Saturday, June 15, 2013

Weird Woman (1944)

Director: Reginald Le Borg                              Writers: Brenda Weisberg & Scott Darling
Film Score: Paul Sawtell                                Cinematography: Virgil Miller
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Evelyn Ankers, Anne Gwynne and Ralph Morgan

This is one of the Universal Inner Sanctum mysteries that starred Lon Chaney, Jr. Though based on a novel by the great Fritz Leiber, Weird Woman seems a rather simplistic story, the revenge of a woman scorned. Chaney plays a sociologist who has been writing about the nature of superstition and human fear. On a trip to the South Pacific he meets Anne Gwynne who had grown up there and, after being attacked by the natives, he recovers and marries her. Back home, however, the jilted Evelyn Ankers vows to get revenge by working various different angles to get rid of Chaney’s wife.

The entire series were decidedly B pictures, with relatively banal scripts and inferior acting, even from the principals. The sets are stock Universal locations and interiors, and in one laughable shot the gate of the college where Chaney works is simply superimposed over the exterior. At first it’s difficult to figure out who the “weird” woman is. Is it Chaney’s wife, who still believes in native superstitions, magic, and witchcraft? Is it the strange looking Elizabeth Russell who seems to be spying on Gwynne. Or is it Evelyn Ankers, whose machinations are pulling nearly everyone in the film under her control?

This really is Ankers’ film. It’s great to see her treat Chaney with disdain, more in keeping with the true nature of their relationship, though I don’t think she actually hated him. Chaney was never very nice to her and so we’ll have to simply imagine her satisfaction. There’s an undeniable atmosphere that the Universal films were able to create, even in their low-budget pictures. This is certainly present in the graveyard scene in the middle of the film. The only really incongruous setting is the Hawaiian looking jungle scene at the beginning. Hawaiians aren’t associated with the kind of malevolence that other South Pacific islanders had and so it seems a bit out of place

The film score, as with all Universal films from about 1943 to 1960, is pieced together by Paul Sawtell from various scores by Hans Salter, Frank Skinner, Charles Previn and others. The series is probably of little interest to anyone other than Chaney and Ankers fans, or to those who love anything supernatural that Universal produced. Weird Woman seems like one of the rare instances where Universal was trying to capitalize on the success of RKO’s Val Lewton pictures. It's not nearly as good at doing what those films do, though it does have a pretty cool ending. Still, Universal always measured their success differently than Lewton. And, in that respect, any Chaney film at the studio is a success.

No comments:

Post a Comment