STRANGE ILLUSION. PRC, 1945. James Lydon, Warren William, Sally Eilers, Regis Toomey. Director: Edgar G. Ulmer.


    Much better on all counts than Fear in the Night [reviewed here ] is Edgar Ulmer’s remarkable Strange Illusion, an ultra-cheapie from PRC with James Lydon, Sally Eilers, Warren William and Regis Toomey, that would have been a forgone Disaster in lesser hands.

    Ulmer could always dress up the most threadbare of tales in positively sardanapalean splendor, and here he turns a well-worn mystery plot into a Modern-Dress Hamlet, with Lydon getting a message from his recently-departed father to protect his mother from opportunists.

    Next thing he knows, Mom’s being swept off her feet by Warren William (clearly way past his prime here, and looking marvelously suited to his sleazy role) who, it turns out, may have caused Dad’s death. And the only way young Lydon can think of to prevent the nuptials is to feign insanity — which puts him in the hands of William’s Polonius-like understrapper, who runs a “Rest Home.”

    I mentioned once that Ulmer’s films sometimes amaze one by the very fact of their existence, and this is no exception. He can do more with L-shaped sets, inadequate actors and bad scripts than most filmmakers could manage with the cast and budget of Lawrence of Arabia.

    Here he plays off Lydon’s typecast callowness against William’s lethally seedy charm and even brings off a totally unexpected — and rather disturbing — ending, which I won’t reveal.

Editorial Note:   For Mike Grost’s in-depth commentary on this film, check out his website here.

[UPDATE] 02-15-11.   Every Tuesday on Todd Mason’s blog, he lists an assortment of “Overlooked Films” offered up as Prime Examples by other bloggers on their own
blogs. This week on Dan’s behalf I suggested Strange Illusion. For the rest of this Tuesday’s recommendations, please give Todd’s blog a look-see.