Monday, November 27, 2006


This comical "detectives in an old dark house" flick is a B-movie with mostly B-talent, and does not have much of a reputation, but something about it hit me the right way. Instead of a haunted mansion, the dark and sinister setting is an abandoned lighthouse which is, one rainy night, being visited by new owner John Eldredge. Though he expects the place to be empty, he finds a dead body hanging from the middle of the tower. In short order, the place fills up with all kinds of folks: cops Allen Jenkins and Hugh Herbert, a hysterical woman (Marcia Ralston) who claims that the dead man is her stepfather, a old sea captain named Hook (George Rosener) who, yep, has a hook and freaks out when he hear clocks ticking, an old lady (Elspeth Dudgeon) who was Ralston's nanny, and assorted other hangers-on. Somehow, all this is tied up with a mysterious crime figure called The Octopus (and maybe with a real octopus, whose tentacles keep slithering out from around corners and secret panels) and a radium death ray invented by the dead man. Oops, I forgot that Herbert's wife, whom we never see, is in labor, which turns out to be one of the most important points of all. Things quit making sense pretty quickly, and almost no one is whom he or she seems to be. If you've seen similar movies, like THE GORILLA or SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE, it won't take long to figure out where the story is heading, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the trip--the movie is supposedly based directly on the same play that THE GORILLA was, though it plays out much more like BALDPATE. I can't make any claims for this as a classic, but frankly I had more fun watching this than watching the more famous THE OLD DARK HOUSE. There are a couple of genuinely creepy moments, including one spectacular facial transformation special effect, achieved in real time with make-up and lighting filters. The trick ending will seem like a cop-out to some, but if you're expecting it, it's fun to see how they get there. Jenkins and Herbert play off each other nicely, and Herbert has a fun slapstick scene involving turtles, frogs, and a seal. Eldredge is a rather colorless hero; Dudgeon (who had a small but important role in THE OLD DARK HOUSE) is the most effective supporting player, aside from that rubbery (and mostly offscreen) octopus. At under an hour, this is a good way to pass some time on a rainy night. [TCM]

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