As you may have gathered somewhere along the way, I'm a pretty big Boris Karloff fan (who isn't?). As the man has 100+ credits to his name, there are always new movies ripe for rediscovery. Night Key is minor 1937 film that is inappropriately packaged in a bare-bones collection of Karloff 'Horror Classics' that is widely available. I say inappropriate, as this is anything but a horror movie. Karloff's ageing, timid inventor is about as far from the Frankenstein Monster or Im-Ho-Tep as you can get. It's a fairly simple crime drama, with some noirish tones but enough humor to keep it fairly light and lively.
This imperfect little B-movies held my interest because of the interested conceit (a wrong inventor playing a fun game of cat and mouse with his enemies) and the strength of the supporting characters, notably Glen Baxter as the quiet menacing crime boss "The Kid" and Hobart Cavanaugh as the luckless Petty Louie. Of course, there's a tacked-on romance that fits about as well as Petty Louie's overcoat, but the real reason to watch is Karloff's performance. He goes from joy to heartbreak and back, as his life is turned upside down by events well out of his control. The smile on Karloff's face as he plays a prank in an umbrella shop is worth the price of admission. That is one of a few moments that feel as though they are straight out of a Coen Brothers movie. If you're looking for a change of pace and would like to see Karloff's range, be sure to check this one out.