supernatural | victor halperin | garnett weston | harvey f. thew | brian marlow | carole lombard | randolph scott | alan dinehart | mystery | thriller | united states | possession | possessed | ritual | vivienne osborne | h.b. warner | beryl mercer | william farnum | willard robertson
Director: Victor Halperin
Writers: Garnett Weston, Harvey F. Thew and Brian Marlow
Starring: Carole Lombard, Randolph Scott and Alan Dinehart
This is a movie that I didn’t know about until looking for horror movies from 1933 on Letterboxd for my Traverse through the Threes. This one I did find on Archive.org. The bit I read to make sure I had the right one intrigued me, especially for this early into cinema. Other than that, I came into this one blind.
Synopsis: a serial black widow murderess returns to life in the body of a young woman to exact revenge on a former lover, a phony spiritualist who betrayed her.
Now that synopsis does well in giving what this movie is about. We start this with a line from Confucius, Mohammed and the bible about supernatural spirits. It then gives us newspaper headlines to fill in that our killer is Ruth Rogen (Vivienne Osborne). What is odd about her is that she amazing gripe strength. I feel that this is implying part of it is her rage. The other part deals with Dr. Carl Houston (H.B. Warner).
He believes that there are spirits that roam the Earth, looking for bodies. It doesn’t come out and confirm this, but it does seem that he feels Ruth has been possessed by one. He works with the warden, played by Willard Robertson, to take custody of Ruth’s body after her execution in the electric chair. She has to agree for this to happen. At first, she doesn’t. Dr. Houston convinces her though.
Something that the people don’t know is that she is protecting Paul Bavian (Alan Dinehart). He is the spiritualist that uses phony things to get away with scamming people. His landlady, Madame Gourjan (Beryl Mercer), knows this. He is late on his rent and she all but blackmails him. Bavian’s eyes are set on Roma Courtney (Carole Lombard). Her twin, John (Lyman Williams), passed away leaving his side of the fortune to her. Separately, they were both millionaires. She is seeing Grant Wilson (Randolph Scott), who returns home upon hearing about what happened to John.
Bavian is worried that Ruth is going to reveal that he was working with her. When her execution goes down, he feels like he’s free. He reaches out to Roma, who is protected by Grant and Nick ‘Nicky’ Hammond (William Farnum). She is intrigued that Bavian can speak with her brother from beyond the grave. Dr. Houston also factors in here that he is experimenting on Ruth. He is worried what will happen if she gets too close to Roma, especially in her time of grief. Ruth’s rage still burns bright despite her body being dead.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I’ll start then is that I found this interesting that we have a female serial killer. She is given a motive, which is money. She is marrying men or at least getting her way into their will before killing them. I’m almost getting the idea that with Bavian, they’re running the game. That is an interesting prospect for sure. Working together to learn intimate things for financial gain. Either way, I like that she is the villain here.
Now this is exploring an interesting idea. Dr. Houston believes that there are souls that are too strong to go to the afterlife. They roam the world, looking for people that they can inhabit and commit the crimes they’ve done in the past. My issue here is that we are removing the concept of people doing bad things because they are just bad. This blames evil spirits in a sense. I do like the idea though. It almost reminds of another movie from the era, Man with Two Lives, who gets possessed by the spirit of someone just executed. This angle is one that I found interesting for sure.
Speaking of possession, I think that they do interesting things with Lombard. She gets to play dual roles. There is the sweet Roma, who wears light make-up and from everything we see is a good person. A morality tale is not to dabble with forces you don’t understand. She goes to see Bavian, so that could open her up to what happens. Dr. Houston should be tossed in there as well for having Ruth’s body. When Roma is possessed by Ruth, she wears darker make-up. She is also meaner. I thought that Lombard did good in portraying how Osborne did. This comes from facial expressions and body language as well. Credit to her for sure.
Since I’ve shifted into the acting, that is where I’ll go next. I have said what I needed to for Lombard. She is great. What is interesting is that Scott gets relegated to where women in this era tended to. He is just there as the man who is in love with Roma, but doesn’t add a lot. Dinehart is good as the villain that Ruth wants revenge on. He also is a good con-artist. I liked Osborne in her role. All she needs to do is establish Ruth and that works in the confines. Other than that, Warner, Mercer, Farnum, Robertson and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
All that is then left to go into would be with the filmmaking. I think that the cinematography is well done. It doesn’t stand out aside from the scene where Roma goes to Ruth’s apartment with Bavian. This freaks him out, but they do well with her remembering different things. I thought that added interesting tension. There aren’t a lot in the way of effects. That is also the era though. Other than that, I thought the soundtrack fit for what was needed without necessarily standing out.
In conclusion, I think that this movie is a bit ahead of its time. We have a story that is exploring interesting ideas with the soul. It is a concept that we would see done in different variations in this era. I like that we are following a villain in Ruth and then taking over an innocent woman. Other than that, I think that we get good things with filmmaking and it moves along at a good pace. If anything, I do think a bit more could be fleshed out. That’s not a gripe though. I would recommend to those that are enjoy movies from the era.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10