Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Among the Living (1941) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

Typically there are a few new-to-me films on the schedule each year at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs. This year was unusual in that there was only one film I'd never seen.

That movie was AMONG THE LIVING (1941), shown in 35mm. After the screening I described it on Twitter as "a wild movie, sort of a Southern Gothic horror TRY AND GET ME mixed with THE DEVIL STRIKES AT NIGHT."

AMONG THE LIVING also shared an identical twins theme with the next title on the schedule, THE GUILTY (1947). Albert Dekker stars as twins John and Paul Raden.

When John and his wife Elaine (Frances Farmer) return home for his father's funeral, Dr. Saunders (Harry Carey Sr.) confesses to the stunned John that Paul, the insane twin brother John has long thought dead, has been alive for many years, locked up in the family's decaying mansion.

Paul has just murdered a loyal family servant (Ernest Whitman) and disappeared. In town, Paul strikes up a relationship with the flirtatious Millie (Susan Hayward), who doesn't realize he's a madman. Millie manipulates Paul into buying her a new dress and perfume.

When a young woman is murdered, everyone in town hunts for the murderer, hoping to win a $5000 reward. When the townspeople realize that Paul is the murderer, there's just one problem: They think John is Paul. And they don't want to wait for the legal system to run its course.

The movie, scripted by Lester Cole and Garrett Fort, was spookily well done, but it's not really my mind of film. I can handle spooky old mansions in Bob Hope movies, but combine one with a lynch mob, a theme I never enjoy, and it just wasn't my kind of movie; fortunately for me it ran a very brief 67 minutes. Others might enjoy it more than I did, as it's a well-crafted movie with a bit of a Val Lewton vibe.

I've never been a particular fan of Dekker, though he seems to turn up time and again in '40s films I otherwise like. For me the highlight of the film was the young Hayward as the mercenary Millie, who starts out encouraging Paul to buy her niceties she can't afford; towards the end of the movie she's running after the murderer with a gun, determined to get the reward money, and whipping a lynch mob into a frenzy.

Farmer is lovely but fairly wasted as John's wife, and Carey plays a rather atypically selfish, none-too-wise man who's been hiding a nasty secret for decades. The cast also includes Gordon Jones, Jean Phillips, and Maude Eburne.

Stuart Heisler directed, with atmospheric black and white photography by Theodor Sparkuhl. The movie was originally released by Paramount Pictures.

AMONG THE LIVING is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber with a commentary track by Jason A. Ney.


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