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This not perhaps one of the great films but is yet the umpteenth example of how a well-made and nicely acted picture can work wonders even without a particularly outstanding script. A doctor on a walking tour in foggy Cornwall finds himself at a village inn. He has to knock hard to get someone to open the door, and when it does open he is greeted by a man with a black hood over his head. Once inside the stranger meets the customers at the bar, who are the usual dour, sullen, somewhat eccentric British types moviegoers are familiar with thanks to such lively and observant directors as James Whale. Whether such characters have ever existed in the real world is of course irrelevant. The actors are British enough, and the setting sufficiently evocative to satisfy even the most finicky moviegoer. We are in Hollywood's England of the forties, when Brittania ruled with an authority and prestige not seen since, and when dry ice fog and mists suggested a quaint and cozy never-never Albion out of Dickens and Doyle almost as well as the authors themselves had done. One of locals tells the doctor the tale of the headless ghost of Black Morgan, which many believe to still be haunting the village and local mine. For a while, due to the exceptionally suspenseful build-up and clever art direction, one might have expected a werewolf or two to show up before the picture ended. This alas does not happen, and the film, though satisfying in its way, never fulfills the promise of its early, expository scenes.
What follows is a mystery, reasonably well done, highly unoriginal, and unworthy of the actors and set designers, who deserved better for their sterling efforts. This film is highly recommended for its atmosphere, though as a story it contains few surprises. Director Ben Stoloff does a commendable job in the dramatic scenes, and has a feel for the nuances of mood in terms of psychology and setting, as the two interact well and properly, as they always should. Leading lady Eleanor Parker handles her generic role quite well and comes close to being convincingly British without any excessive mannerisms. John Loder is decent as the local 'Sir', and the various supporting players are credible if predictable in their routines. Lester Matthews makes a fine Dr. Holmes, and plays his part with an authority and empathy one does not expect in an English actor at this time and in this sort of film. Matt Willis is excellent as the chief suspect. He was always a fine actor, and was never given the parts he deserved in his brief film career. In what one might call the Laird Cregar (or Vincent Price) role he is in his very different way as good as they were, and far more natural. The film's final scenes are badly dated, but overall this is as finely polished a B gem as one can find, and might have been a masterpiece of its kind with a better screenplay.
Technically it is a virtuoso piece, suggesting at times Hitchcock, at other times Lang; there's a touch of Val Lewton in the sensitive use of second-hand sets; in its locale, concluding scene and one of its leading actors it is strangely reminiscent of Ford's How Green Was My Valley; and early on it feels like a horror film. Not a bad showing for a little under sixty minutes running time.
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