Month: February 2014

STRANGE CONFESSION (1945)

Strange Confession 1945

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.

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THE FROZEN GHOST (1945)

The Frozen Ghost

Round four of the Inner Sanctum mysteries brings us a new director, Harold Young, and NO throaty whisper narration from Lon Chaney. Good riddance, I say. The Frozen Ghost is a wickedly fun little murder tale in which a mentalist is framed for murder because he kills people with mind bullets. Something like that. While the mentalist angle is kinda weak, The Frozen Ghost makes up for it with a wonderfully menacing villain and a creepy setting within a wax museum. When was the last time you saw a movie about an ex-plastic surgeon turned wax sculptor knife thrower?!

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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.

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WEIRD WOMAN (1944)

Weird Woman

The second Inner Sanctum mystery is Weird Woman, a tale of Polynesian hoodoo and good ol’ American voodoo. Again the film stars Lon Chaney Jr., who reprises his throaty whisper narration that he gave me the willies in Calling Dr. Death. Does he pull the same gag in all of the Inner Sanctum films? Guess I’ll find out. This time around he’s an anthropology professor who’s expertise is the effect of superstition on mankind. It’s very familiar to his Steele character in Calling Dr. Death, and again he’s framed for some heinous shit he didn’t pull. Some guys can’t catch a break, huh?

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CALLING DR. DEATH (1943)

Calling Dr. Death

I really dug Inner Sanctum the other day – a film based on the popular mystery radio show series (1941-52). Reading more about it, I found out that Universal produced six other films under the Inner Sanctum banner prior to the 1948 one I had watched. All of them are streaming on YouTube, so I decided to do a run of them for the rest of the week. The first one is 1943’s Calling Dr. Death, a murder mystery filled with red herrings, wrapped around some trippy sequences of hypnosis. The complete lack of believable crime solving skills by the law makes it tough to take seriously, but for what Calling Dr. Death lacks in credibility, it makes up for in some really fun psychedelic visuals and breakneck pace.

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THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS (1947)

The Two Mrs Carrolls

My wife’s mother recommended this Bogie melodrama to me, so I gave it a shot last night. I really like when Bogie got to show his dark side, particularly when he plays a disturbed artist close to the edge like In a Lonely Place. The Two Mrs. Carrolls fulfilled my thirst for a menacing Bogie and then some. Man, he gets some wicked moments in this one. He goes completely over-the-top for the entire third act, but that doesn’t really bother me when it comes to eerie murder mysteries. Over-the-top works in this film and only helps heighten the gothic atmosphere. With echoes of Gaslight, Hitchcock’s Suspicion, and the Bluebeard legend, The Two Mrs. Carrolls is a fine addition to the husband black widower genre. Also, who doesn’t want to see a child steal scenes from Bogie?

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INNER SANCTUM (1948)

Inner Sanctum

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.

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THE BIG CLOCK (1948)

The Big Clock

There’s a lot of  noir titles that begin with “The Big.” The Big Sleep, The Big Combo, The Big Knife, and the whole Hardboiled Hangover project even started with a review of the big, brutal masterpiece The Big Heat. Today I’m taking on a “The Big” that’s got possibly the most boring variation of the title ever: The Big Clock. Oh boy. A clock, that’s big. Dull title, but a pretty damn effective metaphor for the way our lives tick away and cripple humans – wearing men down until they commit heinous activities. However, this is the first Hardboiled Hangover review where I say to you, dear reader, this movie sucks. Don’t waste your time (on a clock, a BIG clock!).

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WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967)

Wait Until Dark

My mother recommended I check out this ’60s thriller Wait Until Dark. She said that when she saw it in the theater, they had an ambulance parked in the lobby in case anyone had a heart attack or something. I wish they still pulled gimmicks like that – spice up things, y’know? I didn’t have to be resuscitated while watching the film, but hot damn is there some thick suspense in this one. It’s directed by Terence Young, who did a buncha Bond films, and it’s based on a play, which makes sense being that it takes place in essentially one room in a tiny apartment. Everything from the set up to the climax is pulled off really well, in particular Mr. Alan Arkin’s absolutely terrifying role. Smash the light bulbs and let’s dig in.

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PITFALL (1948)

Pitfall 1948

Man, some girls just have something about them. Something that grabs ya by the balls and twists and you wind up loving every second of it. Case in point: Lizbeth Scott as Mona Stevens in 1948 scandalous tale of infidelity and obsession, Pitfall. This is a great noir that shines an ugly light on what boredom can do to housewives and insurance investigators. The film’s plot attacks middle class values with smoking revolvers as it barrels headfirst into the unforgiving brick wall of fate. And doom. And blondes.

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