Black Waters

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Black Waters
Directed by Marshall Neilan
Produced by Herbert Wilcox
Written by John Willard
Based onFog (a play by John Willard)
Starring John Loder
James Kirkwood
Noble Johnson
CinematographyDavid Kesson
Distributed byWoolf and Friedman
Release date
Running time
79 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Budget£45,000 [1]

Black Waters is a 1929 British/American horror sound film produced by Herbert Wilcox and directed by Marshall Neilan. It was the first British-produced talking picture ever shown in England, but it was actually made in Hollywood since that is where the needed sound equipment was at that time. Wilcox sent Neilan to the U.S. to film the picture there, using a mostly American cast and crew. (Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929) is often said to be the first British talking picture, but it was actually released after Black Waters.) [2]


Wilcox went on to star American actors in many of his later British films as well, to make them more appealing to British filmgoers, a practice that Hammer Films did away with after 1957. [2]

Black Waters was written by American John Willard, based on his play Fog. Willard was the writer of the successful play The Cat and the Canary (1922), which was filmed several times and ripped off by a number of other filmmakers, and he was trying to repeat his success with this film, only replacing the "old dark house" setting with that of an "old dark houseboat". The cast featured Hollywood actor Noble Johnson (of King Kong fame).

Black Waters is today considered a lost film. [2]


A weird night watchman lures a group of people onto a rundown old yacht at a San Francisco pier at midnight. Once the boat sets sail, the passengers are murdered off one by one, until only two of them (Charles and Eunice) remain, along with a kindly old reverend who turns out to actually be the murderer, a crazy ship's captain named Tiger Larabee who disguises himself as a reverend to pull off a succession of murders.



Herbert Wilcox produced the film after visiting Hollywood to see the development of sound. He rented a soundproofed studio from Charles and Al Christie in Hollywood for five days at £1,000 a day. Wilcox claimed it was the fifth talking picture ever made. He later obtained a license from Western Electric to equip the first sound studio in Europe. [1]


Wilcox struggled to get the film exhibited in England, as only a few British cinemas were equipped to handle sound pictures. [1] Historian Chris Howarth stated "The film was long thought to have received scant attention upon its initial release, though some modern film critics who have studied the original reviews suggest that it might have been more inventive than originally assumed....". [2]

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  1. 1 2 3 Wilcox p 84
  2. 1 2 3 4 Workman, Christopher; Howarth, Troy (2016). Tome of Terror: Horror Films of the Silent Era. Midnight Marquee Press. p. 336. ISBN   978-1936168-68-2.