The 1937, Boris Karloff-starring vehicle, Night Key is a fun little crime film that does nothing but entertain from start to finish. It is a perfect bit of fluff that will while-away some time for those needing something to do and Karloff, as always, completely delivers.
The story finds a man named Mallory as played by Karloff, who has invented a burglar alarm system, something he hopes will improve his fortunes so that he might leave his daughter something when he is no longer around. For whatever reason and one of the strangest things to happen within the film is that when in need of financing, he goes to the same man who ripped him off years earlier, thinking that things will be different. Of course they are not and it is not long before Mallory turns to crime, harmless at first and all of it directed towards his new found enemy – Stephen Ranger, until a small-time gangster gets involved and turns up the heat.
As for the title of the film, it comes from Karloff’s character who decides to sign his work at each of the crime scenes as the Night Key, as well as referring to the master control switch he has invented that can essentially turn off any alarm system that he has previously created – all of them coincidentally belonging to Ranger. Karloff is charming in the role as the old inventor, forsaking the genius madman type of characters he played previously and going for something a little more subtle and it works to his advantage, though one does have to admit, his strengths lie in playing the villain. In this instance, it is Samuel Hinds who takes up the role, playing opposite Karloff’s protagonist and doing a fine job with the material given. Additionally, Jean Rogers would star as Mallory’s daughter, Warren Hull as a security guard and Hobart Cavanaugh as Petty Louie, perhaps the most magnetic member of this particular cast as he was the comedy relief and exponentially lightened the mood when he was in the scene.
Night Key is no masterpiece despite being well made. It is a fairly standard little B picture, light on plot and short on running time, but one that is still enjoyable and one that audiences will have no problems digesting in between more serious fare or films with far larger budgets. The movie is a definite change of pace for Karloff, but nice to see him try something a little different.
3 out of 5