For Reel

Calling Dr. Death ( 1943)
July 5, 2017, 12:58 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Reginald Le Borg
2 Stars
Calling Dr. DeathThe first in a series of films inspired by the Inner Sanctum Mysteries radio program, the inappropriately titled Calling Dr. Death stars Lon Chaney as a psychologist who fears that he murdered his wife during a blackout. Chaney, who nervously sweat as well as any actor, again plays a man defined by his powerlessness. The screenplay by Edward Dein imagines Chaney frequently mulling over his guilt through a series of whispered voiceovers—the effect is suitably eerie, if overdone. Director Reginald Le Borg doesn’t quite know what to do with the quirk, however there are a few inspired touches in Virgil Miller’s cinematography. In several scenes, the characters speak directly to camera, as if attempting to make the audience share in the guilt with the presumed killer. Rather than the voiceover and said direct addresses bringing the audience further into the character’s head, however, they conversely have a distancing effect. That is, as Chaney’s character becomes further lost in his own thoughts, the narrative banishes just about everything else to the periphery. Had the guilt been wrought with more complexity, the intensely focused study might have worked. As it is, however, the sense of dramatic stakes are only established through Chaney’s monologues, which tell so much that the film has almost nothing of interest to show.

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