The penultimate Inner Sanctum mystery is John Hoffman’s Strange Confession. This one’s told entirely in flashback and features Lon Chaney’s most sympathetic character in the series yet. When I get down to ranking these bad boys, Strange Confession while most likely be fending for the top spot against Weird Woman – I dug it that much. Maybe because I’m a sucker for underdog stories, so watching Chaney get manipulated by some big pharmaceutical fat cat really made my blood boil. He gets screwed over the entire film. Or maybe it’s because Chaney carries a severed head in a bag. Either way, Strange Confession is a wild Inner Sanctum tale of manipulation and revenge with one helluva sucker punch ending.
Chaney stars as Dr. Jeff Carter, an organic chemist working on a vaccine for influenza, that stalwart sonsabitch flu virus that’s still prevalent in the U.S. Carter’s a hard worker, the biggest brain at the pharmaceutical company he slaves for. The company is headed up by slimy backstabber Roger Graham (J. Carrol Naish), who loves stealing the glory when his scientists make a breakthrough. He lives in a lavish mansion complete with some of the most obnoxious “worldly” decor I’ve seen recently on film. Roger’s all about them dollar signs, Carter’s all about actually healing people.
After being blacklisted by Roger for making a stink about how he steals the credit from all his grunts, he’s hired back to head up a lab in South America, where local herbs or roots or something may hold the key to the influenza vaccine. Carter gleefully accepts the position, but is torn about leaving his wife and young son. His wife, Mary (Brenda Joyce), insists that he go. But it turns out Roger only wanted him gone so he can steal Mary away from him. Shit turns sour real fast, and when Roger’s greed prevents Carter’s son from receiving the breakthrough vaccine, Carter comes back to the U.S. hellbent on revenge.
The “strange confession” the title refers to is Carter’s confession to an old college friend that bookends the film. Old crime films are full of this narrative structure, and I feel like Strange Confession greatly benefits from it. While the audience can kinda predict what’s inside Carter’s bag, you want to watch until the end to find out if your morbid prediction is true. There’s a minimum amount of melodrama – the aspect that plagued potentially great Inner Sanctum mysteries like The Frozen Ghost and Calling Dr. Death.
The entire cast this time around is fantastic. There’s even a great supporting role by Lloyd Bridges, who plays a enthusiastic lab assistant to Chaney. As Carter, Chaney gets to show about more range than the previous Inner Sanctum films. He’s driven, angry, hurt, lost, loving, concerned – the gamut is represented in his large frame throughout the film. And in the end, he’s driven to pure mania. The prolific J. Carrol Naish is devilishly villainous as the greedy corporate asshole. I mean, he’s goes after not just the glory and money of the vaccine, but also Carter’s beautiful wife. Whatta prick!
All in all this is definitely one of the more solid Inner Sanctum mysteries. The narrative is tightly wound with little room for cheese, the actors deliver the goods, and it keeps you second guessing yourself until the very end when it’s revealed what’s in the bag.
Inner Sanctum Power Rankings:
1. Weird Woman
3. Strange Confession