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Much has been made of Mr. Ulmer's talent, and here, he makes good use of it. While someone on the order of a brooding Farley Granger, for example, would have been preferable as the lead, James Lydon, nonetheless, turns in a commendable job as Paul Cartwright, a college student haunted by prophetic dreams. It's genuinely refreshing for a change, to look back upon a time, when teen-agers were still presented in a wholesome and appealing light. And, Mr. Lydon, movieland's "Henry Aldrich" certainly had the credentials for those traits. But, here, Lydon is caught in a story of deathly threats, with implications far more threatening, than the "Golly--Gee!" consequences of smashing his date's corsage for the Senior Prom.
As for the plot, Paul, manages to prevent his wealthy widowed mother from marrying a male gold-digger, with a string of unsolved murders in his past. Naturally, Paul has to undergo any number of travails before the violent denouement, including amateur "detective" work that triggers both a feigned and a near real nervous collapse. He is even "voluntarily" committed to an asylum where further sinister developments befall him. The ending, cleverly finds him lost in an unconscious dream state again, but now enjoying a vision of a liberated and happy future.
Mr. Lydon was "slumming" at PRC, on loan from Paramount, and preparatory to his turns with glamorous Elizabeth Taylor in "Life With Father" and "Cynthia" both glossy, expensive, mainline productions.
Nonetheless, this PRC production possesses relatively handsome art direction and production values, given that, based on production files with the American Film Institute, it was actually shot in just 15 days, (as opposed to the erroneous oft-cited 6 day schedule.) By the way, take a good, hard, look at the exteriors of the Lydon family chateau in this. Look familiar? Yes, it's the same house used as Robert Walker's home in "Strangers on a Train" and June Lockhart's in "Bury Me Dead."
All told, if you enjoy crime stories focused on young people trapped in traumatic circumstances, it's definately worth a look.
Although I would hesitate to call it "film noir," Strange Illusion is a
tightly woven, intriguing mystery. For a Poverty Row production, the
writers and Ulmer paced the film well and kept it interesting. The
acting, although amateurish at times, doesn't distract from a
believable story. My only real complaint about the film is the music--
too much of it and too loud.
Brett's penchant for teenage girls is a refreshingly realistic perversion for a film of the '40s. It also stands in stark contrast to the "gee whiz" scenes (as mentioned in a previous comment), which seem like they were lifted straight out of "Leave It to Beaver."
I rate it 7/10.
Its films like this that gave Edgar G. Ulmer his reputation as a director who could overcome the limitations of rapid lowbudget film making, even though STRANGE ILLUSION is actually an "A" picture by PRC standards. When Ulmer had interesting material to work with, the results were often good, as they are here. The story is fairly involving. Jimmy Lydon plays a college student who dreams of his late father being killed in a train/car wreck. In the dream he sees his widowed mother being seduced by a sinister but charming figure. Then the dream begins to come true, and Lydon has to convince others is was not all just a dream. The photography is low key and moody. The film is well paced and held my interest throughout. The dream sequences are well directed. My only complaint is that Jimmy Lydon's mother looks a bit to young to have a college age son.
The plot of "Strange Illusion" can be summed up by main character Paul
Cartwright (Jimmy Lydon) in conversation with his friend Dr. Vincent
(Regis Toomey) - "This may sound kinda crazy Doc but, that dream is
beginning to happen". The story finds college student Paul, who's
overly protective of his mother Virginia (Sally Eilers), conflicted
over her romance with Brett Curtis (Warren William). Curtis' manner is
just a little too smooth, hiding the fact that his mission is to exact
revenge on Paul and his family. It was Paul's deceased father, a former
judge, who sent Curtis to jail years ago, but under his real name of
Curtis becomes suspicious that Paul is on to him, and together with psychiatrist friend Professor Muhlbach (Charles Arnt), they intend to take him out of the picture one way or another. Paul uncharacteristically agrees to be a 'guest' at Muhlbach's Restview Sanitarium, where his own detective skills are put to the test. With cool self assurance and with the help of Doc Vincent, the pair begin to unravel the mystery behind the death of Paul's father and the sinister alliance between Muhlbach and Curtis/Barrington.
Lydon's portrayal of young Cartwright is decidedly angst driven, though he manages to slip out of character every once in a while when conversing with friends. He caught me off guard with that phone call to would be girlfriend Lydia (Mary McLeod) - "Hello vixen, what's mixin'?"; and he really went into Henry Aldrich mode when he learned his sister might be in danger with Curtis.
It was after the film doing some research that I learned of an interesting fact about Lydon. In the movie, his sister Dorothy (Jayne Hazard) is talking with Curtis about moonlight and poetry, and they share a thought about Omar Khayyam. Dorothy remarks that most people her age wouldn't know who the Persian poet was, surmising that to them he could just as well be a Turkish wrestler. That remark seemed to come out of left field, but it turns out that Lydon's grandfather was professional wrestling champion Jim Londos!
When the opening credits of this film rolled declaring itself a PRC release, my guard immediately went up for poor production values and a disjointed story, however I was pleasantly surprised by the intelligent presentation of Paul's dilemma and it's resolution. It might have been more fitting if Paul's dream sequence to end the movie had him talking with his dead father. Other than that, I only found one other story element to be annoying. Why, one asks, would a grown woman allow her own kids to call her 'The Princess'?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Edgar G. Ulmer, the auteur of Detour, directed this mystery inspired by Hamlet. Gawky teenager James Lyden is troubled by dreams of the death of his father, a prominent criminologist. The dreams make him uneasy about his mother's courtship by Warren Williams, a suave gigolo. Voluntarily checking himself into a sanitarium run by the psychiatrist who's a confederate of Williams', Lydon hopes to find evidence for his suspicions. Bad move, for in the forties psychiatrists were charlatans (if not worse), and asylums the equivalent of Old Dark Houses in the thirties.... The talkiness and, frankly, cheesiness that adventitiously became virtues in Detour do not augur well in the first half-hour or so of Strange Illusion. But then the story gains traction, in a simplistic, Hardy-Boys sort of way. Despite its literary pretensions, it's an oddly cozy little noir from an era when the words "adolescent" and "angst" were seldom used in tandem.
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.
It is told that STRANGE ILLUSION was made in little over two weeks with very, very limited funds and fading star power. But director Edgar G. Ulmer had full reins to do what he could with what he had. Still a decent B-movie with plenty of intrigue. The opening "allusive dream" of college lad Paul Cartwright(Jimmy Lydon)is to set up the story line. His well respected father dies mysteriously in a train/car accident which leads to haunting nightmares in which his father warns him of oncoming danger to his mother(Sally Eilers)caused by a mysterious stranger that wants to cause harm to the family. Inter the mystery man Brett Curtis(Warren William)introduced as the widow Cartwright's suitor. Lydon's character becomes a little obsessed with Curtis wooing his mother and making disturbing advances toward his younger sister. Seeking help sorting out circumstances and illusions, Paul turns to a friend of the family Dr. Vincent(Regis Toomey). Next comes maneuvering in and out of a sanitarium and the revelation of false identity and the reason for the unfinished plot to cause destruction of the Cartwright family. This is an enjoyable little psychological melodrama. Also in the cast are: Charles Ant and George Reed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hamlet, Freud and Edgar Ulmer may seem like an unnatural group of pals,
but among them they have come up with a tidy little psychological
thriller. In fact, with a bigger budget and stronger actors, Ulmer
might have had a classic on his hands. As it is, Strange Illusion can't
escape its Poverty Row heritage. Even so, it's a well-paced movie that
keeps a person's interest. Even if the best-acted roles are the bad
guys, that's not necessarily a drawback in a B movie.
Paul Cartwright's father, an older man and a respected judge, died two year ago in a train accident...at least it appeared to be an accident. Paul's not so sure. Paul (James Lydon) is a young man from a good family. He has a younger sister and an attractive mother, Virginia Cartwright (Sally Eilers). The family is well off. Paul lately has been having dreams, disturbing dreams, of his father telling him to take care of his mother, to be wary of a shadowy someone who is coming into her life. Paul confides in an old friend of the family, Dr. Martin Vincent (Regis Toomey), who tries to calm Paul but who also respects Paul's intelligence. Paul is, in fact, smart and resourceful. Then one day Paul's mother introduces him to Brett Curtis (Warren William), a smooth, gracious man Paul feels he's met before. Curtis and his mother announce that they plan to wed.
Paul becomes suspicious of Curtis and Curtis' association with Professor Muhlbach (Charles Arnt), a psychologist who runs an exclusive and very private sanitarium. Before long, Paul becomes a "guest" in the place so that he can investigate Muhlbach and Curtis. But things begin to go wrong. It becomes a race to see if Paul can break away, if Dr. Vincent can convince the police that there may be a link between the death of Paul's father and the team of Curtis and Muhlbach, and if Paul and some of his friends can get to the lake cottage where Curtis has gone with Paul's sister.
James Lydon had a great success as a child actor, especially playing in the Henry Aldrich films. He was typecast as a gawky, friendly, well-intentioned kid. Strange Illusion was an attempt by him to break out of those roles as he grew older. He's not a gifted enough actor to carry the weight of the movie, but he certainly gives the role all he's got. He's no embarrassment. The acting interest, however, comes from Charles Arnt and, especially, Warren William. Arnt gives the professor a great gloss of smiling insincerity. He's unethical down to his polished fingernails.
Warren William really shines. William was a tall, broad-shoulder man with a profile that out- Barrymored Barrymore's. He had a creamy baritone voice and a smooth manner. Although he was in private life a shy man long-married to one woman, in movies he became typed as a charming rotter. He was big stuff in the early Thirties, but by the late Thirties had slowly moved down to B movies. In Strange Illusion, at 51, his profile was still as sharp as a crease, but his face was beginning to look its age. His eyes were a little puffy and pouched, the jaw line not quite so firm. With the Curtis character, William's face looks like dissipation. As soon as we see Brett Curtis walk into Virginia Cartwright's parlor to be introduced to Paul, we know this man is as insincere as a head waiter. Later, while we watch him try to sweet-talk Virginia into to an early marriage, all the while subtly looking over the daughter, we know the ghost in Paul's dream was right on. William does a fine job showing us a creepy, dangerous charmer.
Ulmer starts the movie with the dream sequence. It's B movie special effects but it serves the purpose of getting us into Paul's mind and preparing us to believe in Paul. Be forewarned. There's a brief dream sequence at the end which verges on the icky.
I enjoyed this movie despite it's weaknesses, which at times it feels
"B" movie technically. For example, at one point the main character is
watching from the sanitarium window a car exiting the driveway but his
is not following the movement of the car properly which means it was a
shot and it looks odd. Also the mother sometimes looks the same or
than her daughter.
However, my interest was held from beginning to the end. I cared enough about the characters to want to see how they came out of it all.
The movie is in the category of a traditional mystery/drama, but the son's obsession with destroying his mother's fiancee gives the film an interesting suggestive undercurrent. Whether this was intentional, or just viewing it from a modern perspective, I can't say.
****SPOILERS**** Having recurring dreams of his fathers Judge
Cartwright tragic and deadly train accident every night Paul
Cartwright,James Lydon, is convinced that his fathers death was no
accident but a murder and the person who murdered his father is in his
dream and in the shadows not being able to be recognized.
Being very protective of his mother Virginia,Sally Eilers,Paul gets very agitated and concerned when she gets engaged to marry a Mr. Brett Curtis, Warren Williams. Curtis comes across as a suave and sophisticated as well as well traveled gentleman who swept Virginia right off her feet. But Paul who feels that he's just not what he is and his background it's just too perfect to be real.
In his awakening state of mind Paul sees the events in his dream accruing over and over in real life which convinces him that there's something very strange and sinister about the very debonair and smooth talking Brett Curtis. Paul also has a grudging feeling that Brett is the man in the shadows in his dream who was responsible for his fathers death and also wants to keep his mother from marrying him.
Early cinematic psychological study about the mind and it's deepest secrets and how they come to the surface when we least expect them to Which makes the movie "Strange illusions" a unique movie for it's time, 1945, and as far as I know has never been duplicated since.
Things in the film like Brett's strange behavior in regards to Paul whom he senses is somehow on to him and his intentions has him lose his cool from time to time and almost expose himself as the psychotic that he really is.
Paul has tapped into something real and deadly through his subconscious, his dreams, but unknowing to Paul Brett is working with Professor Muhlbach,Charles Arnt, who runs the Restview Sanitarium where Paul will soon be staying at. Looking into his late fathers files, that he kept locked in his study, Paul finds out about a mysterious Mr. Claude Barrington who Paul's father was very interested in.
Judge Cartwright felt that Barrington committed a string of crimes from murder and rape to embezzlement dating back to 1932 when he was married to the former miss. Cecilia Gordon who was found drowned some six months after their marriage.
Barrington seemed to have vanished and then popped up and commit crimes almost at will all across the American Southwest. Barrington has a talent to disappear and resurface after each crime with a new and bogus identity and successfully avoided being fingerprinted or photographed. It was Judge Cartwright's closing in on him and being about to expose him and have him arrested, and made to pay for his crimes, that led to his unfortunate "accident".
Paul also feels that Barrington faked his own death and is now back to eliminate those who may be able to expose him as still being alive by being in the position of finding Judge Cartwright secret files; the Judge's family. Paul is sure that the late Claude Barrington is the very alive Brett Curtis.
Having to get rid of Paul but not until Brett is legally married to Virginia Brett and Professor Muhlbach plan to have Paul committed in his sanitarium and then have an "Accident" that will put his searching for the truth, about his dead father, to an end once in for all.
With Brett married to Virginia he can offer her sympathy comfort and understanding for the loss of her son and his step-son until the time is right for her to have an "Accident" too. With that Brett can get his hands on the Cartwright estate, and all the evidence that the judge gathered on him, and have it destroyed with no one who can be in the position to know about it, the Judge's files, or get their hands on them. Mind twisting movie with a surprise ending that will more then just surprise.
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