It never takes much for me to sit back and watch a film that stars the beautiful Eleanor Parker. In this case I have Maddy of Maddy Loves Her Classic Films to thank. She’s embarked on a celebration of Miss Parker’s films and while I’ve seen a good majority of the major titles she’d appeared in, I’d yet to see this early black and white thriller from Warner Brothers.
The timing is perfect as I’m in the midst of my run of Halloween approved titles.
Having just made her film debut the year prior to this Ben Stoloff directed effort, Miss Parker, scored leading lady status and second billing next to John Loder. The plot mixes a headless murderer with Sherlockian overtones on the moors and a possible Nazi spy with England fighting for it’s life against Germany during the early days of WW2.
Strictly a “B” film at just 57 minutes in length the plot will be moving at a rapid pace in the tradition of the sleuth films of the era. Heavy on the fog and half expecting Lon Chaney to appear in his Wolfman getup, we’ll find Lester Matthews as Dr. Frederick Holmes …. hmmmm …. Holmes? Yes as Frederick Holmes suspiciously passing through the village of Morgan’s Head. A village that has been haunted by the Ghost of Black Morgan. A headless corpse rumored to walk the moors at night and is said to take refuge in an abandoned tin mine.
Matthews will seek shelter in a local pub that does double duty as an inn and is overseen by a hooded figure due to apparent scars that have left him far too grotesque to look at. At first the local barflies are friendly to Matthews who’s buying the drinks but when word comes that a parachutist has been seen on the moor he becomes the prime suspect in an age of spies and Nazi infiltrators.
The lynch mob rests easy when John Loder as the local royalty settles them down and allows the stranger to explain and prove his reason for arriving in the village.
Say isn’t this supposed to be a spotlight on the gorgeous Eleanor Parker who would forever cause my heart to race thanks to her role in 1952’s Scaramouche?
It’s at the 18 minute mark that she’ll make her appearance as the niece of the hooded innkeeper. From here on in she’s rarely off the screen and in a hint of what was to come in future films, she’s feisty and isn’t nearly so spooked of the headless ghost as her fellow villagers will prove to be. No instead she’ll be leading the charge to prove the innocence of poor dimwitted Matt Willis who will be accused of some nasty murders that have plagued the area.
When Matthews ventures into the mysterious mine he’ll be followed at first by our hooded innkeeper and secondly by the headless figure out to claim a new victim by way of a beheading. Indeed he will claim a head but the question will become who’s?
When Matthews doesn’t return and is thought missing, Parker’s beau played by Bruce Lester will lead a charge through the foggy night to locate him and when the headless corpse is found, the villagers will take off on a witch hunt for Willis. Had this been a Universal Production, the studio could have inserted some stock footage of the torch bearing villagers hunting down Karloff’s Monster.
It’s the compassionate Parker who steps in to save Willis from the lynch mob and sets out to solve the mystery of the tin mine. A mine that her boyfriend wants to reopen to dig out valuable ore needed for the war effort. All to no avail with the villagers behaving as if they’ll be the template for Hammer Horrors to come in the 50’s and 60’s.
Actor Willis is in familiar territory for fans of classic horrors. While he did make appearances in war time classics like A Walk In the Sun, horror buffs will know him best as the tortured werewolf accompanying Bela Lugosi’s Count Armand Tesla in 1943’s Return of the Vampire.
Still to come is the mystery of just where a secret shaft in the mine leads and no it’s not like any great surprise in a film that plays like a live action Scooby Doo episode minus that cartoon’s famous characters. But then I must say a young Eleanor Parker makes for a great Velma.
It’s an action packed finale with the unveiling of the local Nazi infiltrator and proves to be an opportunity for Jack Warner to inject a bit of war time propaganda into the proceedings. Thanks to Parker’s spunky go get’em attitude the villagers are set to reopen the mine and lend a hand in the war effort. It’s not quite How Green Was My Valley effective but off they march to the mine at the film’s fade out.
Leading man Loder who was at this point married to Hedy Lamarr was in numerous war time efforts from Warner Bros. He appeared opposite some of the studios biggest stars in Now Voyager, Passage to Marseilles and Gentleman Jim. Another little known thriller he appeared in I’d recommend is The Brighton Strangler for RKO.
Eleanor Parker was one of those leading ladies I recognized early on thanks to her appearance in films starring my childhood action heroes that played regularly on Sunday afternoon television. First and foremost is probably playing opposite Chuck Heston in The Naked Jungle. One of my earliest memories of the iconic star. Because of that film I’d easily identify her in Home From the Hill, Escape From Fort Bravo, The King and Four Queens and a trio of films she made with Robert Taylor. Above and Beyond, Valley of the Kings and Many Rivers To Cross. The latter being a personal favorite when it comes to the career of Mr. Taylor and just another reason I probably had a crush on Parker as a young film fan. Never knowing of course that by the time I was watching the film she was old enough to be my grandmother.
Forever young in the movies.
Be sure to check out the contributions other writers have selected on the career of Eleanor Parker that Maddy is spotlighting on this fine actress who was a three time nominee for the Academy Award as Best Actress.