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  Strange Illusion The Dream Master
Year: 1945
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Stars: Jimmy Lydon, Warren William, Sally Eilers, Regis Toomey, Charles Arnt, George Reed, Jayne Hazard, Jimmy Clark, Mary McLeod, Pierre Watkin, Sonia Sorel, Victor Potel, George Sherwood, Gene Roth, John Hamilton
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Last night Paul Cartwright (Jimmy Lydon) had the dream again. His father, a Lieutenant Governor of California, had died in a railway accident a couple of years before, but something in this nightmare tells Paul that there was more purpose to the man's death than the police were able to uncover. He envisages himself walking with his mother (Sally Eilers) through the fog as she tells him he has a new father now, a shadowy figure whose face is obscured strolling along beside them. Paul tries to persuade his sister Dorothy (Jayne Hazard), but she only wants to show him her new jewelry, then he sees the crash again...

And then he wakes up. In a state of agitation, naturally, and the old cliché about dream sequences in the movies was evidently well established by the time director Edgar G. Ulmer brought this little item to the table. The trouble with such scenes is that unlike dreams in the real world they always have to be heaving with sginificance - unless you're Woody Allen in Bananas - so the question, as in this case, of whether our hero is right to be suspicious about what is happening to him is always going to be confirmed as a demonstrable "yes". So it is that the second we see that Paul's mother has a new suitor, we share his doubts about this supposedly charming fellow.

He is Brett Curtis (Warren William), a real smoothie who turns out to have had an unsavoury past, and we discover that early on, leaving the real mystery to be worked out as what it is he is up to. What are Curtis's schemes, this man who married a wealthy and young widow a few years ago, a widow who turned up dead six months after the wedding, leaving her fortune to him? This man who apparently has a predilection for raping teenage girls - watch out, Dorothy! This man who could well have been part of the conspiracy to see to it that the deceased Judge Cartwright met his untimely end in that train wreck.

The fact that the judge drops strong hints to his son during a dream, essentially making himself known as a ghost from beyond the grave, may alert some viewers to the Shakespearean overtones to the plot as Ulmer and his writers appeared to have been influenced by the tragedy of Hamlet, except here we have a happier ending. Paul is playing The Dane, and with the bad guy wooing his mother with a view to taking over the kingdom, or family business as it is here, you can spot cheeky references to the classic work in this, although not so much that they shared the same level of sophistication.

Nevertheless, these allusions contribute a neat depth to what could have been just another B-movie mystery from P.R.C., which was where Ulmer had made his home by this time. As one of the first directors to ever be described as having a cult following, you can understand why from watching Strange Illusion as it does display an idiosyncratic style somewhat at odds with Lydon's "both Hardy Boys rolled into one" performance, and what could have been in other hands straightforward and uninspired does contain plenty to engage the movie buff with a taste for the out of the ordinary. But maybe not too much; more could have been done with the undercurrent of unease that is visible at times, and as the film both begins and ends with a dream sequence, the idea that Paul is in a nightmare from the start to the abruptly contented close is not really built upon. Blaring music by Leo Erdody.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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