Saturday, February 27, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Unknown (1946) at UCLA

Last night's screening of I LOVE A MYSTERY (1945) at UCLA was followed by another film in the same series, THE UNKNOWN (1946). While I LOVE A MYSTERY was shown in 16mm, THE UNKNOWN was a terrific 35mm print.

THE UNKNOWN again featured detectives Jack Packard (Jim Bannon) and Doc Sloane (Barton Yarborough) dealing with spooky goings-on. Like I LOVE A MYSTERY, THE UNKNOWN was directed by Henry Levin.

The double bill was part of UCLA's current series Out of the Ether: Radio Mysteries and Thrillers on Screen.

In this final film in the I LOVE A MYSTERY trilogy, the creepiness has a Southern Gothic twist, as Jack and Doc are hired by an unknown benefactor to escort Nina Arnold (Jeff Donnell) to her ancestral home. Nina has never met her parents, but her grandmother (Helen Freeman) has recently died and she's one of the heirs.

At the decaying mansion Nina meets her rude, angry uncles (James Bell and Wilton Graff) and sees her mother Rachel (Karen Morley) for the first time. Rachel, whose marriage to Richard (Robert Wilcox) was short-lived, has never gotten over the absence of her husband and daughter and lost her mind, busying herself caring for an invisible "baby."

The house has cobwebby secret passages, a nearby mausoleum with surprises inside, the mysterious sounds of a crying baby, and someone who pushes Nina down a flight of stairs. Oh, and don't even think about removing the bricks which have covered up a fireplace...yes, this movie is more than a bit macabre!

Jack and Doc have their hands full keeping Nina alive until a missing will is found! I'm a Jeff Donnell fan so I enjoyed seeing her front and center as the heroine; she's a very good screamer but she was also brave, and she had admirable sympathetic understanding for her mentally ill mother.

The shadowy black and white photography by Henry Freulich is most effective helping set the film's mood.

A couple of overwrought moments drew unintended chuckles from the audience, but that was probably a good thing for me as it kept things feeling light. The film's short running time, clocking in at 70 minutes, was another plus for someone who doesn't watch a lot of scary movies. It's a fast-paced and lively film which is very well done, especially considering it probably didn't have much of a budget.

The film's style, with a disturbed matriarch casting her shadow over all, reminded me a little of Anthony Mann's spooky house film, STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944).

UCLA's series of "radio" films strikes me as especially fun and creative programming; they even play radio shows in the theater prior to the movie starting. I hadn't been able to attend since I saw THE TRIAL OF VIVIENNE WARE (1932) on the opening night of the series, but I'd love to see more if I can!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The UCLA series sounds terrific . I don't know The Unknown but would love to see it.I'm still wondering how they let Ms Donnell keep that Christian name,Jeff!

12:02 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

As you know, I'm fond of Jeff Donnell too, so that gave this film an added boost for me as well.

All the films in this series were well done... too bad there were only three.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you both for your comments!

Vienna, her name used to confuse me so much (grin).

Maricatrin, I wonder why the series ended...they couldn't have cost much to make. It's a bit surprising to me there weren't more.

Best wishes,

9:04 PM  

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