Add a Review

  • jcoppeto00119 April 2006
    This version of "The Great Impersonation" sticks to the book rather well. By contrast, the 1942 version is an extremely loose interpretation and obviously World War II propaganda. The acting is fine and the dialog interesting. The casting is excellent. This movie is based on what is supposed to be Oppenheim's greatest novel. I read the novel and thought it was mediocre. For its time, the movie, in my opinion, actually outshone the novel. Both the 1935 and 1942 versions of the novel are unapologetic melodramas, but the 1935 version has the more interesting and complex plot. However, ideally one should watch each and decide for oneself.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The Great Impersonation is often sub-categorized as a horror film by the fact that it was produced by Universal Studios in 1935. It uses many of the sets from Bride of Frankenstein, some of them seeming nearly identical to that film. This film, the second of three versions, is of the rare espionage genre and has only elements of suspense and horror.

    Edmund Lowe plays a dual role as the Baron and Dominey. This film relies on the doppelganger theory, which seems to have been fact to the people of the early 1900s. So many films and books have used this idea that each of us has an exact double somewhere in the world; someone who looks and sounds just like us. Even more coincidental, these doubles meet in Africa, far from their homes. Even more ridiculous, they had gone to Oxford together years earlier!

    The plot of The Great Impersonation is pure pulp. Even putting the doppelganger theory aside, the film assumes that no one in these peoples' lives would recognize that they weren't themselves. But, even more confusing is that Dominey changes his own personality! When we first see him, he is a complete drunkard, and upon his return, he is sensitive, competent and suave. There is a lot of exposition in the first half and this film seems to condense what must have been an intricate book. It is still a very entertaining diversion with terrific sets and costumes. Murray Kinnell lends his usual excellent support as the villain and Valerie Hobson is quite good as the estranged wife. Wera Engels is gorgeous as the Baron's ex-lover. Those looking for Dwight Frye will be sorely disappointed. He has a key role, but no dialog and is only seen in long shots. Most impressive is the art direction of Charles D. Hall. He was the gem of the lot at Universal in the 1930s and his hand is very obvious to fans of classic Universal Horror films.

    Alan Crosland, a pedestrian director, who nevertheless ironically directed three very important films was behind the camera on this film. He had directed the first film to have synchronized sound effects and music in Don Juan (1926); the first American film of Conrad Veidt and co-starring the other gigantic actor (John Barrymore) of the twenties, The Beloved Rogue(1927); and the landmark sound film - The Jazz Singer (1927). None of these films were remarkable despite their historical importance, but they do resemble the solid work in this one. The Great Impersonation is a fun film for fans of 1930s melodrama.
  • 1935's "The Great Impersonation" served as Valerie Hobson's farewell to Universal, with 11 features over a 12 month period, doing one more movie for Chesterfield ("August Week End") before abandoning Hollywood for England, retiring for good by 1954 (she died in 1998, age 81). Despite its inclusion in Universal's popular SHOCK! television package of the late 50s (not once appearing on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater), "The Great Impersonation" has understandably remained under the radar, being basically an espionage story with a dash of horror provided by the unbilled presence of Dwight Frye, definitely in Renfield mode, never clearly seen. Edmund Lowe, a frequent star at Universal ("Bombay Mail," "Gift of Gab," "The Witness Vanishes"), toplines in two roles- Baron Leopold von Ragastein and Sir Everard Dominey, incredibly finding each other in darkest Africa, after first meeting up at Oxford. Both men have escaped tragedy, and the Baron decides to impersonate his twin and take up residence at Dominey Hall, where plans are already underway for foreign powers to flood pre-WW1 England with munitions. The reason for Sir Everard's flight is that five years before he is supposed to have murdered Roger Unthank (Frye), perpetuated by Roger's mother (Esther Dale), casting aspersions against him in the company of his beautiful wife, Lady Eleanor (Hobson). Soon after the impersonator arrives, Mrs. Unthank informs him that the ghost of her dead son cannot rest, his cries echoing through the house during the night (he really does sound like Renfield!). This horrific touch is a direct lift from "The Hound of the Baskervilles," but was present in the original 1920 book, yet dropped from both the 1921 and 1942 screen versions. Still only 18, Valerie Hobson was hardly taxed by this rather small role, with competition from Wera Engels, whose brief career in Hollywood lasted three more films, retiring by 1937 (she died in 1988). Nearing the end of the Laemmle regime, we get another look at sets from "The Old Dark House" and "Frankenstein," and a brief but unmistakable appearance from Nan Grey (as a maid), soon to be immortalized as the tragic Lili in "Dracula's Daughter."
  • Other reviewers have pointed out the use of but redressed standing sets for the tower steps of Frankenstein and the stairway from Old Dark House. Take another look and you'll recognize the Frankenstein cellar, use as the attic here. It was continually redressed for White Zombie, Mystery of the Blue Room, here, and I suspect many other films. I think I recall the title music is from Werewolf on London. Nice to see Brandon Hurst, Dwight Frye, and Frank Reicher in another weird film..

    The film itself is instantly recognizable as a Universal of the period. Good production values and acting, without producing a superior product. Still, it's fun, and worth seeing a second time.