This rather odd film comes by way of Warner Brothers that sees Errol Flynn playing against type opposite Barbara Stanwyck that given a tweak here and there could easily have been a Boris Karloff/Anna Lee thriller from the Val Lewton factory over at RKO. For fans of the sixties cult classic Spider Baby, this might have even served as a template. A stretch I know but if you’ve seen both films, you too might make the connection.
There’s a gloomy feel from the opening credits onward to the strings of a Franz Waxman score as Stanwyck arrives at an estate overseen by Flynn. She’s come to find out if her husband is dead as has been reported. Her appearance is a total surprise to Flynn who is the Uncle to the dead man and oversees the wealthy estate and controls it’s purse strings. Also in his care is the younger sister to Stanwyck’s dear departed, Geraldine Brooks. Stanwyck’s turning up seems to have disrupted Flynn’s control over the home and if her story is true that a secret marriage had taken place, then it is she who will be in line for a large portion of the family fortune.
It won’t be long before Stanwyck is suspicious of everything Flynn does and says. The young Brooks instantly finds a friend in the older Stanwyck and confides to her that Flynn is not to be trusted and it is he who seeks to control the money at stake. Barbara begins to fear for her life when Flynn begins to lie about noises in the night and what goes on his laboratory which is off limits to all those in the estate.
With Flynn playing a role that seems best suited to George Zucco over at Monogram, I suspect the scene where he attempts to seduce Barbara may have been written into the plot for his many admiring female fans who expect a certain amount of the “In Like Flynn” attitude when paying hard earned money to see the normally heroic Flynn on the big screen. Stanwyck? She’s not having any of it and lands a Joan Crawford haymaker across the mustached face of Flynn.
What if Barbara’s husband as we will discover in photographs is a young Richard Basehart is actually still alive? It was a closed coffin funeral and according to Brooks, her older brother’s clothes and possessions are all missing. When a scream pierces the night again, I’ll admit to being totally caught off guard by the next plot development which I won’t disclose here but will say it left me rather saddened.
Errol is looking more guilty than ever as the clock ticks in this 83 minute thriller from director Peter Godfrey. At first I figured him for a red herring, by the one hour mark I’m not so sure. When Errol begins to manhandle Stanwyck and the cat and mouse conversations pick up in their intensity, will the scandalous secrets come to light that haunt the Flynn home? If you can catch a showing on TCM you can find out for yourself.
While I wouldn’t consider Barbara and Errol and unlikely pairing on screen, I do think they’d have been better served in a light frothy romantic comedy which both dabbled in during their box office runs. Flynn had a flair for comedy and could easily have subbed in for any number of actors who appeared opposite her in the genre though by this time, she was mainly appearing in straight dramas and thrillers.
As far as performances go, Stanwyck is up to the challenge and meets the mystery bravely and so is Flynn yet who wants to see one of cinema’s great action heroes prowling corridors, smoking a pipe and looking guilty without ever appearing as a man of action or athletic? I’m not sure what the box office take on this was but I’ll venture a guess it didn’t compete with Objective Burma or San Antonio from just two years earlier.
In the end, this one proves a curio and knowing it’s the only film these two STARS of Hollywood’s glory years ever appeared in together kind of makes it a must see for those that do their best to see all the films of both or have an interest in the old studio system. I for one will watch any film with either of these two and I’ve gone on record here in the past stating I’ve always felt Errol Flynn in his prime of which was just beginning to slip here is the epitome of the classic Hollywood movie star on screen. Even when the role doesn’t suit the screen image he’s best remembered for.