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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Black Doll (1938) - A Universal Crime Club Mystery!

The Black Doll (1938) is the first of Universal’s series based on the Crime Club Mysteries. Directed by Otis Garrett, it stars Donald Woods, Nan Grey, and Edgar Kennedy. It’s a typical dark and stormy night murder mystery that starts off strong with Nicholas Rood (the always fun to watch C. Henry Gordon) finding a black voodoo-like doll that he believes will lead to his death due to him murdering a former partner in a mining deal (and stealing his wife and daughter!). Summoning his other two former partners to his estate, he is quickly dispatched by a knife, after which the body count in the house quickly adds up. 
Nan Grey plays Rood’s daughter, Marian, whose boyfriend/private detective, Nick Halstead (Donald Woods), just happens to have his camper trailer parked on the estate (to which Marian seems to have beaten a well-trodden path). Gray and Woods display some playful chemistry together in their early scenes, but the momentum of the film grinds to a halt with the arrival of the dim-witted sheriff (Edgar Kennedy) and his even more incompetent assistants. From here on, the film becomes a flatly written showcase for Kennedy’s mugging brand of humor, although it took 40 minutes (I timed it) for him to do his trademarked exasperated ‘slow burn’ wrapping of his hand across his head. The brisk running time for this B filler saves it from overstaying its welcome too long as we watch Nick runs circles around the sheriff in solving the case.

I first encountered Edgar Kennedy in the Marx Bros film, Duck Soup (1933), where he played the lemonade dealer getting the losing end of an absurd battle with Harpo. Kennedy had a long film carrier starting with the Sennett Studios in the Silent era and he worked with Laurel and Hardy for Max Roach. He starred in a long-running series of shorts for RKO in the 30’s and 40’s, while playing small character parts in a number of films – I particularly liked his sparring with Myrna Loy in Double Wedding (1937). Supporting roles are the best way to take this actor.

The pretty Nan Grey is rarely mentioned in discussions of Universal’s Horror Queens from the 40’s (Evelyn Ankers and Ilona Massey typically get the nod), but she starred in a number of their horror and related films, notably as Vincent Price’s fiancĂ© in The Invisible Man Returns (1940) and Lady Alice Barton in Tower of London (1939). But her real claim to horror fame was appearing in perhaps the most notorious scene in any Universal horror movie. In Dracula’s Daughter (1936) she had a brief, but powerful, scene playing Lili who is lured into an erotic seduction by Gloria Holden (Dracula’s Daughter) and then disposed of in a quick cut.
Is The Black Doll Worth My Time? Don’t go out of your way to find it, but as a late night wind down with a G&T it will be painless.

Availability: I watched a not-too-bad print on YouTube and there is what appears to be a cheap grey market copy on Amazon.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Atomic Surgery Blog is being reassembled after having its molecules scattered across the universe.

Stand by for new instalments shortly.