Monday, September 28, 2015

INNER SANCTUM (1948)

An older gentleman (Fritz Leiber) is chatting with a young woman (Eve Miller) on a train, and she comes to believe he may have psychic powers. The rest of the movie is the story he tells her. A woman very much like her gets off a train to meet her lover (Charles Russell, pictured), but during an altercation he accidentally stabs her to death and, while dumping her wrapped-up body in a cargo car on the train, is glimpsed by a young boy (Dale Belding). Russell gets a ride with a friendly newspaper editor to a nearby small town where he finds lodging at a boarding house. The occupants include a harmless drunk, a flirtatious totsy (Mary Beth Hughes), a single mother (Lee Patrick), and, of course, the little boy who saw him at the train station. At first, the boy doesn't realize that Russell was involved in a murder, but soon news reaches the town about the corpse being discovered and Belding, who has to share his bedroom with Russell, starts getting suspicious. Can Russell escape town with Hughes before the boy becomes a threat? Or will the boy become his second victim?

The title, which has nothing to do with the plot, is from a series of mystery books and a radio show from the 40s. Universal produced a series of Inner Sanctum B-movies with Lon Chaney Jr. but this is not related to those, except that it's a mystery with overtones of film noir and the supernatural. As such, it's interesting though there is a tone problem with too much comic relief throughout. The editor and the drunk are both present mostly for comedy purposes, and even Lee Patrick gets her share of humorous lines. Charles Russell, however, is deadly serious and gives a good, tense performance, though at times it seems at odds with every other performance except that of the boy, who does a nice job being both scared and adventurous. If Russell's character was fleshed out more (as it is, we know virtually nothing about him), he'd be a solid noir lead. The supernatural element comes into play in the frame story with Leiber (the father of the fantasy author with the same name) and provides a nice sting at the end of the story. A memorably clich├ęd exchange: Hughes, to Russell, "You're even too bad for me"; Russell, in reply, "You're very pretty—when those lips aren't moving." [Streaming]

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