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Thomas Mitchell takes a "Flight from Destiny," in this 1941 film also
starring Geraldine Fitzgerald, Jeffrey Lynn, and Mona Maris.
Thomas plays a professor with six months to live who is told by his boss that he can't teach any longer at the university. He would like to do something meaningful in his last six months. After giving it some thought and talking to his buddies at his club, he decides to murder someone, someone whom the law can't touch, someone whose loss wouldn't be missed and someone who is a detriment in her world.
He learns that there are problems in the marriage of his friends, Betty and Michael Farraway. Michael is a talented artist but hasn't been producing much lately. Professor Todhunter and Betty follow him one night and see him meeting a glamorous woman, Ketti Moret (Maris), an art dealer.
Todhunter visits the woman, who denies any interest in Michael other than in his career, and while there, Todhunter admires a valuable painting. When he goes to Michael's studio with Betty, he finds a painting that doesn't look like Michael's work but does look like the old painting in Ketti Moret's house. The professor realizes that she is having Michael replicate the artist's style, and she is selling them as originals. He investigates Moret thoroughly and discovers that she abandoned her husband and daughter, putting her daughter in an orphanage, and doesn't help her mother, who works as a janitor. Todhunter decides that she must die.
While somewhat predictable, this is certainly an original story with an excellent performance by Thomas Mitchell. I love the beautiful Mona Maris in anything, and she was wonderful as the amoral, narcissistic Ketti. Geraldine Fitzgerald is lovely but wasted, and Jeffrey Lynn is very good.
It's hard to describe this film or story - it's really one you have to see and judge for yourself. In well over 3000 films that I've seen, I've seen just one other with as bizarre a plot, Trouble for Two, from Hollywood's golden era. Well worth a look.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Thomas Mitchell is a well-respected College professor who has just
gotten some bad news. His doctor, James Stephenson, has told Mitchell
that he has at best, 5-6 months to live. Mitchell makes his way home to
ponder his future.
The next day, Mitchell has a word with the College dean, Thurston Hall, about his fate. Mitchell would like to keep working till the end. Hall, however, can't bear the thought of Mitchell maybe dropping dead in front of the students. He relieves Mitchell of his teaching duties and tells him to go home. "Write a book, take it easy, whatever, but I need to think of the good name of the College. I can't have you die here. And lets not tell anyone about this." A somewhat disheartened Mitchell tries to relax. But after several days he soon gets tired of doing nothing. He hits the Teachers club for a brandy. He asks some of his fellow teaching types a "hypothetical" question. What would they do if they found out they had only 6 months to live? He gets answers such as, travel the world, write a book, commit suicide, visit family, friends etc. One fellow says he would commit a murder. Mitchell asks why. Not just a murder, the man replies, but a murder to help society. Kill a criminal or a dictator. A person who the death of, would help society as a whole.
Mitchell thanks all and heads home to mull over the ideas. Later that week, Mitchell is visited by Geraldine Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is the wife of a former student, Jeffery Lynn, Fitzgerald is worried about Lynn's recent behavior and thinks he might be stepping out on her. Mitchell agrees to see Lynn and have a talk with him.
Mitchell later finds Lynn, but Lynn is in the company of the sultry, Mona Maris. The two are exiting an upscale art gallery. Maybe Fitzgerald was right about Lynn stepping out. Then again, Lynn is a painter. Maybe it was a work related meeting. When Mitchell does catch up with Lynn, Lynn tells him to blow and mind his own business. Mitchell is somewhat taken aback by the response and decides to look deeper into the matter.
He goes to see Miss Maris. Maris it turns out is the owner of the art gallery. He asks Maris if she knows Lynn is married etc. Maris just smiles and tells Mitchell that she is planning on selling some of Lynn's work. There is nothing else going on. Mitchell pays a return visit to Lynn for another talk. This time Lynn breaks down and tells Mitchell everything. Lynn, it turns out is selling some paintings to Maris. But they are counterfeits done in the style of the masterpieces. Maris is then unloading them as genuine to rich clients.
This is eating away at Lynn who wants to quit the racket. " I told Maris I would go to the Police or kill her if she made me produce anymore fakes." Lynn says that Maris had simply laughed and answered, "If I go to jail for selling them, then so do you for making them! Kill me and the outcome is the same. You are finished." Mitchell tells Lynn that he will see what he can do about the matter. He digs up all the info he can on Maris. He interviews everyone he can that knows, or knew Maris. And a first rate "rhymes with witch" Maris turns out to be. She had driven her husband to drink and then left him. She had stuck their daughter in an orphanage. Her mother works scrubbing floors while Maris lives the high life.
Mitchell decides that Maris would be the perfect candidate for a "socially helpful" murder. He pockets his revolver and heads out to pay Maris a visit at her apartment. He explains to Maris that she must die to make good all her sins. He then shoots her dead and leaves.
He returns home and turns in for the night. He will turn himself in to the Police along with his full written confession in the morning. This idea however does not go off to plan. The Police have already arrested Lynn. Lynn had been over-heard by Maris's maid making the threat to kill her.
It takes several days before Mitchell can convince the Police that Lynn had nothing to do with the crime. Mitchell is finally arrested and charged with first-degree murder. During the trial, he explains his well thought out reasons for the murder and how it helped others. Needless to say he gets sentenced to death for the killing, which of course he expected. His life will be shorter by a few weeks.
While Mitchell is waiting in his cell for transfer to death row, the Police bring in a kicking and screaming young man. They toss the man in the next cell. Mitchell asks the jail guard what the fellow had done. The guard tells Mitchell, "He is a fan of yours." A puzzled Mitchell asks the young man what he did. "I killed a man!" "Why?" Asks Mitchell. "Because I wanted to! Just like that professor guy in the papers!" This is where the film should have ended. But, being 1941, they tack on an ending where Mitchell makes a statement that he was wrong in what he did. He did not think it would inspire "copycat" killings. There is never an excuse for murder.
The rest of the cast includes, William Hopper, Alex Lockwood, Jonathan Hale, John Eldridge and Mary Gordon. Look close and you will catch an early bit with Alexis Smith.
This was the fourth film by director, Vincent Sherman. Sherman helmed films such as, NORA PRENTISS, THE UNFAITHFUL, BACKFIRE, THE DAMNED DON'T CRY, AFFAIR IN TRINIDAD and THE GARMENT JUNGLE. (B/W)
Not even Art for Art's sake can make a philosophy professor change his
mind about doing something most people would think more than thirty
times about before they pulled a trigger. Thomas Mitchell, one of
America's greatest character actors here plays the lead and it is most
definitely the role of a lifetime and any other actors of his time
would have been pleased to play it. Mitchell, who often played drunks,
here plays a very sober professor of philosophy who is absolutely
convinced, for the greatest good, he must take another's life. There
are a few other entanglements, but this man must convince several
others there was a very excellent reason for committing his "crime of
This beautiful "B" movie from 1941 is one of the most unusual in theme I have ever seen. It deals with subject matter I was very surprised a small film from a major Hollywood studio would be allowed to deal with. I dare not give anything more away except to say, if it comes anywhere near your viewing area, do not hesitate to watch it. It is that superb!
Thomas Mitchell (Henry) is a philosophy Professor who has been given 6
months to live but things may come to an end sooner if he undergoes any
physical exertion. He uses this fact in planning his last few months.
He will murder someone for the good of society, someone who is
detrimental to the development of mankind. Well, he does his research
for a target and picks someone out. Can he change the world through his
An interesting story although I wasn't totally convinced by Mitchell in the lead role. He looks more like a drunk tramp than a Professor, he delivers his lines rather too carefully which makes him sound a bit slow in the head, and his whole idea is flawed from the start as he makes a non-sensical jump to the fact that he is immortal. And where's his beard? A much better idea for him would have been to jump straight into bed with art dealer Mona Maris (Ketti). Let her know that he's not looking for commitment and get it on. He made a schoolboy error with her. A casting question why is Geraldine Fitzgerald who plays the role of "wife" top billed? It doesn't make sense. The best in the cast is Mona Maris and the worst is Willie Best and his racial stereotype.
So who would you murder and how would you justify it? I wouldn't go for any of this benefit to society nonsense. I'd pick someone I didn't like, a far more human approach. Check out what is currently going on at that great British Institution which is Crufts. The annual doggy show is immersed in scandal as rivals are poisoning each others dogs. Some sort of competitive murder seems the way to go. And I'm sure some may feel that Tonya Harding didn't quite go far enough with Nancy Kerrigan back on the ice skating circuit in the 1990s.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
... which I lay squarely on the shoulders of the production code.
Treating audiences like children, the production code insists we all
must understand that murder is always wrong, but I just couldn't keep
myself from sympathizing with Professor Todhunter (Thomas Mitchell).
In the opening minutes of the film we discover that Dr. Todhunter has only a few months to live due to a heart condition, and any undue exertion will kill him. He is a professor of philosophy, but the school doesn't want him to drop dead in class, so they ban him from teaching. He doesn't have enough time left to write his book, so he takes to discussing philosophy with his students posing the question - what would you do if you had less than a year to live? One student says that he would find a person who was not a criminal who could be held accountable by the law, but had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and kill that person - ridding society of that person's negative impact. At the same time, Todhunter runs across a woman who is completely selfish. She is breaking up the marriage of one of the professor's former students although she does not care for him at all. Her only reason for the affair is that the student is a great painter and she is manipulating him into making copies of masterpieces that she is selling as originals. The student is cracking under the strain of guilt. The student's wife is cracking up under the strain of her husband's affair. The evil woman will not let the student out of their arrangement on threat of going to the police and telling them that the student is the counterfeiter.
Todhunter can't believe that such a person has no redeeming virtues so he investigates her. Her mother has disowned her, she abandoned her husband when his luck ran out, and she likewise abandoned her only child in the county orphanage. So one night he enters the evil woman's home unseen, waits until everyone but the woman is gone, and shoots her dead. He figures he'll wait until morning to turn himself in, and he has a prewritten confession in hand. The only problem is this - while the professor slept the police arrested the student who was having the affair with the evil woman for her murder, and they are convinced of his guilt. How does this all work out? Watch and find out.
The professor doesn't strike me as a rash guy or a bad guy or a self-important guy, so a tacked on ending is contrived to teach us that "murder is bad". A man is arrested who claims to have become an adherent to the professor's philosophy even though the murder he committed is the stuff of any street criminal against an ordinary citizen - an old man in fact. The final scene - just too moralizing to believe so I'll let you see exactly what happens.
Up to the end this was an unusual film on a fascinating topic with interesting characters. It was great to see Thomas Mitchell in the lead playing a role that was out of the ordinary for his filmography, and he was terrific. The woman playing the doomed femme fatale was great too, but I don't remember seeing her in other films. Geraldine Fitzgerald is good in a small role as the student's wife who comes to the professor for help, but she was capable of so much more and Warner Brothers just didn't seem to know what to do with her. I'd highly recommend this film. I'd have given it one more star than I did if not for the obvious moralizing ending.
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