Thursday, April 27, 2017



Ellen Garth (Georgina Cookson) is the wealthy owner of a textile company. She runs things with an iron fist, much to the consternation of her secretary Richard (Neil McCallum) who seems to be devoted to her but who is actually being blackmailed by her—he tried forging her name to some checks and when she discovered his duplicity, she kept the checks in a safe to ensure that he remains a compliant assistant. He gripes a lot to Raymond (Gary Merrill), her husband, who is generally content to live off her money but is not happy with the way she runs her home life; she's prone to lots of aches and pains, and, as a practitioner of the exotic religion Suplianism, she frequently puts herself into a coma-like trance to ease her pains. She's also a highly-sexed woman and places many demands on him in the bedroom. When her beautiful young niece Alice (Jane Merrow) arrives from art school in Paris, she starts what seems to be an innocent flirtation with Raymond, and he responds with increasing passion until soon the two are in the middle of an affair. Soon, Raymond and Richard are collaborating on a plan to get rid of Ellen—when she leaves for a scheduled trip to Rome with Richard, they plan on killing her off in what will look like a car accident (she has a well-known penchant for reckless driving) and they even hire a look-alike actress to help pull off the stunt. But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.

If you’ve seen the twisty French thriller DIABOLIQUE, you'll know more or less what's going on when it seems like the dead Ellen (or her ghost) keeps popping up to ruin everyone's plans. But even if this is a familiar plot device, you can still have some fun figuring out who's running the scam. This B-film second feature is bland looking and two of the leads are disappointing: Merrill looks a little too old and tired for the part, despite characters frequently telling us how attractive and strong he is (saying doesn't make it so). Merrow looks the part of the art school kitten, but her performance seems mostly phoned in. Luckily, Cookson makes a great brittle bitch, and McCallum does nicely as the vengeful assistant. The only other character of importance is Ellen's faithful housekeeper Christine (Rachel Thomas). The original British title, CATACOMBS, refers to a rather oblique clue to the mystery, a postcard of Roman catacombs that is sent from Rome—theoretically from Ellen though, as we know, actually from the actress. At times, the movie tries for a Hitchcock feel, but in its last 20 minutes, the pace, which should pick up, slows to a deadening creep which makes the climax, when it finally comes, a little anti-climactic. [TCM]

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