Here’s a cold-blooded little caper for ya. Clocking in at a lean 62 minutes, Inner Sanctum is “based” on the mystery radio series of the same name that ran from 1941 to 1952. I’m not sure based is the right word – it’s more like they just took the banner name and used it to market the film. Either way, Inner Sanctum is a great murder story framed around an intriguing train ride that bookends the main narrative. It’s definitely a B-grade noir, with very low production values. But what it lacks in pizazz it makes up for in cynicism and brute force.
On a train barreling through the dead of night, an attractive young woman is making conversation with an old psychic. He’s an unassuming psychic – no crystal ball or jangling jewelry. He’s just an old guy in a suit who happens to know the time without checking his watch, knows when there’s going to be a sharp turn on the tracks without ever having ridden the line before , stuff like that. So he starts telling this young woman the story of another gal who got off a train once and was murdered by her fiance. Just fluffy train conversation, y’know?
The film then cuts to this woman being killed and dumped on the caboose by Harold Dunlap (Charles Russell), a drifter tough guy who’s quick on his feet and sharp as a tack. After getting rid of her body, he runs into a dorky little kid named Mike who snuck outta his house to watch the trains. Luckily the twerp didn’t get a good look at Harold, who takes off in an attempt to ditch town.
A flood has closed the only road outta town though, so he’s stranded at the home of an elderly woman who runs some kinda boarding house. Turns out this old lady is Mike’s grandma, and Harold winds up sharing a room with the freckle faced witness to murder. Ooph.
Besides the kid, the boarding house is populated with an eccentric array of old drunks, a friendly journalist, and one seductress who may be the nail in Harold’s coffin. She wants out of this nowehere town, even if it means shacking up with a killer. There are some menacing moments between Harold and Mike, particularly when the journalist starts devolving details about a dead girl found a train a few miles north. The boarding house setting also acts as a nice demonstration of Americana and the evil that lurks beneath the surface.
The visuals are strongly noir, with lots of contrasting darks and lights playing in the shadows. Acting across the board is solid, but Russell steals the show. He plays Harold with a nice balance of homicidal cunning and phoney friendliness. He almost finds a nice bit of redemption at the end, almost. Then director Lew Landers throws a curve ball ending in your unsuspecting face. It’s such a great ending, genuinely icy.
Inner Sanctum is readily available on YouTube and a few other video hosting sites for free. Highly recommended!