Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Frozen Ghost (1945)

Director: Harold Young                                   Writers: Bernard Schubert & Luci Ward
Film Score: Hans J. Salter                             Cinematography: Paul Ivano
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Evelyn Ankers, Douglass Dumbrille and Elena Verdugo

Another in Universal’s Inner Sanctum series starring Lon Chaney Jr. and Evelyn Ankers. After the great success of Warner Brothers’ Mystery of the Wax Museum and well before the remake, House of Wax, Universal decided to get in on the action with this programmer. Unfortunately the wax museum setting is all for naught, as the story winds up being simply a fairly straight-ahead mystery. The Frozen Ghost begins onstage at a radio studio with the Gregor the Great, Lon Chaney Jr., doing his mentalist act. He hypnotizes Evelyn Ankers and when asked questions she knows the answers. A skeptic in the audience, Arthur Hohl who is obviously drunk, is asked up to the stage and when Chaney attempts to hypnotize him the man dies. Chaney believes it’s because the drunk was ruining his act and the anger he felt when putting him in the trance is what killed him.

Douglass Dumbrille is the police detective in charge of the case and he is something of a poor man’s Cedric Hardwicke. His gimmick in the film is to go around any room he is in straightening out the picture frames on the wall. Even though he is cleared of the murder, Chaney goes out wandering in the night, convinced it was his fault. He breaks up with his fiancée, Ankers, and moves in temporarily with Tala Birell who owns a wax museum. Working for her are her young niece, Elena Verdugo, and a strange man who makes the wax figures, Martin Kosleck. Chaney also has a business manager, Milburn Stone, who doesn’t believe in the act, but tries to do whatever he can to help Chaney get over his fears. When Kosleck sees Chaney being friendly to Verdugo, he gets jealous and tells Birell that he’s been after her niece. Birell, who wanted Chaney for herself, is furious and the two argue, resulting in another apparent death when Chaney can’t remember what happened and Birell winds up missing.

Evelyn Ankers and Lon Chaney Jr. have mistakenly been called the Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy of the horror film. But for the exception of The Wolf Man, the two never really had any kind of onscreen attraction the way the two musical stars did. In the two Inner Sanctum films they did together they spent the majority of the film broken up, and in North to the Klondike they had no use for each other at all. The fact is Chaney and Ankers had no use for each other off screen either. But they were professionals and did what they had to do. As far as the title is concerned, had the wax museum been used more effectively it might have had some significance. At it is, the title means nothing. The Frozen Ghost is not a very good film, but it is definitely interesting for fans of Chaney Jr., who get to see him use his Son of Dracula glare, and less so for fans of Ankers. Fortunately it comes in a set of six films and so there are plenty of other better entries in the series.

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