The Undying Monster (1942)
It should come as no surprise to anyone that this 63 minute “B” thriller is a superior film thanks to an abundance of talent both in front of and behind the camera.
At a time when Universal Studios were in their Classic Monster’s cycle, 20th Century Fox, issued this tale of terror that borrows heavily from both the wolfman saga but more importantly the Rathbone/Homes films. As a matter of fact one almost expects Basil to unmask both himself from some clever disguise (to Nigel Bruce’s utter amazement) and then the actual killer who may or may not be suffering from lycanthropy.
It’s as if we’ve revisited Baskerville Hall and the hound is on the moors when our film opens at Hammond Hall and we learn of the legend of a mythical monster that killed our leading player’s Grandfather twenty years ago. We’ve an edgy, suspicious looking butler played by the familiar Halliwell Hobbes and the night air is pierced with the howling of a beast on the moors. Well no not the moors but alongside the seaside cliffs where Hammond Hall is situated.
Our heroine Heather Angel is having none of these family legends and hurries into the night to find her brother, John Howard, who may be in danger from whatever is lurking in the darkness. She’ll find him bloodied and unconscious alongside a young woman who has been seruiously ravaged and near death. When news of the attack reaches the authorities, meaning Scotland Yard, Holmes and Watson are sent to investigate. Excuse me I meant to say Curtis and Christy. Yes it’s James Ellison as a young, eager inspector wielding a Holmes like pipe and his more than able assistant, and it should be pointed out female counterpart, Heather Thatcher, who are sent to uncover the mystery that has plagued Hammond Hall for years.
The pair are welcomed into the home of Miss Angel and her brother Howard. Thankfully he’s recovered enough to be part of our hunt for the mysterious creature. Might it be the giant Great Dane, Alex, who has a free reign around the Hall and grounds? Let’s head down to the family crypts to see if we might locate any clues. What’s lies behind the secret door and what about these footprints clearly visible in the sands of the old crypt that no one ever visits?
Time for a red herring to appear in the guise of an aging family doctor/scientist played by Bramwell Fletcher. Is he helping or impeding the process of our young Sherlock wannabe? Only the unveiling of the killer will answer that near the fadeoout of this first rate thriller on a “B” level budget from director John Brahm.
One might even say that this Fox release that is best described as somewhat of a “horror” film served as a training ground for director, Brahm. He’d follow this up with two classics of 1940’s horror cinema with The Lodger and Hangover Square. Both films starring Laird Cregar as the heavy opposite George Sanders. According to the IMDB, Sanders was actually assigned to this film as well but took the suspension as opposed to playing one of the featured roles.
The script for Undying Monster was credited to Lillie Hayward and Michael Jacoby from a source novel by Jessie Douglas Kerruish. I’m not sure which of the three came up with this line, “When stars are bright on a frosty night / Beware thy bane on the rocky lane.” but I will say it seems very rooted in the line we frequently hear in the Universal Wolfman series about a man who is pure in heart….
Not only was top flight director Brahm on the picture but so was the noted director of cinematography, Lucian Ballard. I always associate Ballard with his work on Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. In actuality he did so much than that from working with Dietrich in the 30’s to Preminger’s Laura to Heston’s somber Will Penny to name just a few of the many titles he’s associated with.
Always one to connect the dots I like the fact that Heather Angel and John Howard have been reunited here once again on camera though this time as siblings. Angel had played the permanent fiancé Phyllis Clavering to Howard’s Bulldog Drummond in four highly enjoyable films of the late 1930’s. Character player Hobbes as the Butler surely had a set his own set of duds to play the role. I say this because he played a gentleman’s gentleman more times than I dare to recall. Among his many credited roles you’ll see the names, “Butler” “Beuhl The Butler” “Dobbs The Butler” “Butler Williams” etc….
Highly recommended and easy to shoehorn into one’s daily routine this one can be found on both DVD and blu ray. It’s available as part of Fox’s must have three pack of Brahm’s Horror Classics as well as recently turning up on blu from Kino Lorber that carries over the bonus features from the box set release and a few new items including a Tom Weaver commentary.