Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saturday, February 19, 1972 (Midnight): The Phantom of Crestwood (1932)

Synopsis: Jenny Wren is a professional gold-digger who has grown tired of her racket and has decided to retire.  Her disillusionment stems from the recent death of Tom Herrick (Tom Douglas) a young man whom Jenny had strung along --  until she discovered that his wealthy father had disowned him because of their relationship.  Jenny dumped Tom on the spot, telling him that the only thing she'd been interested in was his money. Despondent, Tom threw himself off a cliff and Jenny has been haunted by his death ever since.

She plans to leave her lavish Los Angeles apartment behind and sail away to Europe. A prospective buyer for the apartment appears unannounced, a man who goes by the name of Farnsbarnes (Ricardo Cortez).  In fact, the man is a career criminal named Curtis who has been dispatched to find incriminating letters known to be in Jenny Wren's possession. 

Jenny needs a retirement nest egg, so she visits bank manager Priam Andes (H.B. Warner) and instructs him to throw her a farewell party at Crestwood, the Andes family retreat, and to bring along three of his business associates --Eddie Mack (Richard "Skeets" Gallagher), William Jones (Gavin Gordon) and Senator Herbert Walcott (Robert McWade) -- each of whom is on the list of her wealthiest clients.

When the men arrive -- not suspecting a shakedown -- Jenny demands that they pay her a total of $150,000 as a farewell gift.  The men balk, insisting that they are unable to raise that kind of money. But Jenny is undeterred.  They will find a way, she says -- because if they don't, she will release enough evidence of their indiscretions to ruin them all.

Curtis arrives at Crestwood with a few of his henchmen. At just about the same time a ghost appears  -- the ghost of poor Tom Herrick. Moments later Jenny ends up dead, the back of her neck punctured by one of the hefty steel darts used in the game room. 

Now Curtis, fearing he'll be accused of the crime, must play detective in order to find out who killed Jenny Wren, and unmask the Phantom of Crestwood....

Comments: I've never seen a TV print of The Phantom of Crestwood, so I don't know if it included the original pre-credits sequence featuring the NBC radio orchestra and announcer Graham McNamee. It would make sense if the scene were deleted; TV viewers in the 1970s wouldn't have heard of McNamee, the radio drama referenced, or the contest connected with both.

The contest was a marketing gimmick applied to the theatrical release of The Phantom of Crestwood when it premiered in 1932.  NBC radio had broadcast a version of this old-dark-house thriller, but without an ending.  Listeners were encouraged to send in their own ideas for how the mystery should be resolved. The winning entry, it was promised, would get a cash prize.  The studio hoped that this would get listeners excited about going to see the movie and find out if "their" ending was picked. 

The movie turned a solid profit for RKO, and probably would have done so regardless of the marketing campaign.  The Phantom of Crestwood is a ripping good yarn, one that actually works better with the gimmick set aside.

Like a lot of pre-code Hollywood movies, this one seems particularly daring because films became so tame after the Hayes Office was established.  The script here is fairly explicit in identifying Jenny Wren as a top-dollar escort, and when she demands that Priam throw her a farewell party at Crestwood, his scandalized look is priceless.  We are given to understand that Jenny has been to parties at Crestwood many times before -- but always as the entertainment, never as a guest. Now she will be there as an equal to Priam and the other men who had rented her affections, drinking their wine and rubbing elbows with their wives.

Jenny's decision to turn the tables on the wealthy bankers and politicians who had been using her no doubt struck a chord with Depression-era audiences, who would have enjoyed seeing the high rollers sweat it out for a change. 

Karen Morley leads a very strong cast here.  Morley's character is killed about a third of the way through, but that doesn't cut significantly into her screen time; she appears in numerous flashback sequences as each murder suspect describes their last interaction with her.  Ricardo Cortez, who played a lot of mobbed-up types in his career, is very engaging as Curtis, the smart and dogged gangster who missed his calling -- he would have made a great homicide detective. Pauline Frederick is appropriately starchy as the Andes family matriarch, and Anita Louise is quite convincing as Karen Morley's kid sister.  Louise was still a teenager when she appeared in The Phantom of Crestwood, and her career was a long one, stretching from the silent era into the age of television; she went on to play the mother on the series My Friend Flicka in the 1950s, and was doing guest shots on TV well into the 1970s.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Saturday, February 19, 1972 (Noon): Bluebeard (1944) / Dr. Renault's Secret (1942)

Synopsis: In 19th-century Paris, the body of a young woman is fished out of the river Seine. She has been strangled, another victim of the notorious serial killer Bluebeard.  Women are urged to stay in at night, and not to take unnecessary risks - but it's difficult to take precautions when no one knows what Bluebeard looks like.

One evening young Babette (Patti McCarty) and her two friends Constance (Carrie Devan) and Lucille (Jean Parker), knowing that women aren't safe on the streets after dark, decide to walk home together.  On the gaslit streets they meet Gaston Morel, whom Babette recognizes -- he is "The Puppeteer", a painter well-known in Paris for the elaborate puppet operas he stages in the park.  Morel seems charmed to meet the young women, but is especially interested in Lucille, who claims to be entirely unafraid of Bluebeard.  He invites them all to see his show the following night, but it is clear that Lucille is the one he hopes will attend.

The following evening, Morel scans the crowd as he and his puppeteers perform "Faust".  He sees Lucille and after the show invites her backstage.  He tells her that he wishes to paint her; will she sit for him?

Flattered, she tells him that she will.  Meanwhile, Morel's assistant Renee angrily watches his flirtation with the new woman.

Later, Morel returns home to find Renee waiting for him.  She is angry that he is flirting with another new girl, and hurt that there have been other women who have posed for his pictures, women who have temporarily replaced her.  But, she says, "You always return to me."

Morel is dismissive, telling her to go home, but she presses him further.  What, she asks, has happened to the  women he's had dalliances with?  Where have they gone?  Angered, Morel removes his cravat and strangles her with it .  Later, he dumps her body in the river.

The next day, he goes to the police station, and reports Renee missing.  When her body is pulled out of the river he is asked to identify the body.  He does so, telling the police that Renee left the park before he did, and he is unable to say if she left alone or in someone's company.

But the next time Morel sees Lucille, he tells her that what he really wants is for her to make new costumes for his puppets.  By this time we've figured out an important part of Bluebeard's m.o. -- he only strangles women who have posed for the pictures he's painted.  Does the fact that he no longer wants to paint Lucille mean he is becoming genuinely fond of her?

Apparently so --  and Lucille is growing fond of him too.  She mends one of his torn cravats (which will, of course, prove to be an important plot point) and the two are spending more and more time together.

Meanwhile, police inspector Lefevre (Nils Asther) discovers that a painting on display in a Paris gallery has as its subject one of Bluebeard's victims.  He looks for other paintings by the same hand, and sure enough, all of the victims of Bluebeard appear to have sat for paintings.  But the identity of the artist is shrouded in mystery.

Lefevre locates the dealer of the paintings, who will not divulge the name of the artist.  Lefevre conducts a sting operation, arranging for a wealthy patron of the arts to offer an outrageous sum to the dealer -- if he can get the mysterious painter to take a last-minute job.  Tempted by the money, the dealer talks Morel into doing it.  But what Morel doesn't know is that his studio is now surrounded by the police -- and that the woman he is painting is Lucille's younger sister Francine....

Comments: Bluebeard is a movie that plays better than it sounds, and credit for its success should go to director Edgar G. Ulmer, who does two things that really help the production: he keeps events moving at a fast clip, and makes it look more sumptuous than its budget allowed through smart use of stock footage.

Ulmer also manages to keep a leash on the hammy John Carradine, who plays Morel as a laconic murderer who is ultimately undone by his own obsessions.

One curious thing about Morel is his decision to set aside his career as a well-regarded (and well-compensated) painter in order to launch a puppet theater that puts on (apparently free) performances in the park.  This strikes me as something of a step down, career-wise. I think we're supposed to read something profound in this; Morel's paintings are all of his various victims and perhaps this is an indication that he wants to put that behind him.  But the Bluebeard murders occur even after Morel is operating the puppet theater.  The puppet theater subplot seems to be a means for Morel to hook Lucille (he recruits her to design puppet costumes) and also makes it possible to trap Morel by getting his manager to  convince the painter to do one more job.  

Carradine carries the movie pretty much on his own; no one else really stands out. Jean Parker has a brittle sort of look that I don't find at all appealing;' as you may recall she was  the hatchet-faced fiance to Lon Chaney, Jr. in Dead Man's Eyes.  She's not quite as abrasive here as she was in that Inner Sanctum opus, but I fail to see what Morel sees in her. 

Dr. Renault's Secret

Synopsis: Dr. Larry Forbes (Shepperd Strudwick) arrives in a remote French village to see his fiance, Madelon Renault (Lynne Roberts) and to meet her father, the renowned scientist Dr. Robert Renault (George Zucco).  Forbes stops at an inn near the village, where he is supposed to meet someone who will take him to the Renault house.  But he learns that they will have to cross over a bridge that has been washed out; and as a result he is stranded in the town overnight.  He meets Renault's gardener Rogell (Mike Mazursky) and another of Dr. Renault's servants, a strange taciturn man named Noel (J. Carrol Naish).

Noel says he is from Java, and he seems gentle and sensitive, but also uncomfortable, apologizing repeatedly for his behavior, even when he's done nothing wrong.  But he becomes enraged when a drunk inn patron makes a remark that Noel sees as insulting to Madelon.  Noel grabs the man and seems ready to attack him.  But Larry calms him down and the situation is defused.

When he goes up to retire that night Larry finds the drunk has stumbled into his room by mistake and is snoring away on the bed.  Larry, amused, goes to sleep in the drunk's unoccupied room next door.  But in the morning the drunk is found murdered, strangled by a very powerful assailant. The police question everyone closely, particularly Rogell, who has a criminal record, as well as Noel, who was seen to argue with the murder victim a few hours before the crime.

The police are unsure of whether the intended victim was the drunk or Larry himself, who was after all sleeping in the wrong room.  Nevertheless, Larry, Rogell and Noel head out to the Renault estate.  Noel drives, and as the car reaches a bend in the road, he abruptly slows the car down to a crawl.  To Larry's astonishment, as they proceed around the curve they see a dog crossing  the road. Had Noel not slowed down he would have hit it.  But how did he know it was there?

Larry seems to find a kindred spirit in Dr. Renault, who has a keen and curious mind.   But  something bothers Larry about Noel, and he can't put his finger on what it is.  Noel seems gentle and kind, extremely loyal to Madelon, but can fly into a murderous rage if provoked.  Animals don't seem to like him, and he doesn't seem to like them.  He has enormous strength -- more than any one man ought to have.  He has senses much keener than any human. And it comforts him greatly when the barber in town gives him a good close shave....

Comments: Despite the presence of George Zucco and J. Carrol Naish, no one would mistake Dr. Renault's Secret for a Universal production.  Universal would never have green- lit a screenplay this silly.  The titular secret to this programmer is exceptionally wacky: Noel isn't a man at all, he's a surgically enhanced (as well as extensively shaved) gorilla!  

It's the sort of premise that would only have gotten waved through at a studio that didn't really understand the horror genre. A studio like 20th Century Fox, for example.  A lazy producer  might well think that an audience that can accept werewolves, vampires, reanimated corpses and walking mummies would have no problem believing that with a modest amount of surgery (and extensive manscaping) a gorilla could pass for a human.  

But even the most outrageous premise must be plausible on some level, and this one just isn't.  So Dr. Renault's Secret torpedoes itself right away, simply by asking too much of its audience.

Long before the final credits, anyone in the audience smarter than a gorilla would be asking some pretty merciless questions. For example, how much surgery would it take to make a gorilla pass for human?  And even if you could make a gorilla look human, how could you make it act human?  Noel doesn't just have the power of speech, after all; it is evident that his intelligence has been greatly increased too, and he has been given extensive training in interacting with human beings.  He's a very polite fellow, and if a gorilla can walk around among humans, drawing only the occasional remark that the fellow from Java seems a bit odd -- well, that's an achievement. Hey, Noel can even drive a car, and I've known a few humans who couldn't be trained to do that.

The absurdities really do pile up in this movie, and the wheels come off long before the big secret (which is heavily telegraphed) is revealed.

Nevertheless, there are a couple of interesting things about the movie.  The first is J. Carrol Naish's exceptional performance as Noel.  He brings great sensitivity and poignancy to the role of Noel, making him quite likable and putting us completely on his side. It's rare for a screenplay to stack the deck so completely against an actor.  In fact there is almost no way that an actor can sell this character to an audience  -- but Naish very nearly pulls it off.

Second, while watching the movie I was struck by the attitude that Zucco's Dr. Renault has toward Noel.  Renault seems very proud to have, um, made Noel the man that he is.  Yet despite this, he does not treat Noel like a man at all.  He locks Noel in a cage, punishes him cruelly for the slightest offense, and is completely uninterested in Noel's well-being. Which brings up an interesting question: why did he perform this experiment in the first place? Either Noel is a man or he isn't; if he isn't a man, why all the effort to pass him off as one?  It's not clear if the screenwriters spent a lot of time thinking about this -- they might have just been following the Frankenstein template -- but it's a question that the movie doesn't dwell on.  That's too bad, because it's an interesting one.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Saturday, February 12, 1972: Gog (1954) / The Lady and the Monster (1944)

Synopsis: In a top-secret laboratory complex, researchers are working to make practical the age-old dream of manned spaceflight.  In one experiment, a monkey is given an injection and then placed in a cold chamber.  The temperature drops to over 100 degrees below zero; the monkey is quickly frozen solid but when it is thawed out it's as good as new. In a similar manner, we are told, astronauts will one day hibernate during long space journeys.

Later Dr. Huburtus (Michael Fox) is working inside the chamber alone when the door slams shut behind him.  The controls begin to turn on by themselves, plunging the temperature inside the chamber to -100 degrees.  Huburtus freezes to death, as does his assistant (Marian Richman)  when she tries to go inside the chamber to rescue him.

The two mysterious deaths cause station director Dr. Van Ness (Herbert Marshall) to call in the Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI), a sort of brainy FBI.  Soon Dr. David Sheppard (Richard Egan) arrives at the facility, which is located in the desert southwest. Sheppard is brought in via helicopter, as the base is inaccessible by road.  As the helicopter approaches the base, the controls begin to move by themselves,  and the pilot lets go of them. He explains to Sheppard that the last part of the voyage is controlled by the installation's computer, NOVAC.  This, he says, is in order to keep the exact location of the base a secret.

Dr. Sheppard is introduced to Joanna Merritt (Constance Dowling), who is tasked with giving Sheppard a tour of the facility.  However, we soon find that Joanna and Sheppard have been lovers, a fact they keep hidden from the rest of the personnel at the base.

Sheppard is shown the various experiments going on in the lab.  We see a chamber where gravity can be artificially reduced, and a man and a woman do acrobatic feats in a near-weightless environment.  In another part of the facility, a centrifuge whirls prospective astronauts around at dangerous speeds.

Dr. Van Ness shows Sheppard a scale model of a planned orbital satellite.  America, Van Ness says, must be the first to launch such a satellite.  If the enemy gets into space first, it could be the end of the United States.  To prove this dubious claim, he shows Sheppard a parabolic mirror that will be mounted on the satellite.  The mirror is designed to focus sunlight into a mercury-filled chamber, creating steam and powering the space station.  However, he warns, such a mirror could be used for more sinister purposes.  He uses the same kind of focusing mirror to direct sunlight on a scale model of a "an industrial city on the shores of Lake Erie".  The model city bursts into flames as soon as the focused sunlight touches it.

Later, Sheppard meets Dr. Zeitman, a suspicious-looking German expatriate who designed NOVAC and spent five years assembling it in Switzerland. Zeitman is clearly a genius, and he demonstrates two innovations he believes are even greater than NOVAC itself: the robot Gog, and its twin Magog....

Comments: In the first edition of his book Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, Bill Warren notes that while Gog had originally been shot in color, no color prints are extant. I found this interesting because I don't recall ever seeing a black-and-white print of the film.  It's possible that a color print was unearthed at some point after 1982, the year the book was first published; or it could be that Warren's memory was faulty.  Warren's first edition, after all, was published before this title was available on home video, and it might have been years since he'd last been able to see it.  In fact Gog was filmed in 3-D, scope and color, which was unusual for the time, especially for a low-budget sci-fi picture.  While it's available in Technicolor prints today, it hasn't been seen in scope or 3-D since its initial release.

Well, no matter. Regardless of the format, Gog falls victim to the worst sin a feature film can commit: it's painfully, dreadfully dull.  We're clearly meant to be dazzled by the technological wizardry on display (and in fact both the concept and the on-screen realization of most of the gadgets is moderately interesting, thanks to the help of Honeywell and its authentic scientific instruments)  but for the most part the science is bad, the special effects aren't that special, and the characterizations are paper-thin.  

Let's be honest: for a science fiction movie that pants so heavily over the science, Gog gets an awful lot wrong.  The anti-gravity chamber is a perfect example of this. No such chamber exists or could exist, and even if such anti-gravity rooms were possible, Tors completely bungles how this one is  depicted.  A pair of gymnasts jumping and tumbling around does not look anything like weightlessness, even as it was understood 60 years ago (though to be fair, science fiction films of the era rarely got it right; even the meticulously accurate Destination Moon barely made an effort to show a zero-G environment inside the Luna).  

Likewise, the fear of the Soviets burning whole cities to the ground with an orbiting mirror is nothing more than Cold War hysteria. Like Destination Moon and  Riders to the Stars there's a weird certainty that America would instantly fall to the Soviets if they beat us into space (inexplicably, we didn't surrender the day Sputnik was launched).

I've commented previously that Gog was surprisingly prescient in its depiction of computer technology. The idea that the Soviets could hack into the NOVAC mainframe, use it to monitor the personnel at the secret base, and control the devices that NOVAC controls, including the anti-gravity chamber, the centrifuge and the freezing-chamber, is actually quite credible. 

But there's no real reason for NOVAC to be put in control of every switch and dial at the base in the first place, except that it is convenient to the plot that it do so. It allows the Soviet agents who have gained control of NOVAC the ability to carry out a program of sabotage on the American base. But in Cold War terms, this is amazingly short-sighted. The real currency during the Cold War was intelligence.  A direct line into NOVAC would have provided the Russians with eyes and ears in a top-secret American research station, yielding a treasure trove of data.  Why would they call attention to the hack by monkeying with the dials and switches throughout the station?

There are two answers for this, of course.  First, it wouldn't be much of a movie if they didn't (this, by the way, also explains why Dr. Van Ness doesn't simply order NOVAC disconnected from the base controls so that the instruments can be run manually); and second, Cold War paranoia made it easy to believe that the Russians were lurking behind every tree, gleefully causing mischief wherever they could.

Early on we're led to believe this is a whodunit, but it isn't; we're presented with an obvious red herring in Dr. Zeitman but there are essentially no other suspects.  When the Russians and their high-altitude spy plane are outed as the culprits in the final real, we're not terribly surprised (the level of paranoia in the secret facility is so great it's a wonder anyone gets any work done at all) 

In fact the suffocating level of paranoia is probably the only thing that really works in Gog. We're presented with a near-dystopian society where everything has become so secret that even the people who work in the lab don't fully know its location.  Meanwhile the Soviets, who are the reason behind all the secrecy, know everything about the place. Whether the producers thought it was near-dystopian, however, is another matter.

The Lady and the Monster

Synopsis: Dr. Patrick Cory (Richard Arlen) is a scientist working for Professor Franz Mueller (Erich Von Stroheim) at Mueller's residence / laboratory, a fortress-like place called The Castle.  The two are doing experiments on keeping brain tissue alive separate from the body.  So far they have only worked with animal test subjects, and while the results have been encouraging things are progressing a little slowly for Dr. Mueller.  Like many scientists in these sort of movies, he's obsessed with vindicating his line of research, and he isn't above some ethical monkeyshines to get things moving. More than anything, he wants to test his procedure on a human brain, though the chances of his getting an opportunity to do so seem remote.

Cory and Mueller's assistant Janice Farrell (Vera Ralston)  have fallen in love, but unbeknownst to them, Mueller has a yen for Janice himself.  Janice and Cory talk of leaving the Castle and running off together, but Mueller excels at manipulating others, and he manages to keep them both on hand and under his control.

One evening a private plane crashes nearby and Mueller transports a critically injured man back to the Castle.  He calls Cory back from his date in town with Janice and bullies both of them into assisting him.

The patient dies, and Mueller sees his chance.  He removes the man's brain and puts it in a solution of brine; soon, he and Cory are able to verify that the brain is still alive independent of its body.

Mueller and Cory learn that the man who died in the crash was a powerful industrialist named W. H. Donovan. When the coroner comes to the house Mueller tells him that Donovan had suffered a severe head injury and that he and Cory had operated in hopes of saving his life.  However, the absence of a brain in the man's head is difficult to conceal and even more difficult to explain, and Mueller employs a little sleight-of-hand to get the death certificate signed and the body taken away.

As the brain marinates Mueller predicts that this is the dawn of a new age; human minds might be able to be indefinitely preserved after death.  The knowledge and wisdom of the ages might be able to be stored and accessed at will.  Meanwhile, Cory begins to have strange dreams; he can hear a voice repeating the name "W. H. Donovan" over and over again.  Mueller speculates that the brain, freed from the body and floating in an electrolytic solution, has become more powerful and has made a psychic connection to Cory.

Janice becomes increasingly alarmed by Cory's behavior.  With greater and greater frequency, Cory falls into a fugue-like state, acting like another person entirely.  Soon she and Dr. Mueller realize that Cory's body is being possessed by Donovan's brain, that he is being forced to act according to Donovan's will.  Cory begins traveling into town, withdrawing large sums of cash from various banks under dummy accounts and spending large amounts of money in efforts to get a convicted murderer sprung from prison.  But what is Donovan's connection with the man?  And -- what will Donovan's brain do in order to keep Cory's body under its control?

Comments: While The Lady and the Monster was the first film adaptation of Donovan's Brain,  the CBS radio anthology program Suspense was the first to translate Curt Siodmak's novel to another medium.  Orson Welles played Patrick Cory in this two-part audio drama, which retained Siodmak's narrative gimmick of a diary penned by the ill-fated scientist.  A  number of plot elements were jettisoned for this 60-minute work, including the shady financial transactions that Cory, possessed by the mind of Donovan, enters into during Cory's frequent fugue states.  The ending is also streamlined, and it differs significantly from that of the novel.  Nevertheless, the Suspense adaptation is quite taut and -- well, suspenseful.

As the program begins Welles plays Patrick Corey as something of a carefree dilettante, like Lamont Cranston in Welles' radio series The Shadow.  It's clearly a reflection of the way Welles saw Corey: a man who lives in a world of his own ideas, with little interest in what goes on outside. Corey becomes more agitated and serious as he begins to realize the true import of what he has done.  The counterpoint to Corey is Donovan -- Welles supplies him with a low, gutteral growl.  The Donovan catchphrase -- "Sure, sure, sure" -- is gravelly and menacing, and Donovan -- who invades Cory's dreams with images of bloody and ruthless conquests -- is more than enough of an antagonist to carry the drama forward to its conclusion.

As I mentioned in my previous write-up of this title, The Lady and the Monster strays farther from the source material than any of the other adaptations, for reasons that aren't entirely clear.  Eric Von Stroheim's Dr. Mueller becomes the ambitious surgeon, and Cory takes a back seat as his assistant, though we still identify with him as the protagonist.  The wife that Cory had in the novel is changed to his girlfriend, and a rather weak love triangle is added (Mueller, we gather, is in love with Janice, though she evidently has no interest in him). 

I've speculated that the Mueller character was inserted to a) make Cory seem more sympathetic to the audience; and b) provide an antagonist that's more recognizable to the audience than a mean guy's brain in a jar.  Having seen this one a second time I'm still convinced that this is the right explanation.  My guess is that screenwriters Dane Lussier and Frederick Kohner had very little confidence in the story they were given, and felt they had to insert some more conventional screen elements in order to "fix" it.  To say these guys were ill-suited to the task is an understatement. Kohner had never touched a genre screenplay in his life (he seemed to specialize in lightweight comedies) and went on to write the novel Gidget, as well as a number of scripts based on it, both for movies and TV.  Lussier specialized in low-budget programmers like Dick Tracy vs. Cueball (1946) and The Falcon's Alibi (1946).  Lussier was, to put it bluntly, a hack, unable to deviate from the clumsy templates he used to grind out poverty-row scripts. Director George Sherman was also out of his element.  He usually directed cheap westerns designed to run at the bottom of a double bill.

So its really in spite of these guys, not because of them, that the film works at all. The addition of Mueller's character makes Cory more sympathetic, but it also badly weakens him -- he is blameless for Mueller's crimes only because he got bullied into helping Mueller to carry them out. But the movie nevertheless picks up steam when Donovan begins to work on the hapless Cory's mind, forcing him to go into town, slowly assuming Cory's walk and manner. 

The cast is competent enough, though no one has the sort of arresting presence that Orson Welles brought to the radio drama (it would have been very interesting, by the way, to see Welles direct a screen adaptation of this story).  Richard Arlen is thoroughly forgettable as Cory, and while I usually like Eric Von Stroheim as an actor, his glowering and muttering seems less effective than usual here. 

No write-up of this movie is complete without a mention of Vera Hruba Ralston as Janice.  The figure skater's reputation as an actress was so poor that leading men of the time were known to back out of projects rather than star opposite her. The lead roles kept coming to her, though, because her husband was the head of the studio.  As a result, she became something of a laughingstock in the industry, which is really too bad.  She wasn't the worst actress to garner top billing on a movie poster (Aquanetta? Pia Zadora? Persis Khambatta? Come on!)  In any case, I can't blame her for taking the starring roles that were offered to her.  She was pretty, and surrounded by people who told her she had something special. And while she wasn't great, she really wasn't that bad.  Had I not heard repeatedly how bad she was, I probably wouldn't have noticed her performance at all.  Her reputation sort of magnified her shortcomings as an actress, and everyone gleefully piled on.  But she is more forgettable than anything else.  In that department she's pretty well suited to the leading man in this one.