invisible ghost | joseph h. lewis | helen martin | al martin | bela lugosi | polly ann young | john mcguire | crime | drama | thriller | united states | clarence muse | terry walker | betty compson | ernie adams | george pembroke | ottola nesmith | fred kelsey
Film: Invisible Ghost
Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Writer: Helen Martin and Al Martin
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young and John McGuire
This is another film that I had never heard of until working my way through all of the horror movies from 1941 on Letterboxd. What caught my eye here was that this starred Bela Lugosi. The premise sounded interesting so I decided to give it a viewing as a Featured Review for my Odyssey through the Ones. The synopsis here is the town’s leading citizen becomes a homicidal maniac after his wife deserts him.
To expand on this synopsis, we are at the estate of Charles Kessler (Bela Lugosi). He lives there with his daughter of Virginia (Polly Ann Young). There was a big news story about his wife and her mother ran away with another man. They didn’t get far as the couple got into a car accident. Mrs. Kessler is thought to be dead, but Charles keeps holding out hope she will come back to him.
The night this movie starts is on the anniversary of the Kesslers getting married. Charles goes into a bit of psychosis where he pretends like he is having dinner with his wife, while actually being all alone. He even has his butler of Evans (Clarence Muse) wait on a wife that isn’t there. Ralph Dickson (John McGuire) shows up, even though Virginia told him not to. He didn’t realize that Charles did this and she’s a bit embarrassed for her father. These two are quite close and assumed they will get engaged soon.
There is more to what is going on here though. The gardener of Jules Mason (Ernie Adams) steals food and takes it out to the garage. There is a secret room below it where Mrs. Kessler (Betty Compson) is staying. After the accident, she seems to have lost her mind a bit. Jules plans on having her return to Charles when the time is right. Another issue here is with a new maid of Cecile Mannix (Terry Walker). She has a history with Ralph and came to work here since he won’t speak with her.
This house has a history as well. There was a murder some years ago, but whoever did it was never found. Charles looks outside and sees his wife. This causes him to snap and he attacks Cecile. When the police investigate, they find a letter from Ralph, which makes him the prime suspect.
Now that is where I’m going to leave my recap. Where I want to go first was that I was impressed to find this movie was in color or at least the version I watched on Amazon Prime. I will come back to this when I talk about the cinematography, but figured I should point that out first.
Where I actually want to start here is the premise. The title doesn’t really fit the movie so it makes me feel like they come up with after the fact and just tagged it on to the movie. We aren’t hiding the fact that Charles is our killer as it happens within the first like 10 or 15 minutes. Mind you, this movie only runs around 64 minutes total. This actually feels like it is borrowing from Agatha Christie with her novel of And Then There Were None or like a very early slasher film to be honest. I think it is interesting psychology here. Charles is fine and normal, aside from what he does on the anniversary. It isn’t until he sees his wife through the window does he snap. This is legit temporary insanity. I thought that was a solid idea. To wrap up this thought, the title doesn’t make a lot of sense as there really isn’t a ghost here and no one that is invisible. Having ghost in the title is fine, especially since Mrs. Kessler keeps disappearing and she is ‘haunting’ Charles.
Something that did bother me while watching this was Charles not being considered as a suspect. I understand that he’s the most upstanding citizen. There have been multiple murders in the house. I understand that when Cecile is attacked, Ralph has a motive. There is a bit of history here and then someone else is killed while he is out of the house. The evidence isn’t there, especially since Charles is using his jacket to strangle people. I’m shocked this movie passed the censors though with what happens to Ralph to be honest. It is an interesting social commentary when it comes to the death penalty. Even more with that, this movie came out in 1941 and it is still a discussed topic 80 years after the fact.
I do have some issues with the story though. The movie has a runtime of 64 minutes as I’ve said, but I think there is still padding here. I don’t fully know what Jules is waiting for to have Mrs. Kessler return to Charles. There doesn’t seem that much of a plan there. I also don’t understand something that happens with a character where they are thought to be dead, but actually aren’t. It feels like this is used to build tension and pad time. It doesn’t necessarily work in my opinion.
Shifting away from the story, I’ll go to the acting. I did like the portrayal of Lugosi. He is a really nice guy actually. He is kind to his daughter, he seems to still love and want Mrs. Kessler back. He is also sweet toward Mrs. Mason (Ottola Nesmith) who is afraid she didn’t do well at making dinner. I like that there is a dark part of him though that is hidden and only comes out when he has a mental break. Young was fine as Virginia, but they don’t do much to flesh her out. McGuire works as Ralph. He also shows up as the brother Paul, which made me think of Beer Fest. I do wonder if they took the idea. I did like Muse as Evans. Aside from that, the rest of the cast fit for what was needed. The last one would be I wish they did a bit more with Compson as Mrs. Kessler though. It is interesting having her as this specter haunting Charles, but that is about it for her. There is no real redemption there from what she did to lead into the movie.
Then the last thing I want to go into would be the cinematography. Now I’ve already said this is in color. I did have a problem here though. I’m not sure if it was because I was streaming this or not, but it feels like the coloring was off which made it blurry. This could have been something they could have used to their advantage when Charles has gone mad, but it was throughout most of the movie. For a positive though, I do like this high angle that we used in the house. The framing with Mrs. Kessler along with Charles was well done as well.
So then in conclusion here, I did enjoy this movie, but it also had its flaws. The title doesn’t make a lot of sense to the story that we’re getting. There is some good social commentary there though. The acting was solid for the most part, but with the lower running time, I think they could have developed Virginia and Mrs. Kessler a bit more which would have helped. The cinematography was solid, especially with some of the camera angles. The movie did look a bit blurry though. Aside from that, the soundtrack fit for what was needed without standing out. I would say this is just over average for me. It is a lesser talked about film that is solid enough, but it has its flaws.
My Rating: 6 out of 10