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Lon Chaney Jr.,
J. Edward Bromberg
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An artist (Lon Chaney Jr) is blinded by a jealous assistant/model. His fiance's father generously offers his eyes for a sight restoring operation. there's only one hitch. Chaney has to wait until after the man dies. Not surprisingly, when the benefactor dies a very premature death, suspicion falls on the artist. Written by
DEAD MAN'S EYES (Universal, 1944), directed by Reginald LeBorg, the third in the "Inner Sanctum" mysteries based on the radio series owned and operated by Simon and Schuster Publishers, stars Lon Chaney, Universal's resident horror star, taking time away from both Wolf Man and Mummy characterizations. Opening in tradition with a man's head inside the crystal ball, addressing the audience by saying, "This is the Inner Sanctum, the fantastic world controlled by mass of living, cult seeking flesh. The mind, it destroys, distracts, creates monsters. Yes, even you, without knowing, can commit murder." Here's to another segment: The original screenplay by Dwight V. Babcock revolves around Dave Stuart (Lon Chaney), a struggling young artist nearly completing what might become his greatest painted masterpiece, with Tanya Czoraki (Acquanetta) posing as his model. It so happens that Tanya is secretly in love with Dave, and jealous of his engagement to marry Heather Hayden (Jean Parker), whose father, Stanley Hayden (Edward Fielding), likes Dave enough as if were his own son. This doesn't go well with Nick Phillips (George Meeker), Heather's jealous and former suitor. Alan Bittaker (Paul Kelly), a psychiatrist and Dave's closest friend, has a secret passion for Tanya. After a day's work painting on the canvas, Dave's ends his daily routine by cleansing his tired eyes with eyewash. While conversing with Alan, Tanya unwittingly moves the bottles in his cabinet, which causes Dave to accidentally place acid on his eyes, damaging his cornea and going blind. Because of his handicap and unable to finish his painting, he orders the canvas covered, breaks his engagement to Heather, and turns to self pity by boozing alcohol. The guilt ridden Tanya offers to help and keep Dave company by day, hoping in time he's transfer his affections towards her. However, Dave is given some hope by Doctor Samuel Welles (Jonathan Hale) that he might be able to perform a difficult operation of a cornea transplant that might have him see again. "Dad" Hayden agrees to donate the cornea of his own eyes to Dave, leaving that statement in his will at the time of his death. Because of Hayden's suspicions towards Tanya, he and Dave argue and part company. Wanting to apologize for his actions, Dave visits Hayden at his residence, only to be have Heather walk in and finding him standing over her father's dead body. Accused of his mysterious murder, Doctor Welles does follow through with the operation using dead man's eyes. With the operation unsuccessful, and hounded by Detective Druey (Thomas Gomez), Dave, in total darkness, takes it upon himself to clear his name and solve Hayden's murder and other subsequent murders connected to his supposed crime.
Whether intentional or not, scenes involving artist later blinded, and jealous model, appear to parallel that with Rudyard Kipling's film based story, THE LIGHT THAT FAILED, recently produced by Paramount in 1939, starring Ronald Colman and Ida Lupino. Though not a murder mystery as DEAD MAN'S EYES, THE LIGHT THAT FAILED does involve Lupino's bravura performance as a model who eventually goes mad through endless hours of modeling by destroying the painted canvas. For Acaquanetta, fresh from her recent screen introduction title role as the CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (Universal, 1943), is not a very good actress, and can't compare to Lupino. There are moments where Acaquanetta gives the impression she's reciting her worded lines one by one from cue cards with little or no emotion of expression whatsoever. Jean Parker, looking very much like Jean Arthur in both profile and hair style, comes off better, even through a couple of sudden shrieks. Thomas Gomez, doing a J. Carrol Naish police inspector reprise from CALLING DOCTOR DEATH (1943), adds a little flavor of his own as the hounding police inspector. Lon Chaney does exceptionally well as a tormented blind man, sporting sunglasses, feeling his way around the room with either hands of walking cane, and moments of how to handle himself with the outside world. These moments are briefly motivated in favor of murder mystery, which doesn't hurt the story in the least. Director LeBorg keeps the pace moving for 64 minutes, though abrupt blackouts and middle scene fade-ins are evident.
As with other five features in the "Inner Sanctum" series, DEAD MAN'S EYES slowly faded away from television broadcasts starting by the late 1970s where, due to the Chaney horror film reputation, played part of "Fright Night" or any other Saturday evening horror film nights. Unlike the other five, DEAD MAN'S EYES became the only one to be presented on cable television's American Movie Classics during the 1989-90 season. One would wonder why the other five didn't take part in this presentation. Regardless, availability onto home video in 1997 on double bill with PILLOW OF DEATH (1945), and later onto DVD, has assured DEAD MAN'S EYES not completely blind to those curious about this nearly forgotten series of murder mysteries that entertained movie audiences back in the day when films of this nature were quite popular and commonly played. Next "Inner Santrum" episode: THE FROZEN GHOST (1945) Brrr. (**1/2)
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