Apr 7, 2010

The Amazing Mr. X (1948)

I could just picture this little effort as being one of those wonderful discoveries that you would find in a Thursday night fall double-bill at The Nostalgic Cinema, if it was still open. Turhan Bey (the Turkish actor who was a matinee heartthrob even when he was cast as a no-gooder) is a phony psychic who claims he can communicate with a grieving woman's dead husband. Her sister naturally thinks the medium is just exploiting her in order to make a quick buck. This derivative B movie may seem familiar now, due to bigger pictures made before and after it, but today it remains a lovely treasure. It is worth seeking out alone for the great scene when, during a seance in which the woman's defenders will finally reveal the medium to be a phony, suddenly the voice of the dead husband is heard... and even Bey is shocked!!

What this movie obviously lacks in originality it makes up for with a startling command of mise en scene which transcends the modest production. Every single scene is an exercise in style: expressionistic lighting and shadows elevate this movie into a genuinely captivating moodpiece. The look of this film may be more attributed to the great cameraman John Alton than to its director. Bernard Vorhaus never had a distinguished career in Hollywood; especially since he was soon to be blacklisted. Alas, this sleeper remains a "What if...?"

The Amazing Mr. X is a perfect film to accidentally discover on the late show at 4AM.... well, since that's unlikely anymore, and since it's even more unlikely that your neighbourhood 100-seat theatre (if you still have one) will program it for some appropriately rainy fall night, this is therefore a movie you kind of find all for yourself in the back shelf of your favourite mom and pop video store... if you still have one.

(originally published in ESR #9)

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