victim of the Baron’s cruelty, but ultimately has a chance to get retribution.


The screenplay by Ray Russell, based on his novella, Sardonicus, isn’t bad. It has some clever touches. For example, if you had “hysterical rictus” and hated your appearance, you’d probably remove all mirrors from your castle, too. I also like the flashback that explains the Baron’s condition, although I’m skeptical that his experience would cause such an extreme reaction.


Sir Robert is naïve to think some hot towels and gentle massage would remove the grin from the Baron’s face, especially since other doctors already tried that. However, he’s wise to want to… throw in the towel. The Baron is so desperate, though, that he’ll accept any treatment, no matter how experimental, if he can be cured.


On paper, Mr. Sardonicus is OK; I’d like to read the novella. It’s the execution that falters. I’d say this is the beginning of a decline for Castle. His previous efforts the two years prior, House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, and 13 Ghosts, and Homicidal, are all better films. As I list those, I realize what Mr. Sardonicus needed: Vincent Price!


Tomorrow, check Richard's post at:

The name I'm giving him (first letter of first name must be first letter of last name, Homolka) is:

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