Wednesday, September 7, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: (1) *marvelous,* (2) *uncanny*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological, psychological*

I've not seen the fifth entry in the "Inner Sanctum" series, but I've the impression that of the six only these two indicate the reality of psychic phenomena. FROZEN GHOST brings one character's mind-reading talents into focus only a couple of times in the narrative, while PILLOW OF DEATH allows the matter to remain ambiguous at the conclusion. As I've done elsewhere, I've included references to the uncanny tropes that both films use, even though the first film's claim to the domain of the uncanny is "cancelled out" by a mostly legitimate invocation of psychic powers.

Like the other "Sanctum" films I've seen, FROZEN GHOST is a tissue of overwrought performances and under-thought plot devices. Still, this time the script is a lot more lively than the previous three entries, though it doesn't really make much more sense. This was Harold Young's first turn in the "Sanctum" director's chair, displacing Reginald LeBorg-- and since I found Young's JUNGLE CAPTIVE much duller than LeBorg's JUNGLE WOMAN,  I have to credit the script for the improvement. 

At least something's always happening in GHOST, including the fact that one has to wait almost to film's end to figure out what the title means. Lon Chaney Jr., stuck in the perpetual "guilty suspect" persona he'd perfected in 1941's WOLF MAN, has a stage-act that he performs for a radio audience. (I suppose such acts did take place, though to modern ears it sounds like a contradiction in terms of innate appeal.) As "Gregor the Great," professional hypnotist, he's able to cause his girlfriend/ assistant Maura (Evelyn Ankers) to demonstrate psychic gifts to glean obscure facts from audience-members. By a piece of dumb luck that will later work to the benefit of other parties, a drunken audience-member challenges Gregor to put him under. The man acts offensively on stage, and Gregor tells Maura under his breath that he'd like to kill the fool. The moment that Gregor tries to hypnotize the lout, the man dies of a heart attack.

Later Gregor will again have cause to think he has deadly mesmeric talents, but at this opening point, the hypnotist's guilty reaction to the tragedy seems little more than absurd, He breaks up with Maura and goes looking for some other profession. His helpful business manager George sets him up with a new profession, lecturing at a wax museum run by Madame Monet. I don't know what a hypnotist, even a famous one, could possibly have to say to customers of a wax museum, but apparently the publicity gimmick works. Madame Monet is very pleased with Gregor, and becomes romantically interested in him, as does her assistant-niece Nina. Oh, and Maura comes back to pursue the reticent Romeo. Just as in WEIRD WOMAN, Chaney's character is one reluctant chick-magnet-- though he has no fan in the guy who makes the wax statues, former plastic surgeon Rudi (Martin Kosleck)

Madame Monet appears to perish under Gregor's gaze, but her body can't be found. Nina finds out the truth-- that there's a conspiracy between Rudi and the least likely suspect-- and that the conspirators are guilty of making Monet into one of her own statues, though she's kept alive with the use of a convenient "suspended animation drug." The bizarre crimes are then uncovered when Gregor hypnotizes Maura and gets her to reveal the least likely suspect.

FROZEN GHOST is nonsense, but it gives its cast meaty material to masticate. PILLOW OF DEATH, though, not only couldn't bother to come up with a decent title, the titular-- and far from impressive-- murder-weapon barely even appears on screen.

I saw the film a few weeks ago, and have almost forgotten all of it, except two things: (1) that the killer turns out to be a "perilous psycho" who knows himself but slenderly, and (2) the most interesting character is a medium who may or may not have real psychic gifts. He also works through a medium, just as Gregor the Great did, and Chaney's character Fletcher has a romantic conflict between wife and secretary, just as did his character in CALLING DOCTOR DEATH. Like the aforementioned "Paula the Ape Woman" series, it appears that in the doldrums of Universal's "B-unit," the creative agents thought little of blandly recycling elements of earlier films without making much distinction.

For anyone who might want an actual breakdown of the plot of this tacky item, this site offers a witty blow-by-blow.  

No comments:

Post a Comment