Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Impressive Gothic thriller directed by Fritz Lang for B-studio Republic Pictures. The low budget means limited and rather stagy-looking sets, but this adds to the gloomy atmosphere. The opening scene of foreshadowing is obvious but effective: a chatty housekeeper is repelled by the carcass of a dead animal that keeps floating back and forth along the river, in which all manner of debris is constantly returning to the surface. Her boss, Louis Hayward, a struggling writer with one unsuccessful novel to his credit, tells her not to worry about it, but we know that the river which cannot keep its secrets will play an important role in the narrative. Hayward is married to Jane Wyatt, pleasant but unexciting, and is able to keep writing because his crippled brother, Lee Bowman, gave up much of his share of the family inheritance to Hayward--partly because he's secretly in love with Wyatt. At dusk one day, while his wife is out, Hayward puts the moves on their young maid (Dorothy Patrick), and when she resists and starts to scream, he strangles her to death. Bowman arrives and agrees to help Hayward deposit the body in the river (has he already forgotten the first scene?). When the maid's family reports her disappearance, Hayward implies that she was a thief and a hussy; the resulting publicity kick-starts sales of his book and gives him inspiration for a new novel. However, Hayward's psychological state suffers; as he was dumping the maid's body, Hayward saw a glinting fish leap into the air, and so the sight of any light flashing off of an object sets him off. He manages to keep things together for a while, but when the maid's body is found, both Hayward and Bowman fall under suspicion leading to the slow unraveling of their cover story, and to the unraveling of Hayward's mind. The acting is as good as it needs to be--Wyatt is a bit of a weak link, but she doesn't really have much to do. Carl Switzer (Alfalfa from Our Gang) and Kathleen Freeman have small bits, and Jody Gilbert and Anne Shoemaker steal a brief scene in court as two gossipy maids, but it's the visuals here that truly steal the show. The dark, gloomy sets and the beautifully composed shots of the rooms filled with shadows and curtains billowing in the wind are exquisite, and help to make the climax very effective. This film was once thought lost, and the print on Kino's DVD isn't as sharp and clean as it could be, but it's not bad, and it's definitely worth seeing. [DVD]

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