DEAD MAN’S EYES (1944)

Dead Man's Eyes

The third Inner Sanctum mystery is Dead Man’s Eyes, a tightly wound little mystery in which an eye transplant leads to murder, naturally. Lon Chaney stars as a talented painter who’s not very observant. I mean, most artists are highly observant, even if it’s in a poetic, ethereal way. If he was paying attention, he wouldn’t have washed his eyes out with ACID. Seriously, homeboy is reaching for some eyewash, but picks up a bottle of acid instead and bathes his eyeballs with the stuff. It’s one of the most ridiculous accidents I’ve ever witnessed on film and leads to a charming story that drags its heels to an insipid degree.

Chaney stars as David Stuart, a fairly successful painter. His model Tanya has a crush on him, but he’s engaged to the well-to-do Heather Hayden (Jean Parker). Her old man is one rich bastard who notices the palpable tension between Tanya and Heather and tries to convince David to find another model. David shrugs it off and continues to live in his naive universe of swellness. Then one day Tanya switches around the TWO bottles on his sink: the eyewash and the acid. This leads to him burning up his corneas because he wasn’t paying attention. Man, it’s so absurd it’s funny. Why the hell does he even keep a bottle of acid at his eyewash sink? Why the hell does he have an eyewash sink? I’m no painter, but I feel like that typa shit just leads to trouble.

So now David is blinded for life, putting his painting career to an abrupt halt. An optometrist talks to him about a corneal transplant, but advises he should get used to being blind because the waiting line is so long and it’s not a surefire procedure. Heather’s father says he’d gladly donate his eyes after he dies, but what help is that? If anything, it’s an incidental mock. David falls into a slump and breaks his engagement to Heather, fearing he’ll never be able to support her now that he’ll never paint again. With Heather out of the picture, Tanya starts hanging around, acting like David’s live-in nurse. Did Tanya plan this all along? Or was it purely an accident? The answer lies within the Inner Sanctum! (Sorry, I couldn’t think of anything funny to say there).

Then one day Heather’s wealthy father winds up dead, with David standing over him. This kicks off the mystery, which turns out to be sadly underwhelming. The premise is fantastic, but Reginald Le Borg never really digs deep into the material. For some fucking reason, the powers that be allow David to get his eye transplant, with Heather’s old man’s peepers. The hell? He’s the number one suspect in the murder case, and they let this goof get the transplant? Before the operation, the old man’s eyeballs actually go missing! And more people wind up dead.

Man, on the surface this one sounds fantastically macabre. And unlike Calling Dr. Death and Weird Woman, there’s an actual mystery, with clues and suspects and an actual detective trying to get to the bottom of shit. But in the end Dead Man’s Eyes is simply a dud. It’s pretty damn frustrating, since the premise is really fun. It’s available on YouTube if you feel like torturing yourself. Three films into the Inner Sanctum series and Weird Woman is definitely my favorite so far.

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Inner Sanctum Power Rankings:

1. Weird Woman

2. Pillow of Death

3. Strange Confession

4. The Frozen Ghost

5. Dead Man’s Eyes

6. Calling Dr. Death

Patrick Cooper

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