CALLING DR. DEATH. Universal Pictures, 1943. Lon Chaney [Jr.], Patricia Morison, J. Carrol Naish, David Bruce, Ramsay Ames, Fay Helm. Director: Reginald Le Borg.

   This is the first in a series of six films based on the very popular 1940s radio program, Inner Sanctum Mystery, all of them starring Lon Chaney, Jr. Unfortunately it’s a perfectly ordinary murder mystery, with none of macabre overtones that I remember of the radio series.

   I’m also not sure that Lon Chaney was the right person to cast as the star of all six — not based on his role in this one. Can you see Lon Chaney as a noted neurologist who uses hypnotism as one of ways he helps his patients? I tried and I just couldn’t do it, no matter how nicely he talked, softly and eloquently and dressed up in a suit.

   As far as the story is concerned, it turns out that even noted neurologists can have marital problems, and when his errant wife turns up dead, he’s an obvious suspect. His alibi? He has none. What’s worse, he has a total blackout for the time of her death. Although another man, his wife’s lover, is accused of the crime, he is hounded by a dogged police inspector (J. Carrol Naish), who does not believe the official version of the case.

   What can Dr. Steele do but find the real murderer himself, aided by his lovely assistant (Patricia Morison)? Don’t forget that Dr. Steele is a master hypnotist. Can he hypnotize himself? Well, of course he can.

   The problem is not the relatively hokey plot. It’s the fact the real killer is obvious from reel one onward. No surprise ending for this one, alas. I’ve always been a big fan of the radio series, since I was eight years old, but this first film I found disappointing.