night monster | ford beebe | clarence upson young | bela lugosi | lionel atwill | lief erickson | adventure | drama | mystery | thriller | united states | mad scientist | old dark house | monster | creature | irene hervey | ralph morgan | don porter | nils asther | frank reicher
Film: Night Monster
Director: Ford Beebe
Writer: Clarence Upson Young
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill and Leif Erickson
This is a movie that I hadn’t heard of until looking for horror from 1942. Looking into it, I saw that it starred Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill, a couple of actors from the era that I’m a fan of. It was also interesting to see that this is a Universal film. This is one that you don’t hear about since it seems to be a one-off. With all of that, I decided to make this a Trek through the Twos.
Synopsis: Kurt Ingston (Ralph Morgan), a rich recluse, invites the doctors who left him a hopeless cripple to his desolate mansion in the swamps as one by one they meet horrible fates.
We start with an interesting setup. This takes place at Ingston Towers. Agor Singh (Nils Asther) is let in as he was requested by the man who owns this place of Kurt Ingston. This place seems to be a mental institute of sorts or the people working there believe it to be. Agor enters and spies on a house cleaner of Sarah Judd (Doris Lloyd) who is cleaning up a spot of blood. She lies to Kurt’s sister who sees her, Margaret (Fay Helm). Part of this is that Margaret’s mental health is unsteady. Sarah gaslights her as well.
There is more commotion than this. Milly Carson (Janet Shaw) tries to make a call to a police officer but is stopped by the butler, Rolf (Lugosi). She quits without notice. She then has a run in with their driver, Laurie (Leif Erickson). She chooses to walk than kiss him. Lucky for her, she is helped into town by a guy with a horse and carriage.
At the train station, we have a group of doctors who know each other arrive around the same time. There is Dr. King (Atwill), Dr. Timmons (Frank Reicher) and Dr. Phipps (Francis Pierlot). They’re all shocked to learn that they were requested to be here by Kurt. Their connection is that they all tried to help him but failed. The result left Kurt crippled. Laurie is there to drive them to Ingston Towers.
There is another doctor joining them. Margaret requested a Dr. Lynne Harper (Irene Hervey) come to the Towers. She is a psychiatrist. Her car breaks down though and Dick Baldwin (Don Porter) offers her a ride. He is also going to the Towers. He’s a friend of Kurt and he’s a horror writer. Everyone here converges along with Milly. She went to Constable Cap Beggs (Robert Homans), but since no crime has been committed then he cannot help. She is going back for her things and to leave.
At night, around this place, there is an odd thing that happens. There is fog and the frogs in the nearby bog stop croaking. Dick and Dr. Harper hear a scream along with a terrifying figure. Milly is soon found dead. This brings Beggs to the house to solve the murder. Kurt is helping with the investigation, but his staff isn’t so forthcoming. Sarah is also keeping Margaret from talking to Lynne. The purpose for other doctors is for Kurt to show that he’s created a mechanical way to use one of his arms. He’s also found a way to heal himself with the help of Agor. It seems like a way for them to see, but there is also murder as these doctors are killed one by one. Lynne seems to know who the killer is, making her a target as well.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. What struck me about this movie is something I’ve already said, this is a lesser talked about Universal film. We have the likes of Lugosi and Atwill, but they play minor roles here. The cast is strong around them as well. I don’t necessarily recognize the names, but I looked up some of the other people. Everyone seemed to have at least 50 credits to their name. They were working. I’ll just delve into the acting here as well. Morgan is solid as this eccentric Kurt. He is angry for what happened to him, but he covers it well. Porter is fine as our male lead here. He doesn’t do great about coming to the forefront. I like Hervey who feels like the true hero as Dr. Harper. Helm works as Margaret. I also like Asther, Lloyd, Erickson, Homans along with the cameos by Atwill, Reicher and Lugosi. The cast here is solid across the board and help give their characters life.
Where I’ll shift then is to the concept of this movie. We are combining elements, which is interesting. This movie is taking them from a few different places. One of them I won’t reveal as it is spoiler. What I will say is that it takes from a movie from 1932 that I had recently watched. Something I will say is that we have a murder mystery. This is common for the era. There could be a supernatural killer, in this case a monster, or it could be someone posing as it. They use the ‘old dark house’ with secret passages. I’m a sucker for that. This also seems to be looking at alternative ways of healing. Having the three doctors is interesting. Dr. King thinks modern medicine is the only way. Dr. Phipps is in the middle where Dr. Timmons knows they failed Kurt. I like having this range of medical professionals. There is also Dr. Harper who is a doctor of the mind. Kurt doesn’t buy it and Sarah tries to prevent her from talking to Margaret. This is still somewhat of a taboo so I’m not shocked to see what we get here. This seems to be an amalgamation of all these different things. I can appreciate it though.
The last part of the story I want to go into would be the murder mystery. I’ll be honest, I guessed this one. I don’t want to fault the movie for this. What I will hold against it is that it is something that I’ve seen in a few movies like this. What worked though was this being cheeky with it. Having Dick here, he points out who the most likely suspect is. Another character does as well. What I like is that we have red herrings. Realistically, it could be Rolf and I’ll admit part of that is due to the accent. Laurie is a big hulking guy. Agor is a minority so he’ll always be a suspect. A movie like this could also throw in a wild card if needed. I don’t mind how this part played out regardless that I guessed it correctly.
Finally, I’ll go into the rest of the filmmaking aspects. I’ve already brought up the ‘old dark house’ stuff so I will say that the setting is good. It worked for what the movie needed. This could even be a stage play if they wanted. I’d say the rest of the cinematography was fine. It didn’t stand out, but it was standard for the era. There were limited effects as well. We do get an interesting scene where Agor materializes a skeleton. There is a limited amount of blood. There also could be a potential monster near the end. That all was fine. The only other thing was the soundtrack which worked for what was needed.
In conclusion, this is an under talked about Universal entry. I think part of the issue there is that it is borrowing from other things that the company or other films did. We get a bit of the ‘old dark house’, a murder mystery and a potential monster. It makes this entertaining. There is a solid cast here that brings all the characters to life. I think the setting is good. What we get for the effects were fine. The soundtrack didn’t necessarily stand out, but it also didn’t need to. I would then say that this is an above average movie and deserves to be seen more. This is one that I’d call a hidden gem.
My Rating: 7 out of 10