Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

SCARED TO DEATH


SCARED TO DEATH (1947). Director: Christy Cabanne.

"My dear Josef, if I allowed myself to be announced, I doubt I would be received anywhere."

Well, this movie has something in common with the later Sunset Boulevard, in that it's sort of narrated by a corpse, but that's as far as it goes. {The original idea for Sunset was for it to begin in the morgue, which this picture actually does.] As the pathologists prepare to perform an autopsy on a woman, we hear her voice, and flashbacks tell us how she wound up dead. Laura (Molly Lamont) lives in a strange household. She thinks her husband Ward (Roland Varno) and father-in-law Dr. Josef (George Zucco) are trying to kill her. Then we have Josef's cousin, Professor Leonide (Bela Lugosi), a once-famous magician, who arrives unexpectedly with a deaf mute dwarf, Indigo (Angelo Rossitto) and hates Josef. Rounding out the cast of characters are the maid Lilly Beth (Gladys Blake), a private dick Bill "Bull" Raymond (Nat Pendleton), a reporter Terry Lee (Douglas Fowley). and his date Joyce (Jane Cornell). And we mustn't forget the odd green face that periodically seems to be peeping through some curtains.

Scared to Death seems to have been conceived as a black comedy, but it isn't remotely funny but for one or two moments, and it hasn't got a single chill. The "Natural Color" it was filmed in doesn't help a bit. Even with all the odd characters and weird goings-on, the movie is slow and dull. But the most criminal thing about it is that it wastes the talents -- and the confrontation between -- those two fine actors George Zucco and Bela Lugosi, both of whom are much better than the picture deserves. Roland Varno also appeared in My Name is Julia Ross and The Return of the Vampire. Douglas Fowley was in Flaxy Martin and many, many other movies.

Verdict: Tough to take even for Lugosi fans. *1/2.

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