Monday, May 14, 2012
The Edgar G. Ulmer Week: Strange Illusion (1945)
Edgar G. Ulmer is one of those American masters I've been neglecting for my whole adult life, and I need to change this from now on. Famous for his cheapie thrillers, a hired gun for the studios when they needed something quickly done. He directed around 50 movies since 1930, but before that he worked as a set designer and art director for silent movies classics as Der Golem, Siegfried and Metropolis. So he came from the school of the best of the best. After scoring a big hit with The Black Cat in 1934 he quickly found himself in demand, but maybe faster than anyone else he dived into the world of poverty row thrillers and imaginative exploitation movies. This might have stopped him from being really big, but it also gave him an emotional freedom that's very visible in Strange Illusion.
Jimmy Lydon plays Paul Cartwright, an excellent student and smart young man who still is in pain over his dear fathers violent death. He spends a lot of time with doc (Regis Toomey), the family doctor - and he's almost like father figure for Paul. When he comes home after being away for studies - and a nice fishing trip with doc - he founds out that his mother is dating a new man, the charming Brett Curtis (Warren William). But Paul is having dreams, dreams that he thinks is foretelling the future - and that dream says his mother is in danger. Soon he starts to suspect that Brett is a womanizer, a murdered - just out to marry and kill his mother and now Paul need to stop this from happen...
Strange Illusion is a simple and smart thriller, and excellent choice if you want to see an effective cheapie that proofs that budget is nothing compared to talent. The movie starts of atmospherically with a dream sequence, maybe inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound from the same year, that sets the tone for the whole movie - paranoia, the idea that you can't trust no one. I have no idea if that is true, but there's a feeling that the interpretation of dreams is something that interested Ulmer in real life. This is not a silly sequence, but a dark and eerie one. And it feels smart. Like a lot of these movies the story is contained inside rooms, cheap sets with the inclusion of some stock footage to show the outside. Much like John Brahm's The Undying Monster (1942 - highly recommended werewolf movie) this works almost for the better, because we're trapped with the characters in very claustrophobic storyline.
In a movie where the actors are the most important pieces, except the script, Strange Illusion delivers even on that front. Jimmy Lydon, only 22 years old at the time, carries a lot of the movie on his own shoulders - but has an excellent opponent in the elder veteran playing the baddie, the awesome Warren Willam. He died a few years after this movie, but mostly known during his golden years for playing evil bastards, false lovers and corrupt officials - and he's both handsome and talented enough to make this work. Like Vincent Price he has a remarkable voice, which was lucky for him after coming from the silent movie era and made the transition to talkies very well. Like many others who played baddies he was a silent and serious man, devoted to his wife, and took his acting job very seriously. I'm missing that kind of actors.
Strange Illusion was a good start for me (I've seen Ulmer's
since earlier) and it gave me even
more inspiration to check out the rest of his career. This movie is easy and
cheap to find, so if you're interested in film noir or just an obscure forties
thriller this is the movie for you. Hannibal