Monday, February 06, 2012

Daughter Of Death!

Universal’s INNER SANCTUM series of B-movies never adapted any of the INNER SANCTUM radio plays or pulp stories, but screenwriters Brenda Weisberg (THE MUMMY’S GHOST) and Scott Darling (MR. WONG IN CHINATOWN) based the second movie on Fritz Leiber’s noted fantasy novel CONJURE WIFE. Norman Reed is a professor of ethnology at Monroe College, where the girls swoon over his dynamic personality. Reed is played by lumpy Lon Chaney Jr., so you’ll just have to take the movie’s word for Reed’s status as a charmer of ladies.

On a South Seas trip, the practical Reed meets Paula (Anne Gwynne, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN), a white woman reared by the high priestess of a jungle tribe. She believes in voodoo, witchcraft, death chants, and other primitive superstitions, but in the immortal words of Paula Abdul, opposites attract, and Paula and Norman are married. Reed’s old flame Ilona (Evelyn Ankers, THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN), jealous of his marriage, starts trouble by calling Paula a witch and pushing eager young student Margaret (lovely Lois Collier, COBRA WOMAN) into seducing him.

Reed exacerbates his problems by forcing Paula to give up her superstitious beliefs and destroying all her magic trinkets. Without Paula’s circle of immunity to protect Norman, his life really starts falling apart, including an accidental shooting of Margaret’s boyfriend David (Phil Brown, who would later be STAR WARS’ Uncle Owen) that leaves him on the hook for a manslaughter charge.

Gwynne and Ankers, who were good friends in real life, starred in many Universal horror and suspense pictures of the 1940s, but WEIRD WOMAN is surprisingly the only one in which they appeared together. Both are quite good, particularly Ankers, who rarely played bad girls. Unfortunately, the static screenplay gives them and everyone else very little to do but talk. Director Reginald LeBorg, who tried to spice up CALLING DR. DEATH’s chatty plot, has less to work with here, though his use of floating heads to illustrate an Ankers nightmare is inventive. DEAD MAN’S EYES, with Chaney and LeBorg again participating, was next in the INNER SANCTUM series. CONJURE WIFE was done more successfully as BURN, WITCH, BURN in 1962.

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