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Joseph H. Lewis
Dame May Whitty,
At her engagement party, Joan Ellis, your typical girl next door, acknowledges that the strange voice that she's heard all her life is coming from within herself. Joan's alter ego, a conniving and murderous woman named Karen, is becoming stronger and stronger and is threatening to take over her life. Joan negotiates with Karen. Although they do come to an agreement, Karen reneges on that agreement when the situation suits her. Karen ultimately wants the men in Joan's life, first her fiancé, Bob Arnold, then Eric Russell, a lawyer Joan meets in New York City. Joan does whatever she needs to to get rid of Karen, even if it a threat to her own life. Without knowing for certain what is wrong with Joan, those close to her, including Eric and Dr. Bergson, do whatever they can to save her. Written by
No need to repeat the plot. The force behind the movie is Arch Oboler, an established radio heavyweight at the time. From his credits, it looks like he kept searching for a handle in Hollywood but never quite found it. Certainly, it wasn't from lack of imaginationhis 1951 film "Five" dealt with nuclear post-apocalypse in a resourceful and compelling way at a time when no studio would touch the subject. That same bold imagination is evident in this movie as well. The professionals dismiss the film as "heavy-handed", which it is. However, there are compensations that are too easily overlooked.
Aside from Thaxter's fine performance, the movie contains several profoundly imaginative touches. Catch that moody dollying shot down the deserted city street that finally fixes on a cringing Thaxter hiding behind an open doorway. Not only is it great atmosphere, but it also sort of sums up Thaxter's predicament. She's afraid to come out into the world for risk of immediate exposure, so she clings fearfully to a hidden world where only she exists. It's a well-conceived and artfully executed passage. Then there's that darn-near sublime set-up with Thaxter huddled in a concert hallway while we see a long-shot of a vocalist pinpointed by a thin beam of light. The woman intones a mournful version of My Old Kentucky Home, like the proverbial voice in the darkened wilderness. It may be the only glimpse we get of Thaxter's true inner self, summed up poetically.
But the overly literal side does unfortunately predominate, and I wish someone had more confidence in audience imagination. For one thing, that would have eliminated the two hokey doppelgangers in the exorcism scene. Also, the conventional happy ending is much too pat for the problem being dealt with, but is indicative of the time. And if I'm not mistaken, there's a quick reference from Gwenn to Thaxter's problem as being genetic, as if a multiple personality trait can be passed along in the genes. I'm no clinical psychologist, but I doubt seriously this is the prevailing view. Anyway, it's too bad Oboler couldn't get a better handle on Hollywood. I think his credits showed genuine promise. This movie may be unfortunately flawed (perhaps because of studio dictates), but the very real compensations should not be overlooked.
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