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  Weird Woman Voodoo Doll
Year: 1944
Director: Reginald Le Borg
Stars: Lon Chaney Jr, Anne Gwynne, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Morgan, Elisabeth Risdon, Lois Collier, Harry Hayden, Elizabeth Russell, Phil Brown, Kay Harding
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is a dark and stormy night, and Paula Reed (Anne Gwynne), the young wife of university professor Norman Reed (Lon Chaney Jr) is hurrying home through a high wind - unbeknownst to her husband, who thinks she is asleep in bed. What has she been doing? Evelyn Sawtell (Elizabeth Russell), wife of another academic on the grounds, spots Paula and telephones Norman to see if she is all right, but Norman thinks she is mistaken, and goes to check on his wife. Sure enough, she is in bed, but he notices mud on her shoes - could this all be something to do with her voodoo past on a Pacific island?

You can tell this is one of the Inner Sanctum series of mysteries, and not only because there's a disembodied head floating in a glass sphere on a conference table introducing the film by talking about murder. No, if it wasn't for that you could tell because this was about a borderline horror-esque hour of Lon Chaney Jr being harrassed and looking troubled, as all the Inner Sanctum films were. This one was scripted by Brenda Weisberg from the novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber, and if that sounds familiar, well, perhaps you've read it, or perhaps you've seen the more famous British adaptation called Night of the Eagle from the 1960s.

Which is best? Well, the British film probably, but that's not to say the American version is without interest. It does tend to eschew the supernatural explanation after spending almost all of the running time relying on it for thrills, but is fairly enjoyable nonetheless. You do have to accept that Chaney is irresistable to women, and a "mental giant" as one character refers to him, but that's part of the fun. The problems for Norman start when he brings home Paula, who is as superstitious as he is rational, and one of the college staff who had his eye on him, Ilona (Evelyn Ankers) suffers a fit of jealousy and contrives to turn everyone against him - and his new wife.

Ankers manifestly relishes the chance to play the bitchy, manipulative Ilona, and she is the best thing in the picture. Actually, for a while Chaney seems like a supporting player in his own film as the plot concerns itself with Paula's anxiety and voodoo practices and Ilona's planting of the seeds of Norman's destruction in the minds of the others. It certainly takes Norman a while to cotton on, and he foolhardily destroys Paula's witchcraft accoutrements which spells the beginning of his downfall, including a suicide blamed on him and a possible murder conviction to boot. The rational angle, which Norman so heavily conforms to, takes a beating until Ilona's comeuppance, but they can't resist an "Ah! Maybe there was something to it after all!" ending. One of the better Inner Sanctums, it's hokey but amusing.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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