Sunday, November 7, 2010


Salina [KS] Journal, Tuesday March 3, 1959

A difficult part of this viewing project for me is to try to watch these movies as if I am seeing them for the first time. This means consciously trying to forget things that I know about the films and the behind-the-scenes elements of their production; I also try to avoid thinking about the previous times that I have watched them. I want to simulate as best I can the experience of seeing these on TV for the first time. It's a foolish endeavor, I know, since I can't replicate all the viewing conditions, like commercial breaks or the idea that there are others watching the same thing I am at the same time. But nevertheless I do make an effort to create a fresh experience with these films.

These silly little exercises of mine were quite the struggle when it came to DEAD MAN'S EYES. I am neither a fan of the six-film "Inner Sanctum Mysteries" (for more on this, series see Mirek's 2008 post on SHOCK!'s "Inner Sanctum" titles) nor Lon Chaney, Jr. But I wanted to let go of all those prejudices in the hopes of finding a different way to watch them --- these films certainly present enough pulp fiction elements to avoid being sidetracked by my animus towards the "Inner Sanctum" movies or their star, so I thought that I could approach them in that way.

It helps if you let go of the idea that this is a horror movie in spite of the marketing of the movie and its lurid title--- it is a murder mystery about an accidentally-blinded painter accused of beating to death a corneal donor. There is a small handful of suspects to choose from and each one is presented with motives and opportunities, but I found that my attempts to engage with this movie in a new way were thwarted in large part by the actors' performances. There really doesn't seem to be a lot of effort being put forth here; I'm not being snide when I say that I've seen better acting in educational films of the 1950s than the performances here.

Moreover, I found none of the characters even remotely interesting, let alone attractive. There's Dave Stuart (Lon Chaney, Jr.), a struggling artist with a tastefully well-appointed studio apartment who owns his own tuxedo and can afford to wine and dine his upper-class fiancée Heather (who he passively-aggressively calls "Brat"). Heather (Jean Parker, looking a little bit too old for the role) seems cold and distant throughout the picture; her ex-boyfriend is a rich jerk named Nick (George Meeker) who detests Dave and is, in turn, detested by Heather's obnoxious father (Edward Fielding) who everyone chummily (and creepily) calls "Dad." Dave's model Tanya (Acquanetta) is a hot-tempered sort with a crush on him; she's being stalked by smug psychiatrist Dr. Alan Bittaker (Paul Kelly, last seen as the sketchy private eye in THE CAT CREEPS). Rounding out the cast is the overly-antagonistic and dreary police captain Drury (Thomas Gomez)--- at one point, Bittaker calls him an "inhuman, cold-blooded fish."

With the single exception of the opthamologist, all the characters seem self-centered and irritable and unpleasant throughout the proceedings to the point where I did not care about them very much. This is important since so much of the story revolves around two overlapping romantic triangles (Dave-Heather-Nick; Dave-Tanya-Alan), and I really can't think of a movie where I've seen a less convincing bunch of lovers that I cared so little about than in DEAD MAN'S EYES.

In their best moments, parts of Universal's "Inner Sanctum" movies remind me of some fair-to-middling episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." There are certainly some interesting germs of ideas in DEAD MAN'S EYES--- I think that an old-school psychoanalytic film critic would have a blast with Tanya's "accidental" blinding of Dave, Brat's joke about Dave wanting to marry "Dad" more than he wants to marry her, and with Dave being a suspect in the Oedipal slaying of "Dad." But none of these things go very far on their own and would require heavy critical intervention to turn them into something intriguing. I couldn't be bothered, really.

Tuscon [AZ] Daily Citizen, Saturday September 8, 1962

[What's worth mentioning about the TV listing above is that it would almost be a huge spoiler of the film's almost-twist ending if it were accurate. But it's actually not--- Chaney's artist pretends that the operation is not successful in order to trap the not-so-desperate killer. Those Tucsonians who tuned in that night to watch the movie for the first time after reading the description must have been surprised!]

NEXT: "If you think you've seen everything in spine-tingling excitement, you'll change your mind when you see Boris Karloff in THE MUMMY, the Shock full-length feature presentation coming to this channel!"


Mirek said...

Nowadays I find Chaney Junior very endearing, so I like these Inner Sanctums. BUT when I was a kid, I was always disappointed when one of these films would come around in an otherwise straight Universal monster schedule. My guess is that monster kids felt the same.

The Creeping Bride said...

I hate bustin' on Creighton-- he's so beloved by Universal fans and I know all about his personal difficulties. But his self-pitying emo characters really irk me and always take me right out of the movie.

What's worse is that I don't think that it's entirely his fault-- I think he was poorly cast in many movies, especially in these "Inner Sanctum" pictures. Think of how much different these movies would be if they had been vehicles for someone more believable in these roles like, say, Martin Kosleck.

kochillt said...

Lon Chaney was passable in CALLING DR. DEATH and WEIRD WOMAN, but in this third "INNER SANCTUM" his character is scripted as a whiny artist whose canvasses leave much to be desired. This one couldn't be rescued by any actor, so our hero was defeated from the start. I'm fond of it from long ago, but I still rank it 6 out of 6, the weakest in the series.

kochillt said...

Postscript: Pittsburgh's CHILLER THEATER showed this film only 3 times in 15 years.