Strange Illusion (1945)
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Cast: Jimmy Lydon, Sally Eilers, Warren William
Synopsis: Paul, a young man whose father was once lieutenant Governor of California before his untimely death, has a strange, recurring dream in which his mother falls in love with a dangerous man
If the plot of Edgar G. Ulmer’s low-budget thriller Strange Illusion seems either far-fetched or familiar it’s because it lifts the plot of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and transplants it to (then) modern-day America. Not that Shakespeare receives any credit, mind you; the screenplay is credited to Adele Comandini, working from an ‘original story’ by Austrian writer and composer Fritz Rotter. Hmmm… Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, methinks.
Following the death of his father, clean-cut All-American youth Paul Cartwright (Jimmy Lydon) is plagued by bad dreams in which he sees his mother (Sally Eilers — Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans) menaced by a mysterious figure who claims to love her. His doctor and family friend Dr. Vincent (Regis Toomey — They Never Come Back, The Errand Boy) rationalises the dream, but when Paul returns home to find his mother being wooed by oily charmer Brett Curtis (Warren Williams) his suspicions are instantly revived.
Strange Illusion really has no right being as enjoyable as it is. But then Ulmer was a director whose skills were always greater than the budget with which he was allowed to work, which is why so many of his z-grade movies rise above their impoverished origins. Strange Illusion was made by the Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) which, in its eight-year existence churned out no fewer than 214 movies as it operated at the bottom of the movie industry food chain. PRC was so impoverished it made Republic and Monogram look like industry giants, and even Ulmer struggled to prevent that lack of money from showing on the screen. But Comandini’s zippy script is full of twists and intrigue, and the movie benefits from an interesting cast. Old hand Warren Williams makes a wonderfully sleazy villain, all smooth self-confidence and charm on the surface, but a simmering pressure-cooker of emotions underneath. His Curtis might have designs on Mr’s Cartwright’s money, but it’s the young bodies of Paul’s sister Dorothy (Jayne Hazard — The Lost Weekend) and her friend Lydia (Mary McLeod — The Canterville Ghost) that the old letch really wants to get his grubby paws on.
Jimmy Lydon’s slender shoulders aren’t really strong enough to carry the movie — in fact it’s unusual to see such a young hero in a movie this age — and he sometimes comes across as a little smug at times, but the story moves along at such a pace that the audience is rarely given time to dwell on his shortcomings. Lydon also isn’t helped by the fact that he’s given some horrible lines to deliver in an apparent attempt to make him sound like a hip-and-happening teen at a time when teenagers as we now know them hadn’t even been invented. “Hey vixen, what’s mixin’?” he brightly enquires of his sort-of girlfriend, and it’s impossible to prevent the grinding of teeth as he follows this knockout blow with the breezy enquiry, “Are you missin’ my kissin?’
Strange Illusion isn’t quite as accomplished as some of Edgar G. Ulmer’s better known work (Detour, The Black Cat), but it contains enough of his deft touches to make it worth 85 minutes of most people’s time.
(Reviewed 24th June 2014)