Sunday, April 07, 2002

Two B-Thrillers

A British B movie which was marketed as horror is really a fairly traditional crime thriller with Bela Lugosi as a man who is murdering people in an insurance scam and dumping the bodies in the Thames. The opening scene of a bloated body floating in the river sets the atmosphere nicely. The plot, from an Edgar Wallace novel, is unnecessarily convoluted what with insurance policies, a connection to a home for the homeless blind, an obnoxious American detective tagging along mostly for lame comic relief, and the obligatory damsel in distress. Lugosi plays a dual role that actually surprised me--his voice in the second role must have been dubbed in by someone else, but it's well done and the unmasking scene was nicely underplayed, given Lugosi's usual hamminess. Actually, Lugosi is good throughout. Occasionally interesting camera work helps make up for the lack of budget reflected in some of the sets. The "monster" of the American title is a hulking, deformed blind man who helps in the killing, and a couple of the most effective scenes involve him: one in which the camera observes from a doorway as a man is brought into a room and the "monster" is suddenly coming at him, and another when the monster menaces the damsel in a dark room (he reaches out and smashes a glowing light bulb with his hand, a trick which looked almost too real to me!)

This really cheap PRC production is a variation on AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, with bits of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL thrown in. George Zucco, who has just been released from prison for embezzlement, invites a group of his old cronies (who were apparenly just as guilty as he, but who escaped jail) to his fog-shrouded island for a "party." He tempts them there by hinting about the possibility that some missing money could be hidden at the house, but his real motive is revenge. Lionel Atwill and Jerome Cowan (Spade's partner in MALTESE FALCON) are two of the ill-fated guests. If you like this kind of "old dark house" movie, it has its moments, but the low budget and only serviceable acting get in the way of any real thrills or fun. Of course, there's a romantic couple who come out OK while just about everyone else gets what they deserve. It passed the time, but it's not one to search out.

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