DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
STRANGE ILLUSION (director: Edgar G. Ulmer; screenwriters: Adele Comandini/story by Fritz Rotter; cinematographer: Philip Tannura; editor: Carl Pierson; music: Leo Erdody; cast: Jimmy Lydon (Paul Cartwright), Warren William (Brett Curtis), Sally Eilers (Virginia Cartwright), Regis Toomey (Dr. Martin Vincent), Charles Arnt (Prof. Muhlbach), George H. Reed (Benjamin), Mary McLeod (Lydia Hanover), Jimmy Clark (George Hanover), Jayne Hazard (Dorothy Cartwright); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Leon Fromkess; Producers Releasing Corporation; 1945)

 
"An engrossing premise courtesy of Mr. Shakespeare."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Edgar G. Ulmer ("Detour"/"Ruthless"), the prolific Viennese born filmmaker and noted 'King of the cheapie B-film,'  directs his version of Hamlet for PRC on his usual tight budget and fast schedule of filming (this one was under three weeks). The dark psychological thriller had an engrossing premise courtesy of Mr. Shakespeare and was influenced further by Freudian dream analysis, but it was unconvincing as a melodrama, the script was weak, the plot was full of holes and the acting was as lame as it gets. It starred Jimmy Lydon as Paul Cartwright, an actor who didn't have the gravitas to be a lead. Lydon has the distinction of being the first to kiss Liz Taylor in a movie--the 1947 Cynthia. He also played the title role in nine films of the "Henry Aldrich" series.

Paul is the teenage son of a prominent judge who died in a suspicious train accident two years ago. In a wonderful opening hallucinatory dream sequence, the father warns from beyond the grave that his death and his wife's current plans for remarriage are not unrelated. The strange dream haunts Paul, as his father further warns that his mom and the family are in great danger from a stranger who has entered their household with ill-designs. The vivid dream unnerves Paul so much that he cuts short his fishing vacation with his older friend of the family, Dr. Martin Vincent (Regis Toomey), and he immediately returns home. 

When home at his luxurious estate, Paul meets for the first time the well-traveled sophisticate but oily wealthy suitor who just arrived from the east coast and swept his mom off her feet, Brett Curtis (Warren William). Soon the same things he saw in his dream start taking place for real--Brett gives his gullible younger teenage sister Dorothy (Jayne Hazard) a present of a bracelet just like in the dream, utters the same things said in his dream to his mother Virginia (Sally Eilers), and plays the same Schumann piano piece heard in his dream. The trouble is no one else seems alarmed by Brett, and the cad despite a few lecherous leers at the young girls is accepted by all except for the inquisitive Paul.

Warning: spoiler to follow in next paragraph.

Checking his father's secret files, Paul gets curious about a clever criminal named Barrington who was never caught but suspected in incidents ranging from murder to rape to embezzlement, in several different southwestern states during the course of the 1930s. It was a case his father was working on before his death. Paul has his butler Benjamin secretly get a glass with the fingerprints of Brett and has the DA run a trace on them. At a dinner party announcing Brett as Virginia's fiancé, he brings along best friend Professor Muhlbach (Charles Arnt), a psychiatrist who runs a private sanitarium. Paul schemes to allow himself to be examined at the facility by Muhlbach, who tells Paul's mom he will cure Paul's neuroses. With the help of Dr. Vincent, Paul aims to probe around the sinister facility and see if he can discover how Brett and Muhlbach are linked together as crime partners. Paul also makes mom promise to delay the wedding until the examination is completed. His plan almost backfires when mom breaks her promise and the villain shrink keeps him under surveillance by planting a one-way window behind a mirror in his room, confines him to the grounds and stops him from making outside calls that can't be monitored. But the bright youngster gets the better of the shrink and gets important clues about his father's death to Vincent, who brings it to the DA. Luckily for the vulnerable youngster, who is set on getting oedipal revenge, Vincent believed in his dream. It results in the police uncovering that Brett faked his death and is indeed Barrington--the murderer of his father and that the shrink is the mastermind criminal planning to ruin the Cartwright family in order to get revenge on the judge who suspected them and kept such evidence in his files.

What's interesting is that the film is shot as an intense dream sequence in shadowy black-and-white hues and its sense of delirium powerfully filters through the story almost wiping away the unconvincing heavy-handed performances of the villains and the mummified acting by the leads. It's a film where Ulmer's unique style and his film noir moody interjections work better than the derivative mystery story. 

REVIEWED ON 9/20/2004        GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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