Tuesday 23 October 2007

The Soul of a Monster (1944) Will Jason

Prominent and well regarded physician Dr George Winson is dying. Apparently he was a really good man, ready to help anyone and everyone who needed it, but he's rewarded cruelly by fate and other doctors are unable to help. His wife Ann prays to God for his salvation but when she feels that He doesn't answer she begins to pray to anyone else she can think of too. Given that the film is called The Soul of a Monster, you can imagine who answers.

Well, actually you can't, because it's a beautiful yet firm young lady called Lilyan Gregg, who answers the call, and she's the one who inexplicably saves him. Dr Winson recovers miraculously from the brink but his character changes in the process so that his kindness is replaced by callous viciousness. He stands watching thunderstorms, follows silent voices and kills anything that he touches, whether flower or animal. He can't even feel pain, even when stabbed with a pair of scissors.

George Macready is perfect for the part of Dr Winson, someone upstanding and decent who is somehow twisted into something completely different. His voice especially is exactly what's called for, which is precisely why he was cast in so many roles like this. The Soul of a Monster is early in his career, two years before Gilda and thirteen before Paths of Glory, but he's already exactly right.

Rose Hobart is precisely right too, haughty and confident but with a little fear too, and with a powerfully strong haircut. I've seen her in a few films and know her mostly from genre material: The Mad Ghoul, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Tower of London, for instance. She was excellent in each of them and is certainly better here than Jeanne Bates who plays Winson's wife, Ann, or Jim Bannon who as Dr Roger Vance is the remaining lead. He does have a knowing grin though that appeals, even when it's only a smirk.

The story is subtle, perhaps too subtle as it talks like a Val Lewton movie but without as much of the style. There are powerful scenes though, regardless of how little there really is in the way of graphic anything. That's the Lewton influence and the cast do transcend the material enough times for it to stand on its own. Its ending is a little surprising too which can't hurt.

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