Sunday, December 12, 2010


Jack Holt has a prison breakout planned; fellow prisoner Boris Karloff (pictured with Holt), who is set to be released soon, hooks him up with a dope ring on the outside. Holt gets out and we discover he's actually a federal agent tracking down the crooks. There's a doctor (Claude King) involved, though the Feds have been in contact with him hoping he'll turn informer. King has a daughter (Constance Cummings), whom Holt soon falls for, and a creepy maid who is keeping tabs on him, reporting back to some mysterious boss via a clunky answering machine which records messages on a wax cylinder. There’s also a bearded, heavily-accented doctor (Edward Van Sloan) who recognizes Holt as an agent; he and Karloff plot to get rid of him by sending him on a dope run in a small plane and making sure he doesn't come back alive, but of course Holt is always one up on the bad guys. Turns out Van Sloan is hiding dope in the coffins of people he's killed on the operating table, and there’s a nice creepy scene near the end in which Van Sloan, about to operate on Holt without anesthetic, quotes Nietzsche: "Unendurable pain merges with ecstasy!"

This is basically a fast-moving second feature-thriller with no pretensions to be anything else. I'm not sure what the title refers to; one of the characters actually is someone pretending to be someone else, though there isn't really a mask involved. Holt is OK; he's been growing on me the more I've seen of him; I don’t think he had a large acting range, but he's more than acceptable as a stolid B-movie hero. The romance between Holt and Cummings is perfunctory and goes nowhere. Much of the acting consists of ominous looks and pauses. Edwards, the creepy mannish maid (played, ironically, by Bertha Mann) is unintentionally comic in her over-the-top melodramatics. [TCM]

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