Monday 18 June 2007

The Mysterious Doctor (1943) Benjamin Stoloff

Dr Frederick Holmes is on a walking holiday through Cornwall, but the clouds are low and the visibility is poor. He gets a lift to The Running Horse pub at Morgan's Head from a travelling pedlar and is warned a plenty by the horseman to beware. It's not landlord Simon Tewkesbury he should beware of, even though he got his face blown off by dynamite and so wanders around in a mediaeval executioner's hood, it's the headless ghost of Black Morgan. Dr Holmes quickly gets treated to the ghost story and naturally doesn't believe it, but decides to hang around to see the mine where the original events that led to it took place. That makes him suspicious to the locals who don't like strangers at the best of times, let alone times when the country's at war and someone has parachuted into the vicinity.

I've seen a lot of films made during the Second World War. A lot of them were English and thus predominantly war films, while the Americans seemed to ignore the war entirely for a while before making up for it with a vengeance. What makes this one most enjoyable is the fact that while it's a patriotic war movie alright, with Nazi agents parachuting into Cornwall, but it's an old time horror yarn too and that's a refreshing change. Putting a decent cast and crew in charge of a movie mixing Nazi agents, haunted mines and headless ghosts just can't go wrong. Executioner's hoods, village idiots and decent accents can't hurt either.

John Loder is the lead, Sir Henry Leland, and I've already watched him earlier today in Gideon's Way, made fifteen years later. Dr Holmes is Lester Matthews, who I don't know at all, but Eleanor Parker is the leading lady and while she's hardly the most famous actress of the time, she's no minor name either with no less than three Oscar nominations to her credit, none of which were for a film she made in 1966 called The Oscar. I remember her best for The King and Four Queens in which she played opposite Clark Gable in one of his underrated later films but she's good here too, having more courage than most of the men in the village.

I'm sure the story could have ben improved with more attention and more money, but it really ought to have been Scooby Doo material and it just isn't. Instead it's a worthy little B movie that whistles along in less than an hour and kept my attention throughout, trying to work out who was the spy and who the ghost (I was half right). The village idiot could have been more consistent and the sets a little more varied, but they didn't look like plaster of paris and I've seen a lot worse. I was looking forward to a guilty pleasure here but, while this is no undying classic, it's much more of a guilt free pleasure than I expected. It does play a lot like a decent episode of a bad yet particularly patriotic serial though.

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