I had no idea that Carole Lombard had crossed paths with the Halperin brothers who gave us one of the great thrillers of the early thirties. The Bela Lugosi classic White Zombie.
Before cementing her image in the screwball comedy genre, Carole appears in this effective chiller along with another young actor who will one day have his name become synonymous with the western. Randolph Scott.
The credits open with a startling soundtrack that jumps from the screen with newspaper headlines flashing before our eyes setting the plot in motion. A woman is on trial for her life and will ultimately head to the electric chair for strangling her lovers. At the same time we have a shady spiritualist who may be hiding something from the police that could vindicate our female killer.
H.B. Warner turns up here in the “Boris Karloff” role of a scientist who believes that the spirit of Vivienne Osborne who plays our killer will leave the body and enter that of another to carry on murdering unsuspecting lovers. Could Carole’s body become that host?
Despite going in different directions with Warner’s scientist and Alan Dinehart’s spiritualist, the plot converges on the story of Carole Lombard. She has recently lost her twin brother and is mourning. She happens to know Warner and it is while visiting that she gets a little too close to his experiments leading to her possibly murderous future. Our spiritualist sees that the wealthy Lombard has lost her brother and preys upon her with promises of establishing contact with him through the means of a seance. Scott comes along in the hopes of unveiling a sham.
Lombard the actress gets a chance to switch gears here from the quiet young woman in mourning to a plotting murderous. She’s the spider leading Dinehart’s shady spiritualist into her web. He knows somethings amiss with Carole but can’t quite believe that a spirit has actually returned to seek vengeance. Ironic isn’t it.
With Scott trying to put the mystery together with some added help from beyond the film plays out to a fitting demise for our villain. It’s just a matter of whether or not Carole can be saved from evil deeds beyond her control.
Aside from a break in the pacing near the end, this is a fast moving thriller that plays quite nicely and deserves to be better known in the pantheon of thirties horrors. It’s not a monster film which makes it somewhat of a novelty for the genre at that time. It makes for a great double feature with the more widely known feature the Halperins put forth the year before this in White Zombie.
There’s also a nice touch here with a scene of Carole’s deceased brothers dog bringing his slippers to a seemingly empty chair. As an avid lover of dogs, I can’t help but love this heartfelt touch.
I have heard it said that The Uninvited was Hollywood’s first real ghost story but after seeing this little gem, I am not so sure. This one is worth seeking out. I happened to come across it on VHS if you are so inclined.
I knew it! (Sorry couldn’t resist an inside joke) I have a real strong like for this one too, part of it being the offbeat element of seeing Carole and Randolph in a horror picture, but as you say, it’s a real good thriller just on its own.
Caught me by surprise. I keep going back to the Halperin’s because I have always loved the eerie atmosphere of White Zombie and it’s carried over to this production, Love the end as well.
Ooh, a Carole Lombard movie I’d never even heard of!
BTW: I wanted to add you to my blog roll, but this bit of code on your page:
puts your RSS feed in the blogroll, and always relegates it to the bottom of the “recently updated” list, even though it should be one of the two or three most-recently updated.
This one was a bit of a surprise to me as well but very glad I included it in my Carole fest.
Thanks for adding me in, I will be sure to pay you a visit and hopefully get some titles from you to check out.
Not sure about the tech stuff, never been my strong points.