Sunday, February 26, 2012

Death makes a house call....

Inner Sanctum: Calling Dr. Death (1943)
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Patricia Morison, J. Carrol Naish, Ramsay Ames, Fay Helm, and David Bruce
Director: Reginald LeBorg
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A brilliant hypnotherapist (Chaney) becomes the prime suspect in the murder of his shrewish, unfaithful wife (Ames) when he suffers an unexplained blackout during the weekend she was murdered.

"Calling Dr. Death" was the first of six films based on the popular radio drama anthology series "Inner Sanctum", each starring Lon Chaney Jr. in the lead role. It is a series that belongs both in style and quality with Universal's Wolf Man and Mummy pictures of the early 1940s--most of which also starred Chaney--in that these films a low-budget B-pictures that vary greatly in quality... and rarely manage to touch the heights of Universal's horror films from the early 1930s.

Like the radio series they draw from, the "Inner Sanctum" films are more mysteries than horror flicks, but it varies from installment to installment how far they lean toward which genre.

"Calling Dr. Death" is a straight mystery that, despite being rather slow-moving manages to generate quite a bit of tension as its multi-layered plot casts suspicion first on one character, then another... and ultimately seems to settle on a conspiracy between two characters. Eventually, the film relies on a surprise twist, which was well-executed and very dramatic, even if it pointed back to the character I had initially thought would be the killer. The method used was also similar to what I had figured, but the motivation was completely different, but it fit logically with the rest of the film's storyline. (The twist ending must be a lost art.)

Featuring a solid cast, with Chaney as the high-strung hypnotist and J. Carrol Naish as the relentless, hard-nosed police detective who is hellbent on proving "Dr. Death" guilty of killing his wife, leading the pack. Ramsay Ames was almost unrecognizable as the shrewish wife, and Patricia Morison.

This isn't the greatest of mystery films, but it's got a great cast and it pays off nicely if you're a little patient with it. If you're a fan of Lon Chaney Jr. and a classic B-movie mysteries, it's worth checking out.


  1. I got hold of these a few months ago and have been meaning to screen them since. I did get around to watching this one, and I pretty much agree with your review. It's a tad tepid and as you say a bit obvious, but the very strong cast gives is a sure-footed quality that keeps you invested. It's some of the best acting I've seen Lon Jr. do.

    Rip Off

  2. Over the next couple of months, I hope to post reviews of all six of the films in this set.