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Movie of the Week: Woman Who Came Back (1945)



Woman Who Came Back (1945) has a great gothic opening, generating a creepy atmosphere that’s sustained throughout the movie. In Eben Rock, Massachusetts, a “crypt” beneath the church holds documents that detail the history of witchcraft in the area. Nearby stands the palatial home of the judge responsible for killing 18 women 300 years ago… the same home to which Lorna Webster (Nancy Kelly) returns today.

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Lorna left town two years ago, leaving her beau, Dr. Matt Adams (John Loder), broken-hearted. Her trip home is eerily eventful. An old woman (Elspeth Dudgeon) gets on the bus, recognizes Lorna, and tells her that her great-grandfather, many times removed, was Judge Elijah Webster. This woman seems startled to learn that the year is 1945. After she issues Lorna a cryptic warning, the bus runs off the bridge and crashes into the lake.

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In the opening narration, we were told that, 300 years ago, one accused witch died screaming that she would wreak revenge on the man that condemned her. After the bus crash, the first thing we see is a tombstone that reads, “Upon this mound in the year of our lord sixteen hundred forty-five the woman Jezebel Trister was burned to death for practicing sorcery and witchcraft. By order of Elder Elijah Webster, Judge of the Village of Eben Rock.”

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In the first few minutes of the movie, we have a repeatedly clear idea of the set-up. It’s quickly reinforced when we learn that the old lady’s body was not found in the lake and when Lorna remains haunted by her unusual encounter. The question then becomes, what is the story of Woman Who Came Back going to do with it? I wouldn’t exactly say the concept is squandered; however, it does remain fairly intimate and doesn’t fully explore the possibilities of Lorna being possessed by a witch.

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This makes the movie more a mystery-thriller than a horror movie. The worst thing that happens is young Peggy (Jeanne Gail) becomes ill at about the same time Matt discovers a damaged doll that resembles her on the bookshelf in Lorna’s study. The townspeople grow angry, but I’m not sure why they suspect Lorna, unless it’s because she herself does not hesitate to tell people she feels responsible. Matt doesn’t believe and tells her she’s more likely to suffer from a neurosis than witchcraft.

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His solution is to marry her and take her away from Eben Rock. Ah, the solution for every problem in the Golden Age of Horror: true love! They never quite make it as Lorna becomes more and more overwrought, heading figuratively toward a severe mental breakdown and literally toward a slippery cliff high above the lake. In a convenient, yet clever, turn of the plot, the mystery is solved and, just over an hour after it began, there’s a happy ending.

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There are several cooks in the kitchen with the screenplay, but collectively they do a good job with the characters and providing relationships and development. Released by Republic Pictures, this was one of seven films from Walter Colmes Productions, a company that, if this is any indication, strived for high production values on a low budget. I liked it and, at the very least, it’s a fun opportunity to see Otto Kruger play, not a charming villain, but a compassionate clergyman.

Screenplay by Dennis J. Cooper, Lee Willis

Story by John H. Kafka

Suggested by Philip Yordan

Directed by Walter Colmes

Starring John Loder, Nancy Kelly, Otto Kruger, Ruth Ford, Jeanne Gail Released December 13, 1945 RT 68 min.

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