Thursday, December 5, 2013

Inner Sanctum (1948)

'Inner Sanctum Mysteries' was a popular radio show between 1941 and 1952, it was based on a series of novels under the same name. The radio show then was the inspiration for a number of movies under the 'Inner Sanctum' moniker which all starred Lon Chaney Jr., in the mid 40's. In 1948, poverty row studio Film Classics, decided to try their hand at it as well. They didn't even bother coming up with a title, they simply called the movie 'Inner Sanctum', adding 'Mystery' as subtitle to the poster, and making a few more references to the radio show, as can be seen on the poster to the left. An obvious and deliberate attempt to lure a few more movie goers into the theater for this cheapo B noir. This 'Inner Sanctum' was directed by Lew Landers, an incredibly prolific director of mostly B movies. In the 40s alone he directed 75 movies! He did not direct too many noirs tho, besides this one he also directed 'Man In The Dark' and maybe one or two more. The story was an original screenplay by Jerome Todd Gollard, who has only 3 writing credits on IMDb. Cinematography was handled by Allen G. Siegler, who'd been working as a cinematographer since 1916! The score was done by Leon Klatzkin, his first score for a movie, most of his work was done for TV series, including 'Rawhide' and 'Gunsmoke'.
'Fight yourself and the part that wins doesn't count, it's the part that loses.'
The movie starts in a train, with an older man, who is a clairvoyant, and a woman talking on a train. The man tells the woman a story: Late one evening a man and a woman exit a train and end up in a fight, with the man accidentally killing the woman. The man, Harold Dunlap (Charles Russell, 'Behind Green Lights') doesn't know what to do and dumps the body on the observatory platform of the departing train. A kid saw him put the body on the train but thinks it was a bundle or a package. Dunlap tries to leave town, but finds himself stranded due to floods blocking off all roads and railroads that night. He finds a room in a local boarding house, but fate would have it that the kid who saw him at the train station also lives in that house, Mike (Dale Belding). Dunlap is even given Mike's room to sleep in. Another occupant in the house is a young woman, Jean Maxwell (Mary Beth Hughes, 'The Great Flamarion', 'The Lady Confesses') who is tired of the boring town and wants to get out, and she immediately takes a shine to the mysterious & handsome stranger. As news about the dead woman's discovery and the subsequent murder investigation reaches the town, both Mike and Jean draw the same conclusion, but the kid is scared he'll end up dead too and the woman doesn't care, she just sees a handsome ticket out of town and she's attracted to bad guys anyways. And Dunlap finds out the town and his fate share a common trait: he can't escape either of them.

Charles Russell is decent enough as Harold Dunlap, who might be an accidental killer, but who also definitely has a dark and sinister side. Russell plays him as a tough man who barely moves his lips when he speaks, and who has anger brewing up inside him, but  can't let his guard down. It's a fairly one-dimensional portrayal, but also does the trick well here. Mary Beth Hughes is not very effective as the femme fatale Jean Maxwell here. Jean's been stuck in the small town of Clayburn, where the movie takes place, for 2.5 years and wants to move back to San Fransisco where she's originally from. She sees an opportunity to escape in Dunlap, and once she realizes the connection between Dunlap and the murdered woman on the train, she implies that he'd better get her out of there and back to San Fransisco, or else... Unfortunately however, that threat is not carried through to greater effect. As she tells Dunlap: 'You're pretty awful, you're even too bad for me.' So much for the femme fatale in this movie.
'When you tell a woman that's over 40 she is beautiful, you ain't a liar, you're a philantrophist.'
Mike's mother Ruth, is played by Lee Patrick, who played Effie, Sam Spade's secretary in 1941's 'The Maltese Falcon'. She is very protective of Mike, but Mike enjoys nighttime walks in the park and watching the trains, which she does not approve of one bit. He wasn't supposed to have been at the train station that fateful night, and he's afraid he'll receive some harsh punishment by his mother, or 'walloping' as he calls it, should she find out. So when he's convinced Dunlap is the killer, he's very reluctant to come forward. Unfortunately Mike is such an annoying kid, you soon wish he would get that 'walloping' he's so afraid of. On the other hand however, his mother is also quite annoying, when Mike musters up enough courage to tell her, she interrupts him constantly, until he can't tell her anymore. They deserve each other, and the movie could do without them.
'You're pretty... when your lips aren't moving.'
The movie ends in a fashion that betrays its origins, with a nice twist as the clairvoyant ends his story. It gives the movie more than a bit of a serial feel, one can easily see the old clairvoyant that bookends this movie as a recurring character introducing and summarizing each episode. But unlike the earlier movies with Lon Chaney Jr., this was a one-off movie.

As mentioned earlier, the movie was made by Film Classics, a poverty row studio whose film output consists of a mere 15 movies, including 'Blonde Ice' and 'Guilty Bystander'. Of course poverty row studios have done their fair share of great mystery and noir movies, and 'Inner Sanctum' has plenty of elements of both. This is far from a classic however. Landers makes effective use of the handful of sets, no doubt already used for other low budget movies, by having almost the entire movie take place either indoors or at nighttime and using more than his fair share of close ups of faces. And the story itself is pretty decent, it could've done with a better screenplay however, to turn the fairly cardboard characters into more compelling ones. It has some decent elements and a few nice shots such as the opening scene inside the train and at the trainstation, and its short length of just over an hour helps things move along quickly as well. Overall the movie has too many weak elements to elevate it out of the quagmire of mediocrity tho.


No comments:

Post a Comment