Sunday 11 November 2007

The Devil's Mask (1946) Henry Levin

I was surprised and very impressed by I Love a Mystery, the first of three films based on the long running radio series. Reading up on it, I'm more and more intrigued by the original radio show and now have a bunch downloaded and ready to go. It had a somewhat unique focus on seemingly supernatural mysteries that weren't so supernatural once explained and there's still a large fan base who keep its well beloved memory alive. I Love a Mystery was also apparently half of the influence for Scooby Doo, the other half being The Loves of Dobie Gillis.

We open with a crashed plane that leaves nobody dead but a number of cargo packages orphaned through their labels being burned. One contains a shrunken human head of the Jivarro Indian variety, but the only museum holding any doesn't have any missing. They're in the Mitchell collection, and as if by scary coincidence Mitchell's wife meets Jack Packard and Doc Long there at the same time it's brought to the museum's attention. Mrs Mitchell believes she's being followed by a man hired by her stepdaughter to kill her, and we soon discover that the stepdaughter believes that her father was murdered in the South American jungle.

That's a lot of subplots to juggle within a film that's only 65 minutes long, but like the last one it's very heavy on the storyline at the expense of the sort of humour and other filler material that we're used to. Sure, Doc Long is mostly there for comic relief, but he has other purposes and the southern folk witticisms don't slow down the actual storyline. And as with the first film, it's far easier to notice Barton Yarborough playing Doc than Jim Bannon playing Jack Packard, but Bannon grows in stature as the film progresses. He's almost the opposite of the modern Hollywood standard for detectives: he's intelligent and he gets the job done, but he's not flashy in the slightest. Anyone not paying attention is likely to miss half of what he does.

This one isn't as good as the first, and it's not too difficult to work out the plot twists, but it's still worthy of notice, especially for Jim Bannon's understated performance and the admirably capable writing.

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