Countdown to Halloween: Invisible Ghost (1941)
WHY I'VE NEVER SEEN IT
In July, 2017,Derek M. Cook and Troy Howarth discussed Invisible Ghost on episode 326 of Monster Kid Radio. It instantly moved upward on my list of movies to watch.
WHY I BOUGHT IT
One reason: Lugosi.
WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT IT
While most of my reviews contain spoilers, this one reveals developments essential to the plot of the movie, so be warned.
It's not often when watching a classic horror movie, particularly one with a 1941 vintage, that I can't figure out what's going to happen next. For a 64-minute thriller, Invisible Ghost has an awful lot going on in it. There's not really a ghost, as the title indicates, but the terrific opening scene sure leads us to believe there might be. Charles Kessler (Bela Lugosi) sits down for an elegant evening dinner served by the butler, Evans (Clarence Muse). Both men address the empty chair at the other end of the table as if someone is sitting there.
Kessler's daughter, Virginia (Polly Ann Young) seems embarrassed by his behavior, getting some relief when she finally reveals to her boyfriend, Ralph Dickson (John McGuire), that it's a once-a-year ritual that's been occurring since his wife/her mother left them for another man. We learn early on that Mrs. Kessler (Betty Compson) was in an automobile accident after she left and that the gardener, Jules Mason (Ernie Adams) is secretly keeping her in the basement. Sometimes Mrs. Kessler escapes and wanders the grounds. Should Charles see her, he goes into a temporary, murderous trance.
Since Ralph is trying to end an affair with the maid and Evans witnesses a quarrel between them, Ralph is suspected of murder when she is discovered dead. Well, he's not just suspected. He's convicted, sent to death row, and executed for a crime he didn't commit. Subsequent to this, there's a knock on the door and it's… Ralph?!? No, it's his twin brother Paul, arriving to prove his brother's innocence. Whew! I need to stop and catch my breath just writing about the story. As you can tell, it's intricate and full of twists and turns. Each development is one I didn't predict.
Not only is the story a cut above from most, but the direction by Joseph H. Lewis includes some flourishes I wouldn't expect. For example, as Evans overhears the aforementioned quarrel, the camera zooms in on him slowly, emphasizing the significance of the event. Then, when Charles approaches the maid to strangle her, he holds his coat up to cover her. From her point of view, it comes closer and turns the screen black. These shots and others add some style to a story (written by Helen Martin & Al Martin) full of substance. Invisible Ghost is a gem, not to be confused with any of Lugosi's "lesser" films.
Written by Helen Martin & Al Martin Directed by Joseph H. Lewis Starring Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire, Clarence Muse, Betty Compson, Ernie Adams Released April 25, 1941 RT 64 min. Home Video Kino Lorber (Blu-ray)
ABOUT THE COUNTDOWN
We all have them... stacks of movies we've purchased, but never watched; or, movies on the DVR, filling them to capacity. This year for the annual Countdown to Halloween, I'm going to make a dent in my "stack," watching one movie a day for the month of October that I've never seen, then writing about it.
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