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Dr. Lynn Harper, psychologist, has been called out to the old Ingston Mansion, a dark and mysterious place with a very bad reputation, in order to make an assessment of the sanity of Margaret Ingston, daughter of patriarch Kurt Ingston. She claims to be sane, but she is clearly very disturbed; we can't be certain, although the doctor gives her a clean bill of health. But then Dick Baldwin shows up on the scene, just when Dr. Lynne has been receiving thinly veiled threats from the inhabitants of the house. He's our hero. Three medical doctors have been invited out to the mansion as well, Dr. Timmons, Dr. Phipps and the sleazy Dr. King (Lionel Atwill). One by one the doctors are mysteriously murdered. Dick Baldwin must figure out who is doing the killings, and he must do so before whoever it is can kill his new love interest, Dr. Lynne Harper. But the only one he can trust is Kurt Ingston himself, since Ingston has no legs and can't have perpetrated these murders. Is it sinister Rolf, ... Written by
This Universal horror whodunit from 1942 raises one of the top questions among fans as to how this film should have been casted. POSSIBLE SPOILERS!
Should Atwill and Lugosi have played Ingston and Agor Singh????? The answer lies in what we the fans believe. Ford Beebe did an excellent job in directing this film. Supposedly Alfred Hitchcock thought this an important film when it was being made. It has terrific atmosphere, and it is a lot of fun. The actors are all very exciting. In the last half hour someone gets killed every five minutes too. However, the problem for fans is Atwill is seen only in the first half hour of the film and Lugosi's character is so forgotten by the end that we have no idea if he escaped the house or burned within it! Also, they are top billed. In fact, it was the only time Lugosi got top billing in a Universal film other than Dracula!!!
We must consider this - Lugosi would have had less screen time if he played Agor Singh. However, that was a juicier part and was also more involved with the horror content than the snotty butler he plays. As for Atwill, playing Ingston would have been a virtual repeat of his role as the mad sculptor in Mystery of the Wax Museum. But again, he would have had basically equal screen time if playing that role. What is so disappointing is that after the first half hour he is no longer in the film! If you accept that all actors are equal in this type of film, then you can enjoy it - It is a good film, and truly an ensemble piece. If studio marketing and Lugosi and Atwill being denied bringing forth their full talents bothers you, then you may find this disappointing. I find myself in both seats when I watch this film. I want more Lugosi and more Atwill, but it just doesn't happen, but when I follow the story, it is very enjoyable.
Ultimately, though, this film will never be considered as great as it could have BECAUSE Atwill and Lugosi are given the non-horror roles. This film would have a higher status and be considered a greater classic if it had given those two the meatier parts. Just like Dracula's Daughter. That would have been considered the best Vampire movie of all, if only Lugosi got to be in it! Universal, for all it's greatness in horror, was not perfect. I wish this film had cast Atwill as Ingston and Lugosi as Agor Singh. I do not collect Ralph Morgan films nor Nils Asther films and neither does anyone I know. Nothing against them either. They were both excellent, but what I pay for is Lugosi and Atwill. And from today's point of view, they are more important horror stars and should have played the horror roles in this film. Period.
So enjoy this film for what it is. It is still a whodunit classic (even though Ralph Morgan ALWAYS is the killer) with great atmosphere. Love those frogs that stop croaking in a simultaneous halt!
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