For Reel

Weird Woman (1944)
July 5, 2017, 1:00 am
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Director: Reginald Le Borg
3 Stars
Weird Woman.jpgThis second film in the Inner Sanctum Mystery series was adapted from a novel by Fritz Lieber, and with that competent foundation it is superior to its predecessor. As in Calling Dr. Death, Lon Chaney stars as a tortured man whose anxieties are often demonstrated through hushed voiceovers. This internal narration is the driving gimmick of the series, and fortunately this installment finds Chaney’s dilemmas more complex. Whereas all he had to consider in the first film is what he may or may not have done, here his whole logical, reasonable way of looking at the world is threatened by his wife’s continued dalliances with witchcraft and the “coincidences” that result from it. The wife is played by Anne Gwynne, who is as wholesome and innocent as it gets and yet is bizarrely cast as a woman who is wrought with an air of mystery and danger around her. The dissonance between actress and part only adds more to the bizarre tone, and director Reginald Le Borg indulges in a number of moody dream sequences and super-impositions that set a genuinely unsettling tone. As nice as it is to see Chaney in a role that affords him more authority, he is hardly convincing as the ultra-charismatic professor, while the female cast (including Evelyn Ankers and the striking Elizabeth Russell) is uniformly excellent.

Calling Dr. Death ( 1943)
July 5, 2017, 12:58 am
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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.

Destiny (1944)
September 3, 2016, 4:30 pm
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Director(s): Reginald Le Borg & Julien Duvivier
2.5 Stars
DestinyThis hugely bizarre drama was originally imagined as the first of four stories in Julien Duvivier’s Flesh and Fantasy. That audience’s responses were so favorable to the film and this chapter in particular inspired Universal Pictures to expand on the short and release it as its own feature, enlisting director Reginald de Borg and screenwriter Roy Chanslor for the task of fattening up the paltry material. Duvivier is such a specific and deliberate visual stylist that the scenes he originally shot are completely apparent—a climactic nightmare sequence is staged in the tradition of French impressionism, recalling Jean Epstein’s emphasis on the fury of natural forces at the end of the The Fall of the House of Usher. Unfortunately, what is evident as being the added material plays as little more than unneeded fluff, attempting to flesh out Alan Curtis’ fugitive with little success. There is an undeniable pleasure in the way Duvivier stages the supernatural qualities had by Gloria Jean’s blind girl (animals literally flock to her at every opportunity), but both the lengthened first act and a hilariously inappropriate tacked-on ending do much to break the spell. John Cromwell’s The Enchanted Cottage is a better place to look if searching for a blend of the fantastical and everyday, also involving a supernatural intrusion into what otherwise plays as a romantic melodrama.