EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|MASK OF DIIJON, THE (director: Lew Landers; screenwriters: Griffen Jay/story by Arthur St. Claire; cinematographer: Jack Greenhalgh; editor: Roy Livingston; music: Karl Hajos; cast: Erich von Stroheim (Diijon), Jeanne Bates (Victoria ), William Wright (Tony Holiday), Denise Vernac (Denise), Edward Van Sloan (Sheffield), Hope Landin (Mrs. McGaffey), Mauritz Hugo (Danton), Simon Ruskin (Guzzo), Antonio Filauri (Alex); Runtime: 73; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alfred Stern/Max Alexander; Image Entertainment; 1946)|
|"No surprises here, a typical dark
Erich von Stroheim film."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
No surprises here, a typical dark Erich von Stroheim film. Lew Landers ("The Return of the Vampire"/"Inner Sanctum"/"Jungle Jim in the Forbidden Land") keeps the psychological thriller as heavy going fare, as it's enjoyable only if you appreciate von Stroheim doing his over-the-top diabolical shtick as an obsessed paranoid magician bent on murder. It's based on the story by Arthur St. Claire, and is written by Griffen Jay. Its only point is that the anti-hero is stark raving mad, and that the second-rate magician was driven completely mad by failure and jealousy.
In London, at a seedy
boarding house for down-on-their-luck showbiz folks that's run by
the kindly Mrs. McGaffey (Hope
Landin), reside the unlikable
overbearing emotionally unbalanced retired stage musician Diijon (Erich von Stroheim) and his long-suffering pretty young wife
and stage assistant Vicky (Jeanne Bates). Diijon treats the gentle lady like dirt
for no reason, while she remains loyal for no reason. Also residing
there are a dance partner team of Denise (Denise Vernac-von
Stroheim's real life lover) and
Danton (Mauritz Hugo).
One day lively piano playing band leader Tony
Holiday (William Wright) arrives
at McGaffey's boardinghouse
and becomes a boarder, as his ulterior motive is to check up on Vicky.
He always had a crush on Vicky, and is now concerned she's starving
because her egomaniacal husband, who has illusions of grandeur, refuses
all work and spends his time studying hypnotism. As a favor to Vicky,
Tony arranges with his nightclub boss Alex (Antonio
Filauri) for Diijon to do his
new hypnotism act. When the act backfires on opening night, Diijon
absurdly blames Tony for sabotaging the act. Then Diijon's twisted mind
leads him to suspect Vicky is unfaithful, which is the last straw for
her as she moves out to live with a showbiz girlfriend and work as a
singer with Tony at the nightclub.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.
When Diijon feels confident
he's perfected his hypnotism skills after getting one of the residents
in the boardinghouse to drown himself, he seeks deadly revenge on his
wife and Tony. But in the exciting finale, after Diijon puts his
estranged wife under hypnoses and commands her to shoot Tony--that
fails because she grabs the wrong gun that has blanks and his evil
scheme is exposed. While running from the police, the madman conjurer
is tricked up in Sheffield's
magic shop that's located in the basement of his boardinghouse. There
Diijon gets fatally caught in a trick he rejected because he thought it
was inferior for someone as great as he is to use. While Diijon hides
in place of the dummy under a guillotine, he gets his head lopped off
when the pet cat plays with the string and trips the mechanism of the
The clever ending and the usual intense wacko performance by von Stroheim, are enough to keep this Poverty Row film watchable even if it signals how far the great actor has fallen from grace in his career.
REVIEWED ON 2/1/2011 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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