A showcase for the elegant, mysterious Valentine Dyall
Often called the "British Vincent Price," Americans have heard Valentine Dyall, even if his name and face are unfamiliar. His voice was used in countless films, TV and radio programs where his face (though handsome) was not seen.
Dyall's starring role as the hypnotist, Dr. Morelle, is the main reason to see "Dr. Morelle: The Case of the Missing Heiress." The plot is unexceptional, and the acting of most everyone else rather pedestrian. One exception is Hugh Griffith, (ten years before he won a Best Supporting Oscar for "Ben-Hur"), as the daft butler, Bensall.
Greedy, wheelchair-bound Samuel Kimber (Philip Leaver) wants to bump off his stepdaughter, Cynthia (Jean Lodge) to gain her inheritance. She wants to marry a struggling young author, escape the clutches of her stepfather and keep her money.
Heiress disappears between the old manor house she inhabits with her stepfather and Bensall and the author's humble cottage.
And the story takes off from there. Dr. Morelle's secretary, the aptly named Miss Frayle (Julia Lang), infiltrates the old dark house to see what she can find out about the disappearance of her friend.
Along the way, she makes an unlikely ally whose untimely demise hampers her effort to solve the mystery. Meanwhile, Dr. Morelle assumes several names and identities as he tries to ferret out the truth from Mr. Kimber and the young author.
Everything is wrapped up neatly in just over an hour, with a predictable ending arrived at by slightly unconventional means.
I've already given "The Case of the Missing Heiress" more cyber ink than it warrants, but there is something that sets this fairly ordinary late-40s Hammer thriller apart, and that is the commanding presence of Valentine Dyall.
The London-born Dyall (1908-1985) conquered every medium in his nearly fifty-year career: stage, film, TV and especially radio where his mellifluous voice was most famously heard in Britain in the 1940s as the star of "The Man In Black." Dyall's voice was heard much later in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" as that of Deep Thought.
In between there were a lot of spears to be carried, manors to be lorded over, and dead bodies for the trench-coated Mr. Dyall to hunch over. If his work in this unprepossessing little film is any indication of the overall quality of his work, I'm apt to look for his name in credits from now on.
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