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Paul, a young man whose father was once lieutenant Governor of California before his untimely death, has a strange, recurring dream in which his mother falls in love with a dangerous man (Brett Curtis), a dream which also contains the image of his father's death in an automobile accident under mysterious circumstances. Through the help of his friend, a psychiatrist, Paul realizes that his dream is coming true, and that his mother is falling under Curtis's influence. Curtis, in fact, is a homicidal maniac who lives as an out-patient at the sanitarium of the unscrupulous Dr. Muhlbach. When Curtis makes an attempt to marry Paul's mother, Paul intervenes, and after a series of events discovers the truth behind his dreams. Written by
Wheeler Winston Dixon
This one's basically a noir retelling of Shakespeare's "Hamlet", which actually anticipates Akira Kurosawa's obviously superior THE BAD SLEEP WELL (1960) by several years! I had expected the film to be a ramshackle effort in the vein of the same director's better-known noir, DETOUR (1945), but it looks fairly stylish overall beginning with an astonishing dream sequence.
The central plot, though clearly altered to fit the conventions of modern-day small-town America, retains its essential fascination (with the sequences in the clinic achieving genuine suspense and the whole given a commendably fast pace) thanks also to modest yet effective casting: Jimmy Lydon is the youngster suspicious of mother Sally Eilers' new boyfriend, the reptilian Warren William; also on hand is Regis Toomey as Lydon's psychology professor, who becomes his co-conspirator in unmasking William (the man responsible for the death of Lydon's father). Even if Eilers doesn't look to be that much older than her on-screen son, William decidedly comes across as a lecher since he also has his eyes on Lydon's girlfriend and sister throughout the course of the film! Incidentally, the youthful element present here is rather surprising but this actually lends proceedings a welcome quirky charm.
Since the film has fallen into the Public Domain, there are several DVD editions of variable quality out there the best value for money seem to be those emanating from the Roan Group and All Day Entertainment. As a matter of fact, I had long considered purchasing the latter for the accompanying documentary about Ulmer's tenure at Poverty Row studio PRC; thankfully, I was able to get to the film regardless via a recent late-night screening on Italian TV which I taped.
In conclusion, I liked STRANGE ILLUSION well enough for it to join THE BLACK CAT (1934), BLUEBEARD (1944), DETOUR (1945) and THE NAKED DAWN (1955) among Ulmer's more interesting and satisfying work.
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