A stage illusionist's comeback attempt results in his humiliation. He plots to revenge himself by hypnotizing people into committing murders for him.A stage illusionist's comeback attempt results in his humiliation. He plots to revenge himself by hypnotizing people into committing murders for him.A stage illusionist's comeback attempt results in his humiliation. He plots to revenge himself by hypnotizing people into committing murders for him.
THE MASK OF DIIJON (Lew Landers, 1946) **1/2
Erich von Stroheim's acting career often saw him playing some kind of variety-act performer: in THE GREAT GABBO (1929), which I own but have yet to watch, he was a ventriloquist; in THE GREAT FLAMARION (1945), an expert marksman; and here, as in the French-made L'ALIBI (1937; which I have now acquired), he dabbles in mind-reading (though, in this case, he starts out as a magician who 'trips up' in front of an unforgiving audience and is humiliated – to the consternation of his heavy-set promoter, who has no qualms about receiving guests at home while slumped on a bed in his tank top undershirt!). Incidentally, most sources give the film's title as THE MASK OF DIJON, so that I was surprised to notice the extra "i" in the credits! While the script makes no particular exertion on the star's immense talent, his commanding presence and accented delivery of lines is more than enough for him to create a memorable character nonetheless (making good the publicists' dubbing of the former auteur as "The Man You Love To Hate"!); interestingly, just as he had been flanked by Dwight Frye in THE CRIME OF DR. CRESPI (1935), this time around Edward van Sloan is on hand to evoke that distinct Universal Horror flavor (the director having previously helmed THE RAVEN  for that studio, despite the film under review itself bearing the low-rent PRC logo)! The one other strong point here, in fact, is the atmosphere (aided by alternately odd and menacing camera angles, expressive night-time lighting and even fast cuts during an especially tense and paranoid moment for Stroheim's character). While the remaining supporting cast is weak – fatally, the young leads whose innocuous romance sends the unbalanced yet egomaniacal protagonist off the deep end – it does include Denise Vernac, the star's current real-life partner, as another down-on-her-luck entertainer. Throughout, Stroheim hypnotizes a number of people – among them driving Vernac's associate/husband to suicide and a stick-up man at a diner who immediately returns the dough to the befuddled proprietor – but his efforts to dispose of his amorous rival (again, and much like in the afore-mentioned CRESPI!) ends in disaster, and death for himself here meted out in unforgettable, and most ironic (given the film's opening sequence), fashion: let me just say it involves a guillotine and a playful kitty and leave it at that!
- Oct 14, 2013
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