Saturday, December 22, 2007


These are the other two "I Love a Mystery" films. In the first one, a shrunken head, which may have been illegally smuggled into the country, is found in the wreckage of a plane. The local museum, which owns a collection of such heads, disavows any knowledge of it, but our detectives, Jack (Jim Bannon) and Doc (Barton Yarborough), get involved with a missing person/love triangle case: the director of the museum went missing while on an expedition in South America, and now his wife (Mona Barrie) thinks someone is trying to kill her. It might be her step-daughter (Anita Louise) who thinks that Barrie is having an affair with Frank Wilcox, a family friend who was along on the expedition. Indeed, Louise has asked her boyfriend, Michael Duane, to keep an eye on Barrie. There's also a taxidermist who keeps a black panther around, a shadowy figure who kills a butler with a poisoned dart from a blow gun, and a headless body. A quote from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" winds up being a clue. Like the first film, this is an entertaining, fast-paced little thriller with a rather convoluted plot filled with fun details.

THE UNKNOWN is a cross between a Faulkner novel and an "old dark house" horror film. It begins with a flashback about a tragic family history, told to us by a woman (Helen Freeman) whose funeral has just been held. She tells us she's to blame for the fact that her three adult children are messed up: one is an unsuccessful sculptor, one is a bitter alcoholic, and the daughter (Karen Morley) is mad, lost in a fantasy world, imagining she is caring for a nonexistent baby. Years before, when she announced to her parents that she secretly wed Robert Wilcox, her father went a little nuts and threatened Wilcox with a gun; Wilcox accidentally killed him then went into hiding; Morley gave birth nine months later, and as she was considered incompetent, the baby was given away. Now, several years later as Freeman's will is about to be read, the grown-up daughter (Jeff Donnell) shows up with Jack and Doc and a lawyer (Robert E. Scott), ready to straighten out her twisted heritage. The will goes missing, one of the brothers winds up dead, and there are various shenanigans involving a secret passage, a family crypt, and a mysterious crying baby before everything gets sorted out. This one is the most fun of the three, partly because the crazy family takes center stage, making the wooden Jack and Doc secondary characters in their own adventure. The Gothic atmosphere is nicely done, though the film can't quite live up to its creepy opening narration by an apparently dead character. These films are above-average for their genre (B-thrillers); it's a shame more weren't made. [TCM]

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