Oranges and Lemons say the bells of Saint Clemens.
Tom Penderel (Tom Poston) is an American car salesman living in London. His part time roommate Casper Femm (Peter Bull) asks him to deliver a car to his ancestral home Femm Hall. Femm Hall is an old mansion on Dartmoor. When he gets there he finds that Casper has died. When the car is damaged by a falling statue and with a raging storm outside Tom is invited to stay at the house. At dinner he meets Femm family members Cecily (Janette Scott), Potiphar ((Mervyn Johns), Morgana (Fenella Fielding), Agatha (Joyce Grenfrell) and Roderick (Robert Morley). Each family member has his or her own personality quirks.
After dinner Tom is told some of the family history. It appears that one of their ancestors was the pirate Morgan Femm. Before he was hung he willed his fortune to the house. Each of the relatives is required to return to the mansion before midnight each evening or forfeit his share of the family fortune. He is also told that one of Morgan’s daughters fled to America with another pirate before the will was made. If she had children then they would be potential heirs to the fortune. Roderick thinks that Tom could be a relative and a possible heir.
Since the house owns the fortune no one can collect the inheritance so the family members divvy up the interest on it once a year on the anniversary of great, great grandfather Morgan’s hanging. At least that’s how it goes until someone decides they are tired of sharing. Throughout the night on the hour, every hour, a family member is murdered. It appears that someone in the family is tired of sharing the interest on the family fortune.
“The Old Dark House” was released in 1963 and was directed by William Castle. The film was produced as a joint British/American venture by William Castle and Hammer films. The film was shot in color, but the American release was in black and white. It is now available on DVD in color. Supposedly based on a story by J. B. Priestley. This is not a horror movie; it is a comedy with dead people interspersed here and there.
If you’re looking for it to be like the 1932 film directed by James Whale, don’t. Although the original “Old Dark House” 1932 movie had some humor it had more horror aspects than the re-make. This version is more of a low key “Murder by Death” or “Clue” type movie. Not as many obvious jokes but far more comedy than horror.
“The Old Dark House” is one of Castle’s movies that doesn’t have a gimmick attached to it. Castle was more than willing to add a gimmick, but such marketing ploys would not be tolerated by the son of Hammer Films founder and co-producer Anthony Hinds. This is also not the usual Hammer fare. Castle’s influence is more than apparent. If you are looking for the standard Hammer movie you may be disappointed but if you are open to some humor with your spectacular sets or you just must have all things Hammer or all things William Castle you might want to give it a try.