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Greetings, and welcome to VIEWING THE CLASSICS. Here you'll find capsule reviews of vintage movies from the early days of cinema through the 1970s, with a special emphasis on sci-fi, horror, and mystery movies. Be sure to check out the Pages links, where you can find a Film Index of all my reviews, links to the reviews organized by cast members, directors, and other contributors, and links to my reviews of the films of talented young director Joshua Kennedy.

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Invisible Ghost (1941)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire, Clarence Muse, Terry Walker
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

No one suspects a kindly doctor in the mysterious murders on his estate, but whenever he sees his long-lost wife lurking on the grounds, he loses control of his mind and strikes.

The first of Bela Lugosi's nine films for "Poverty Row" studio Monogram Pictures is by far the best of them and a worthy showcase for the horror icon, playing a character far different from the fiends and monsters he's most often associated with.  As the sympathetic and endearing Dr. Kessler, even though he is the villain of the piece, he's completely convincing as a good man afflicted by a temporary but always deadly insanity.  This film was recently discussed on the Monster Kid Radio podcast by host Derek M. Koch and film historian Troy Howarth, and they offered some meaningful insights into the film, including the unusually positive portrayal for the era of the African-American butler played by Clarence Muse, and also noting that director Joseph H. Lewis brought camera movement and interesting staging to the story, not usually a hallmark of Monogram productions.  On this viewing, I also noticed creepily effective lighting on Lugosi as the madness seizes him as well as penetrating closeups of the distinguished actor, allowing him to sell the transformation with his eyes and his expressions, without any special makeup or dialogue.  It's too bad that more Monograms didn't take advantage of Lugosi's talents in this way, but that makes this film a special one, and I had to chuckle at George Pembroke's portrayal of a police lieutenant, speaking the majority of his dialogue without ever removing the fat cigar clenched in his teeth.

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