Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Inner Sanctum Mysteries!

One might call this 1943-1945 series from Universal "The Saga of Lon Chaney's Mustache". The second-generation creature feature actor sports his pencil thin mustache in all six of these thrillers, starring in all of them but surrounded by outstanding Universal studio players like Evelyn Ankers, J.Carrol Naish, Milburn Stone, and many more. Here's a neat link with a sturdy and reliable description of each movie. No need for me to repeat this good work.

Let me simply say which of these I liked best and why with few if any spoilers.

This is a solid thriller, but gets a bit tedious before it's done. I felt all of its very brief running time. J.Carrol Naish as the cop is the highlight for me, he's nicely sarcastic and the movie brightens considerably when he's on screen.

Good adaptation of the Fritz Lieber story, but hurt by the glossy studio presentation of the rituals. Needed a rougher treatment in places. The girl that played the witch-wife was too whitebread to sell the exotic nature of the tale; the poster makes her seem way scarier than anything in the movie itself. There is some really fine acting in this one, especially by Elizabeth Russell in a part that could have been far less in other hands. Evelyn Ankers is dandy too and her ultimate scene is pretty dang good.

Strange tale of jealousy and greed and oddball surgery, with Acquanetta proving why she had such short career. Good basic thriller, but little else with an especially unlikeable protagonist. Lon Chaney's characters in these can be quite hard to cotton to, but this guy a self-important and whiny artist is the worst.

Weird story that shifts around quite a bit. The first three movies were clearly set in the real world, this one seems more a classic "horror" flick with the introduction of a vintage locale - a wax museum. There's actual action in this one with some heady knife-wielding by scene-chewing villain Martin Kosleck.

This one turned out to be my favorite, a nice story told in flashback about a noble chemist tormented by a despicable boss. There's real charm in this one, and for the first time Lon Chaney is allowed to play an antagonist you feel full sympathy for. Most of the others are snarky know-it-alls who bring about their own problems to some extent. This guy too, but he's nicer about it. Brenda Joyce is great as the wife in this one.

This is the only one which has a sputter of humor in it, and sadly that gets snuffed out in the movie sooner than I liked. This one turns into a murder thriller and haunted house muncher, but ends up with a better ending than I expected. Lots of wacky characters in this Scooby-Doo-ish offering. It's a horrible title though, this flick deserved better.

Overall I give these a recommendation if you can find them cheaply which is readily possible now. These are professionally crafted and feature some very good acting, some great direction at times, and some good scripting here and there. They can lumber especially those directed by LeBorg, but they are all solid entertainments with a good atmosphere, especially those directed by LeBorg.

Lon Chaney wasn't the greatest actor ever, and these movies show his limits, but they also give him chance to do more than growl. He does okay from time to time too.

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