What was Boris Karloff‘s finest film of the second half of his career, in which he arguably gave his finest-ever performance?

His two most iconic films (containing his most iconic performances) were the original Frankenstein (’31) and Bride of Frankenstein (’35). His most interesting supporting roles were in Howard HawksThe Criminal Code (’31) and Scarface (’32), as a Christian fanatic in John Ford‘s The Lost Patrol (’34), and as a cruel-hearted examiner in Val Lewton‘s Bedlam (’46).

And he was reputedly wonderful as serial killer Jonathan Brewster in the Broadway stage version of Arsenic and Old Lace — Jonathan was the older brother of Mortimer Brewster (played by Cary Grant in the 1944 Frank Capra film version) who was enraged when people said he resembled Boris Karloff.

But the grand old actor’s fullest performance was as himself (a Karloffian horror star named “Byron Orlok”) in Peter Bogdanovich‘s Targets (’68), which is certainly among his all-time best and arguably his best since Bride of Frankenstein.

What’s great about Karloff in Targets is that he finally played his own actual self — a kindly, well-dressed and impeccably-mannered English gentleman. And above all a fellow of dignity and refinement.

There’s a great little moment when Orlok is being driven from one Los Angeles location to another, sitting in the back seat and gazing out at the ugly billboards, used-car lots, taco stands and tacky mini-malls. He sighs, shakes his head and says, “This used to be such a lovely city” or words to that effect.

Directed and written by Bogdanovich, Targets is about the elderly Orlok agreeing to make a promotional appearance of The Terror (’62) at a Los Angeles drive-in theatre and also (concurrently) about a Charles Whitman-like psycho who murders his family, picks off several innocent drivers on the 405 freeway, and ends up being thrashed by Orlok as he’s about to shoot patrons at the same drive-in.

At long last, the white-haired, 80 year-old Karloff was no longer sinister but a hero and vanquisher!