THE WIFE OF MONTE CRISTO. PRC, 1946. John Loder, Lenore Aubert, Fritz Kortman, Charles Dingle, Eduardo Ciannelli, Martin Kosleck, Fritz Feld, Eva Gabor. Screenplay by Dorcas Cochran, Edgar G. Ulmer, and Franz Rosenwalk (Francis Rosenwald) suggested by the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer.

   Almost from the start there were sequels to Alexandre Dumas mega selling The Count of Monte Cristo including The Daughter of Monte Cristo and The Treasure of Monte Cristo by Jules Lermina published orginally as by Dumas himself. The Wife of Monte Cristo is not a sequel, but a retelling, adding a dash of Zorro and casting Haydee, Dantes Indian ward who is a key part of his revenge plot, as the wife of the title.

   The time is 1832, the place France where corrupt government is opposed by the mysterious masked man known as the Avenger. The Prefect of the Police, de Villefort (John Loder) has two reasons to stop the Avenger, one he ruined his father, the other because he is the head of the corrupt elements in the governent backed by the wealthy Danglars (Charles Dingle) and Malliard (Fritz Kortman) who are both part of a plot to sell contaminated medicine during an outbreak of fever.

   De Villefort has set a trap for the Avenger, and it very nearly works when his men ambush the Avenger and his hand is wounded. Now de Villefort is sure he has the man he suspects is the Avenger, the mysterious and wealthy Edmund Dantes, the Count of Monte Cristo (Martin Kosleck).

   Monte Cristo manages to outwit de Villefort, going out of town to his hunting lodge and leaving his beautiful wife Haydee (Lenore Aubert) in charge and in contact with the Avengers legion of men.

   But de Villefort still suspects Monte Cristo and the only way to keep him off balance is if the Avenger appears while Monte Cristo is gone so Haydee chooses to don the mask and black costume of the masked hero.

   Meanwhile de Villefort, still certain Monte Cristo is the Avenger, romances Haydee enlisting Mme Malliard (Eva Gabor) in his game to set a trap for the count. But for a time Haydee manages to outwit him, even capturing, putting on trial, and executing Malliard under de Villefort’s nose (in the best sequence of the film shot in smoky dark inns, wine cellars, and on Parisian roof tops), which results in Haydee being arrested, and now it is up to Monte Cristo to return from his hunting lodge and free his wife and avenge his honor as de Villefort has discovered from his spy (Fritz Feld) Monte Cristo is Edmund Dantes.

   All this is standard cloak and dagger, and done on a low budget, but in this case done stylishly by director Edgar G. Ulmer who takes a fairly strong script, an interesting and intelligent heroine in Aubert, who is convincing equally in cape and mask and low cut gown, a dashing and despicable villain in Loder, and a surprisingly dashing and adept hero in Kosleck, who is off screen for much of the film, but returns in time to outwit de Villefort and confront him in his own palace in a well staged duel to the death. Considering Kosleck is best remembered for low budget villainy he is quite good as the swashbuckling mystery man.

   A better than usual supporting cast of Kortman, Dingle, Gabor, Ciannelli, Anthony Warde, and Feld add to the fun while Bruce Lester and Robert J. Wilkie are unbilled in small parts.

   Virginia Christine has a nice bit as a woman who hides Monte Cristo from the soldiers.

   Mostly it is Ulmer who makes this worthwhile. While I don’t quite hold with the auteur theory of Ulmer’s genius, he was capable of making the most of a low budget, poor lighting, inexpensive sets, and a feel for German Expressionism. Here the directors eye and ability to make the most of very little combined with a decent cast and the usual mix of desirable women, flashing swords, swirling cloaks, and masked heroes works better than you might expect.

   This is by no means a great film, but it holds its own with better known and better financed sequels to Monte Cristo like the two Louis Hayward outings The Return of Monte Cristo and The Son of Monte Cristo. Considering those two are well respected among fans of swashbucklers that’s saying quite a bit for this film.