The Mysterious Doctor
the mysterious doctor | benjamin stoloff | richard weil | john loder | eleanor parker | bruce lester | world war ii | mystery | thriller | urban legend | old dark house | united states | lester matthews | forrester harvey | matt willis | phyllis barry | david clyde
Film: The Mysterious Doctor
Director: Benjamin Stoloff
Writer: Richard Weil
Starring: John Loder, Eleanor Parker and Bruce Lester
This is a movie that I discovered when looking for horror from 1943. It took a bit of tracking down, but I did find it on Dailymotion. Outside of knowing that it fell in genre, I came into this one blind. I used the cast list and the director to ensure it was correct, since the title pulled up other things. The runtime was another piece of information. My assumption was that this would be a mad scientist movie. That isn’t the case though.
Synopsis: the citizens of a tiny Cornish village are tormented during World War II by a headless ghost which is haunting the local tin mine.
We start this with Dr. Frederick Holmes (Lester Matthews). He’s walking the moors and it has gotten dark out on him before he could make the next village. It is quite foggy as well. He is saved by a carriage driver. Dr. Holmes is taken into town, but the driver refuses to stay. Our doctor is left at a tavern called The Running Horse. He knocks at the door and Simon Tewksbury (Frank Mayo) answers. He wears an executioner’s hood. This spooks the doctor, but he is admitted in.
To be friendly, Dr. Holmes buys everyone a drink. Through chatting we learn that this town is called Morgan Head. It is a former mining town. Simon wears the hood due to being disfigured in an accident. The mine is also closed due to a duel between two families. It is now thought to be haunted by the headless ghost of Black Morgan. Another important aspect is Bart Redmon (Matt Willis) is a simple man who walks the street at tonight, playing an instrument. He is bullied by the children. Sir Henry Leland (John Loder) also shows up and makes friends with Dr. Holmes.
Something to point out from the synopsis, this takes place during World War II, so everyone is on edge. There is talks of someone parachuting into the area. Immediately, that makes everyone suspicious of Dr. Holmes. He has proof that it wasn’t him. He is also going to prove it by exploring the mine and showing that there is no ghost. He is followed there by Simon and a young woman, Letty Carstairs (Eleanor Parker), hears about him going so she wants Bart to protect him. This doesn’t happen as we see a headless figure attack Dr. Holmes.
The next day we meet Letty’s boyfriend of Lt. Christopher ‘Kit’ Hilton (Bruce Lester). It turns out the report of the parachute person didn’t happen. He is called to the base though. When he returns, he wants the mine to reopen. The problem is that the village refuses, for fear of the ghost. They won’t even go into it when searching for Dr. Holmes who is missing. Sir Leland and Kit do go in and find his body. They also find Bart who Kit believes killed the doctor. He is taken into custody.
Letty doesn’t believe that Bart is capable of what he is accused. She wants to prove this while protecting him from vigilant justice. Things aren’t as they seem here and the ghost might not be exactly what the town thinks it is.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that this is an interesting film. I’ve seen similar ones before where we have a small town holding to the belief of an urban legend. What makes this even more interesting is that this is from the United States. It feels like a propaganda film for the United Kingdom though. Kit wants the mine to reopen so they can supply the military with tin. The people have patriotism, but they’re afraid to die to work in the mine. There is a Scooby-Doo feel to how things play out, but being the era that this is set. I’m fine with that. It feels similar to another movie, Haunted Gold.
This idea is where I’ll delve a bit more. Backstory here is that this movie runs 56 minutes. They do well in filling this time though as we have the undercurrent of the war looming. That would be a scary time so that adds atmosphere. There is the fear of this man who just showed up in the middle of the night, Dr. Holmes. When the rumor of someone parachuting in, I’d be leery of him too. He has an alibi, but that still doesn’t clear him in the eyes of the townspeople. I do like that we get this idea of mob mentality here. There are good character elements along with it.
What helps is the acting. I thought that Loder does well as Sir Leland. There is an arrogance about him, but he’s willing to go into the mine when others won’t. I like where his character ends up, even though it does feel a bit heavy handed. Parker is good as this person who stands up for Bart. She even pushes back against who boyfriend who has his mind made up. Lester is good in that role. He is a good man at heart, but also stubborn. I liked Matthews as Dr. Holmes. Willis was also good as Bart. There is a bad performance and the rest of the cast rounds this out for what was needed.
All that is left then is filmmaking. The cinematography was good. What I like the best is the atmosphere. They build this through the idea of the war looming. There is also fog thanks to the nearby moors. The mine is also a good setting. What ends up getting pulled in late is the idea of the ‘old dark house’. I’m always a sucker there. There aren’t a lot in the way of effects. The look of the headless ghost was interesting. Credit to Leo White who does that effect. I also like the look of Simon’s scarred face. Not something I expected to see. Other than that, the soundtrack was fine for what was needed.
In conclusion, this is a decent little film. Despite it having a low runtime, I thought we had an interesting story. There are subplots that get pulled in thanks to the war. Having a ghost haunting the mine is an interesting concept. It does go a bit ‘Scooby-doo’ with it though. Being the era it is from, I’m forgiving. The best part of this is the acting though. Credit to Loder, Parker, Lester, Matthews and Willis. I’d say this is made well enough. The atmosphere helps there along with the limited effects. Not one that I can recommend to everyone. If you’re a fan of the era, then give this a watch.
My Rating: 7 out of 10