Not a horror movie, per se, Strange Illusion nevertheless revolves around a ghostly, perhaps supernatural, dream. Haunted by the mysterious death of his father, college student Paul Cartwright (Jimmy Lydon) turns junior detective as events from a recurring dream begin coming true. Remembering what one of his instructors, Dr.Vincent (Regis Toomey) said in psychology class about dreams foretelling the future, Paul returns home, worried about his mother.
When he arrives, he learns that she is engaged to Brett Curtis (Warren William) and is instantly suspicious of the man with whom his mother, Virginia (Sally Eilers), and sister,Dorothy (Jayne Hazard), are smitten. The screenplay by Adele Comandini keeps us guessing for a while whether Paul is paranoid or Brett is a villain. There are no facts, however, that can convince Paul that he's not the latter.
About the time the truth is revealed to us, Paul puts himself in a potentially dangerous situation so he can find out for himself. This part of the movie could be considered a little horrific. Checking into a mental institution, Restview Manor, as a guest, he soon learns that he's actually a prisoner. He's told he can come and go as he pleases, but his phone is suddenly disconnected and his door is locked.
For a 1945 movie, some of this feels quite modern. There's even a subplot that's eerily relevant in the Me Too era. The most disturbing aspect of this is not the act itself, but how casually the victim takes it. Lydia (Mary McLeod) is "put in a stranglehold" and kissed by her perpetrator, yet is naïve enough to say that she didn't think anything of it and that he didn't mean anything by it. Ah, the innocence.
It all comes down to a race against time as Paul tries to escape and Brett gives Virginia an ultimatum to get married. Although the acting isn't great, it's a very entertaining movie, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer (The Black Cat). I'd like to see a better print of it,though. The opening dream sequence, in particular, which I guess is supposed to be dark and moody, is nearly indistinguishable. Such is the fate of a movie fallen into the public domain.
Written by Adele Comandini, Fritz Rotter
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Starring Jimmy Lydon, Warren William, Salley Eilers, Regis Toomey, Charles Arnt
Released March 31, 1945
RT 87 min.
Home Video Alpha Video