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Hjalmar Poelzig is the primary villain of the 1934 film The Black Cat. He is described by Dr. Vitus Werdegast as "one of Austria's greatest architects."
During the last years of World War I, Poelzig commaned Ft. Marmarous, where Werdegast was also stationed. It is unknown what their relationship was then, but they clearly knew each other for a long time. But Poelzig sold the fort to the Russians, and snuck away, leaving Werdegast and the others to die.Poelzig would later build his own house on the ruins of the fort he had betrayed. He would seduce and marry Werdegast's wife Karen, whom the doctor knew Hjalmar had always wanted "from the first time [Hjalmar] saw her." He told her Werdegast had been killed.
When Karen died, she was preserved in a glass case in the basement of the necrophiliac Poelzig's home, along with many other women. Poelzig then married hers and Dr. Werdegast's daughter, also named Karen.
But Werdegast had not been killed. He was taken prisoner and spent fifteen years in a horrible prison camp, waiting to take his revenge on Poelzig. He did visit Poelzig, but also with an American honeymoon couple, the Allisons (due to a road accident).
Poelzig shows Werdegast his wife's body, saying "Is she not beautiful?" Although he says she died from pneumonia, the doctor immediately thinks Hjalmar killed her. It is most likely he did. He lies to Werdegast about his daughter, claiming she's dead too. Only later when Karen disobeys Poelzig and leaves their room, running into Joan Allison (who tells Karen her father is alive and that he has come for her), Poelzig leads her away and rapes and kills her.Poelzig, the leader of a devil worship cult, planned to sacrifice Joan in a satanic ritual by the dark of the moon. Werdegast chose to fight for her freedom, but waited his time to take his revenge at the right moment, even playing a game of chess (both a real one and a metaphoric one) with Poelzig, at Poelzig's challenge.
In the end, after learning his daughter was alive and Poelzig's wife, only to find her dead, a heartbroken and infuriated Werdegast fought a deadly duel with Poelzig, eventually overpowering him and setting him up to be skinned alive. Later, having been mortally wounded (mistakenly by Peter Alison, Joan's husband), he blew himself and Poelzig -who had just gotten his face partly skinned- up with a red switch, igniting the dynamite.
Behind the Scenes
- Poelzig's name was borrowed from architect Hans Poelzig. His character is said to have been inspired by Aleister Crowley.
- The Black Cat was the first movie that paired Karloff and Lugosi; it is widely considered their best film together.
- Both Karens were portrayed by the same actress, Lucille Lund.