The Spiritualist


1h 18m 1948

Brief Synopsis

On the beach one night, Christine Faber, two years a widow, thinks she hears her late husband Paul calling out of the surf...then meets a tall dark man, Alexis, who seems to know all about such things. After more ghostly manifestations, Christine and younger sister Janet become enmeshed in the eerie artifices of Alexis; but he in turn finds himself manipulated into deeper deviltry than he had in mind...

Film Details

Also Known As
The Amazing Mr. X
Release Date
Jul 7, 1948
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Eagle-Lion Films, Inc.
Distribution Company
Eagle-Lion Films, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 18m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,033ft (8 reels)

Synopsis

At her mansion on the Pacific coast, Christine Faber, a beautiful, wealthy widow of two years, believes she hears her dead husband Paul's voice calling to her from the beach. While walking to the neighboring house of lawyer Martin Abbott, her boyfriend, Chris again hears the voice and meets a spiritualist named Alexis, who warns her against marrying Martin, and mysteriously recounts details of her life. Later that night, Martin proposes, but Chris begins to suspect that Paul's ghost does not want her to remarry. Hoping to reach Paul, Chris begins to visit Alexis on a regular basis, causing Martin and Chris's younger sister, Janet Burke, to consult a detective named Hoffman. Hoffman informs them that a man matching Alexis' description was imprisoned in Chicago for taking money on false pretenses. Posing as a client, Janet visits Alexis in order to get his fingerprints. He knows who she is, however, and easily dupes her into believing he has real psychic powers by willingly putting his fingerprints all over her cigarette case as if he has read her mind. Later, Alexis' girl friend reports that she found a photograph of the sisters' parents, and asks when he is planning to swindle Chris out of her fortune. Soon Alexis holds a séance for Janet and Chris in which he makes their father's face appear before them in the dark. Alexis then plays a recording of Paul's favorite piano concerto and makes the image of his face appear. The séance is interrupted by Martin and Hoffman, who demand that Alexis conduct another séance with them present. This time, Paul mysteriously appears again without the aid of Alexis' tricks, and Alexis realizes he is still alive. After the séance, Paul threatens to kill Alexis unless he helps him steal the Burke fortune by marrying Janet and tormenting Chris to death. Paul was supposed to have died in a car crash, but now admits he put another person's body in the car. Although a practiced charlatan, Alexis is not a murderer, and he begins to care genuinely for Janet. One night, on Paul's orders, Alexis takes Janet down to the beach and kisses her, while Paul lures Chris onto the sea cliff. After Chris falls down the cliff, Janet and Alexis save her. The next day, Janet discovers Paul and Alexis in her basement, where they are conducting special effects to scare Chris. Paul is about to shoot Janet, when Alexis attacks him and is wounded. Janet races to telephone Martin, but in the middle of her call, Paul cuts the wire, then comes after the women with his pistol. Alexis breaks the basement fuse box and shuts out the lights in time, however, and the police arrive and shoot Paul. As Alexis lies dying in Janet's arms, he urges her to forget him and asks her to release his pet raven, which has always been part of his act. The bird then flies out over the open sea.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Amazing Mr. X
Release Date
Jul 7, 1948
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Eagle-Lion Films, Inc.
Distribution Company
Eagle-Lion Films, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 18m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,033ft (8 reels)

Articles

Amazing Mr. X, The - THE AMAZING MR. X - Underrated 1948 B-Movie Thriller on DVD


To the short list of memorable productions from the humble Eagle-Lion studio can be added this atmospheric and intelligent thriller from 1948. Sold as a horror film, The Amazing Mr. X is actually a romantic take on the spiritualist racket with a few similarities to the previous year's Nightmare Alley. Its strongest aspect is superb cinematography by the legendary John Alton, who makes the picture a remarkable showcase of expressive and tasteful lighting effects.

Synopsis: Socialite Christine Faber (Lynn Bari) is still obsessed with her dead husband Paul (Donald Curtis), even though he's been gone two years and handsome Martin Abbott (Richard Carlson) is now in love with her. Mentalist Alexis (Turhan Bey) convinces Christine that he can communicate with Paul's spirit, and despite Martin's objections, succeeds in winning over both Christine and her younger and more impressionable sister Janet Burke (Cathy O'Donnell. Is Alexis' "amazing" ability to conjure the dead authentic, or an elaborate hoax? And why is even Alexis shocked at the sudden manifestations of the ghostly Paul?

The Amazing Mr. X almost completely redeems the sub-genre of thrillers that use the hokey convention of the séance, a gathering of people that can communicate with the dead when guided by a 'sensitive' conduit to the spirit world. Seen mostly in comedic horror films, séances rarely work in films because they rely on a surrender of rational thought not encouraged by the literal imagery of motion pictures. We either see the ghosts or we don't, so they're either "real" or fakes. Quasi-supernatural thrillers were far out of favor in 1948, possibly due to Universal's tepid series of lame "Inner Sanctum" mysteries. The Amazing Mr. X practically has the field to itself.

Crane Wilbur's story soon reveals that Alexis is a charlatan, but adds layers of interest by giving us an inkling of how skilled magician's tricks could conjure complicated illusions. Alexis demonstrates a sensitivity for his 'victims' that makes him an unusually sympathetic anti-villain. He uses his considerable personal charm to overcome the sales resistance of his female clients, playing a kind of spiritual gigolo role with dotty matrons like Norma Varden. Alexis to some degree seduces the sisters Christine and Janet. Yet, even though he cooperates part way with a complicated murder plan, we don't see Alexis as beyond redemption.

The film benefits from excellent casting. Typically a scheming troublemaker in pictures like Orchestra Wives and Shock, Lynn Bari is both likeable and sensitive as the tormented Christine. Cathy O'Donnell (The Best Years of Our Lives, They Live By Night) is perfect as the gentle younger sister charmed by the Svengali-like Alexis. Richard Carlson is attractive as the boyfried who gets in the way; his career was still going strong at this time.

Never a major star but always a notable personality, Turhan Bey is said to have received huge volumes of fan mail from admiring females. His arresting good looks and smooth voice usually restricted him to suave ethnic villain roles, as in several Mummy horror movies. The difference with The Amazing Mr. X is that the script respects all the characters and leaves them open to interpretation. Even the cynical detective played by Harry B. Mendoza has unexpected depth -- he used to be a professional magician and is always looking for the trick up the sleeve or the hidden button in the woodwork.

But John Alton's stunning camerawork is the grace note that puts The Amazing Mr. X over the top. Scenes are constructed of economical, expressive angles and every angle has a design concept; we're convinced that Alton essentially created the film's look on his own. The close-ups of the two actresses are beautifully rendered, making Lynn Bari every bit as visually sensual as Jennifer Jones. Every setting is distinctive, from Christine's cliff-top mansion to Alexis' tricked-out séance parlor. Alton probably handled the special effects as well, which involve a great many double exposures and visual gimmicks, like the framed picture that doubles as a rather fantastic television-like security screen. Alexis' various conjurer's tricks are probably too elaborate to be produced by the methods shown in the movie, but they work rather well anyway.

The script never loses its sense of humor, the characters are attractive and we worry about the impressionable, Janet and the vulnerable Christine when a new menace enters the story in the third act. Even though The Amazing Mr. X wraps up in a Production Code-endorsed finale (all miscreants are suitably punished) it reserves a sentimental flourish for its 'amazing' Alexis, a romantic villain who transcends his own villainy.

Image Entertainment's DVD of The Amazing Mr. X is far from a perfect presentation, but decent copies of this 1948 film are not easy to find. The sharp print has excellent contrast and would look fine if it were not beset by a few splices and constant minor scratches. Some of the scratches are intrusive, yet the film plays well and allows us to appreciate John Alton's work. In any event, the movie is so entertaining that the effect of the damage is minimized. Eagle-Lion eventually became United Artists but original elements for many of these independently-owned features have been destroyed or gone missing. This is one of the best releases from the Wade Williams collection.

Jim Arena provides insert liner notes with interesting information, such as the tragic fact that Carole Landis was slated to play Christine Faber but killed herself before filming began. There are no other extras.

For more information about The Amazing Mr. X, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Amazing Mr. X, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson
Amazing Mr. X, The - The Amazing Mr. X - Underrated 1948 B-Movie Thriller On Dvd

Amazing Mr. X, The - THE AMAZING MR. X - Underrated 1948 B-Movie Thriller on DVD

To the short list of memorable productions from the humble Eagle-Lion studio can be added this atmospheric and intelligent thriller from 1948. Sold as a horror film, The Amazing Mr. X is actually a romantic take on the spiritualist racket with a few similarities to the previous year's Nightmare Alley. Its strongest aspect is superb cinematography by the legendary John Alton, who makes the picture a remarkable showcase of expressive and tasteful lighting effects. Synopsis: Socialite Christine Faber (Lynn Bari) is still obsessed with her dead husband Paul (Donald Curtis), even though he's been gone two years and handsome Martin Abbott (Richard Carlson) is now in love with her. Mentalist Alexis (Turhan Bey) convinces Christine that he can communicate with Paul's spirit, and despite Martin's objections, succeeds in winning over both Christine and her younger and more impressionable sister Janet Burke (Cathy O'Donnell. Is Alexis' "amazing" ability to conjure the dead authentic, or an elaborate hoax? And why is even Alexis shocked at the sudden manifestations of the ghostly Paul? The Amazing Mr. X almost completely redeems the sub-genre of thrillers that use the hokey convention of the séance, a gathering of people that can communicate with the dead when guided by a 'sensitive' conduit to the spirit world. Seen mostly in comedic horror films, séances rarely work in films because they rely on a surrender of rational thought not encouraged by the literal imagery of motion pictures. We either see the ghosts or we don't, so they're either "real" or fakes. Quasi-supernatural thrillers were far out of favor in 1948, possibly due to Universal's tepid series of lame "Inner Sanctum" mysteries. The Amazing Mr. X practically has the field to itself. Crane Wilbur's story soon reveals that Alexis is a charlatan, but adds layers of interest by giving us an inkling of how skilled magician's tricks could conjure complicated illusions. Alexis demonstrates a sensitivity for his 'victims' that makes him an unusually sympathetic anti-villain. He uses his considerable personal charm to overcome the sales resistance of his female clients, playing a kind of spiritual gigolo role with dotty matrons like Norma Varden. Alexis to some degree seduces the sisters Christine and Janet. Yet, even though he cooperates part way with a complicated murder plan, we don't see Alexis as beyond redemption. The film benefits from excellent casting. Typically a scheming troublemaker in pictures like Orchestra Wives and Shock, Lynn Bari is both likeable and sensitive as the tormented Christine. Cathy O'Donnell (The Best Years of Our Lives, They Live By Night) is perfect as the gentle younger sister charmed by the Svengali-like Alexis. Richard Carlson is attractive as the boyfried who gets in the way; his career was still going strong at this time. Never a major star but always a notable personality, Turhan Bey is said to have received huge volumes of fan mail from admiring females. His arresting good looks and smooth voice usually restricted him to suave ethnic villain roles, as in several Mummy horror movies. The difference with The Amazing Mr. X is that the script respects all the characters and leaves them open to interpretation. Even the cynical detective played by Harry B. Mendoza has unexpected depth -- he used to be a professional magician and is always looking for the trick up the sleeve or the hidden button in the woodwork. But John Alton's stunning camerawork is the grace note that puts The Amazing Mr. X over the top. Scenes are constructed of economical, expressive angles and every angle has a design concept; we're convinced that Alton essentially created the film's look on his own. The close-ups of the two actresses are beautifully rendered, making Lynn Bari every bit as visually sensual as Jennifer Jones. Every setting is distinctive, from Christine's cliff-top mansion to Alexis' tricked-out séance parlor. Alton probably handled the special effects as well, which involve a great many double exposures and visual gimmicks, like the framed picture that doubles as a rather fantastic television-like security screen. Alexis' various conjurer's tricks are probably too elaborate to be produced by the methods shown in the movie, but they work rather well anyway. The script never loses its sense of humor, the characters are attractive and we worry about the impressionable, Janet and the vulnerable Christine when a new menace enters the story in the third act. Even though The Amazing Mr. X wraps up in a Production Code-endorsed finale (all miscreants are suitably punished) it reserves a sentimental flourish for its 'amazing' Alexis, a romantic villain who transcends his own villainy. Image Entertainment's DVD of The Amazing Mr. X is far from a perfect presentation, but decent copies of this 1948 film are not easy to find. The sharp print has excellent contrast and would look fine if it were not beset by a few splices and constant minor scratches. Some of the scratches are intrusive, yet the film plays well and allows us to appreciate John Alton's work. In any event, the movie is so entertaining that the effect of the damage is minimized. Eagle-Lion eventually became United Artists but original elements for many of these independently-owned features have been destroyed or gone missing. This is one of the best releases from the Wade Williams collection. Jim Arena provides insert liner notes with interesting information, such as the tragic fact that Carole Landis was slated to play Christine Faber but killed herself before filming began. There are no other extras. For more information about The Amazing Mr. X, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Amazing Mr. X, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Trivia

Carole Landis was originally scheduled to play the part taken by Lynn Bari, but she committed suicide a few days before shooting began.

Notes

The title on the print viewed, The Amazing Mr. X, was apparently used for the film's reissue and subsequent television release.