Don't worry, we will never spoil anything pre-jump, though obviously everything after the break is operating under the assumption you've seen the film at hand, so be warned. And a big tip of our hat to Arbogast on Film for inspiring us with his post The One You Might Have Saved.
In one corner, Boris Karloff as Hjalmar Poelzig, architect, turncoat, Satanist. In the other corner, Bela Lugosi as Dr. Vitus Werdegast, physician, veteran, ailurophobic. The film? The Black Cat, Edgar G. Ulmer's very loose (read: completely different) adaptation of the Edgar Allen Poe story, this time about two old war buddies who aren't really buddies anymore. Seems Poelzig surrendered a Hungarian fort to the Russians, sending his comrades (including Dr. Werdegast) to Russian prison camps for decades, while he went off and moved in on Werdegast's family. Also, did I mention he's a practicing Satanist?
Whose fate would've been different if I had control? Read on...
Name: Dr. Vitus Werdegast
Fate: Shot in the back by Peter Alison (David Manners), a newlywed tourist/writer who gets sucked into the whole blood feud between Werdegast and Poelzig when he's stranded in Eastern Europe after his bus crashes. Alison wrongly assumes Werdegast is skinning Mrs. Alison (since the good doctor just skinned Poelzig alive) but in reality, Werdegast is simply cutting her loose from her bindings that were placed there by Poelzig (in an attempt to sacrifice her to the Devil, of course).
Verdict: Werdegast should've lived.
Reason: The man was fresh out of a Russian POW camp, he'd just killed his evil arch-nemesis, and what's his reward? A bullet to the back from some idiot American. There's a morality play at work in the film, since Werdegast did put the fate of Mrs. Alison on the table to raise the stakes in an ill-advised chess game with Poelzig, so in the filmmaker's eyes, I guess he deserved that bullet. But, hey, she lived didn't she?
And she lived specifically because of Werdegast. If saving a life isn't enough to redeem your one sin of betting on chess with human lives, then I don't know what is.