Cast & Crew
Edgar G. Ulmer
After his father, Judge Albert Cartwright, dies in a mysterious train accident, college student Paul Cartwright is haunted by nightmares in which a sinister stranger claims to be his new father. While on a fishing trip with Dr. Vincent, an old family friend, Paul receives a letter from his deceased father, telling him that it is now his responsibility to guard his young, naïve mother Virginia from unscrupulous men. Paul rushes home, where he learns that Virginia has begun seeing Brett Curtis, a businessman new to the area. Later, Paul faints after his young sister Dorothy shows him a new bracelet given to her by Brett, which looks just like the one she received in his nightmare. The next day, Paul goes through his father's legal files and notes the similarities between Brett and Claude Barrington, a murderer and child molester who has eluded prosecution. Paul's suspicions about Brett prove correct, as Brett is Barrington, and, having killed the judge, now plans to marry Virginia as a final act of revenge against the jurist. Worried about Paul's interference with his plans, Brett schemes to place the young man under the care of Professor Muhlbach, Brett's therapist and accomplice. Recognizing Brett and Muhlbach's alliance, Paul agrees to be treated by the psychiatrist at his sanitarium, in hopes of uncovering evidence against them, as well as delaying his mother's marriage. In the meantime, Brett convinces Virginia to break her promise to Paul and elope with him, knowing that Muhlbach plans to kill Paul once their nuptials are announced. Vincent arrives at the sanitarium just as Muhlbach is about to push Paul off the roof, and he and Paul then escape to an abandoned farm near the sanitarium, similar to the one in Paul's nightmare. There, they find pieces of the truck that was involved in the judge's train accident, which Vincent takes to Armstrong, the district attorney. A police investigation uncovers the rest of the truck, as well as fingerprints matching Brett's. Realizing that the police are on to them, Muhlbach orders Brett to meet with him at a golf course, but the molester is diverted by his attraction for Dorothy. Meanwhile, Paul learns that Brett and Dorothy have gone alone to the family's summer cottage, so he races there with his friends, George and Lydia. They arrive just in time to save Dorothy from Brett's lecherous advances. Brett knocks Paul unconscious and grabs a knife off the boathouse's wall, but then is shot and killed by the police before he can inflict any further damage. In turn, Muhlbach is captured by the police, ending Paul's nightmares for good.
Edgar G. Ulmer
George H. Reed
E. H. Reif
George Van Marter
Strange Illusion - STRANGE ILLUSION - EDGAR ULMER'S FILM NOIR VERSION OF HAMLET
Volume 5 in All Day's Edgar G. Ulmer Collection, Strange Illusion is destined to be a must-have disk for any fan of the director's work and it comes with some appealing extra features such as The King of PRC, a featurette on the director with interview clips and commentary by his daughter - Arianne, an archive of rare stills and artwork, trailers for Ulmer films like Daughter of Dr. Jekyll and Beyond the Time Barrier, and a very effective menu interface, utilizing a snatch of the nightmare sequence from Strange Illusion.
For more information on Strange Illusion, visit the distributor's web site at ALL DAY ENTERTAINMENT.
By Jeff Stafford
Strange Illusion - STRANGE ILLUSION - EDGAR ULMER'S FILM NOIR VERSION OF HAMLET
Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive on DVD
The disc comes from the independent company Allday and its owner David Kalat has included a score of extras that offer teasing glimpses of Ulmer's unique genius. The lamentable condition of most of Ulmer's work makes appreciating him sometimes resemble a search for artifacts, and Kalat's presentations are better than can be seen anywhere else. The most impressive film in the group improves the quality of an earlier disc and comes with one of the disc producer's exemplary audio commentaries.
Starting chronologically, Moon over Harlem is one of Ulmer's adventures in ethnic filmmaking. Blackballed from studio work after filming his The Black Cat at Universal, Ulmer made all kinds of features and documentaries, eventually directing a number of Yiddish and Russian 'old country' musicals in New Jersey -- according to one source, the farm leased for the filming of one Fiddler on the Roof-style show about Russian Jews was right next door to property often used for meetings of the German Bund. This story of vice and virtue in the rackets and nightclubs of New York's Harlem was filmed in 16mm for almost nothing yet features a large cast. In an interview videotaped shortly before she passed away, Ulmer's wife and co-producer Shirley Ulmer recounts that she rewrote the entire script, and the lively, all-black cast creates some vivid characters.
In perhaps the first true representation of how rackets really worked, a gangster thinks he can outwit the white crime organization that runs vice in Harlem. He marries a woman to be near her beautiful daughter, who for her part wants to become a singer. The daughter is attracted to a political reformer and sparks fly. Much of the acting is stilted but the film has a general honesty missing in later Blaxploitation pix. Moon over Harlem comes with two added films, a 1940s public service short called Goodbye Mr. Germ and an unsold 1958 TV pilot filmed in color in Mexico, Swiss Family Robinson.
Bluebeard is one of Ulmer's best known pictures, a well-liked horror item that makes a sympathetic character of its mad killer, a talented painter and puppeteer in 19th century Paris. John Carradine has his best starring film role as Gaston Morrell, a civilized maniac compelled to strangle the models he paints. Jean Parker is the spirited girl he admires; he attempts to get free of his crimes but cannot erase the telltale paintings that chronicle his succession of victims.
Using fog, bits of sets and a cooperative cast, Ulmer creates a convincing period picture out of almost nothing, while moving the horror film closer to a more psychologically valid assessment of murderous evil. It's one of his more artistically successful efforts.
Allday's extras include a featurette about the Barlow and Baker marionettes that star as Morrell's puppet actors. Some striking Kodachrome movies of the marionettes in action are included that show that Bluebeard could have looked terrific as a color movie.
Strange Illusion is an awkward but artistically adventurous contemporary mystery lifted almost entirely from Hamlet. Jimmy Lydon is discouraged from investigating his father's death and is suspicious of the new man in his mother's life; he eventually becomes the victim of a conspiracy and is committed to an asylum. Weird dream sequences work their way through this Ulmer fan favorite. This disc comes with several Ulmer trailers including the elusive Beyond the Time Barrier, an MGM title for which 35mm printing elements are currently missing.
Daughter of Dr. Jekyll is a late-50s Allied Artists film made on the cheap in Los Angeles but set on a foggy moor. Gloria Talbott is afraid to marry John Agar afer being advised that she may have inherited her father's curse of lycanthropy. Several slow-motion dream sequences later, Gloria finds out she's being set up by a relative, the true guilty party.
Known almost exclusively as a joke title in Andrew Sarris' auteurist book The American Film, this tame monster romp does wonders with minimal sets but flubs a key interior when 1957 auto traffic peeks through the blinds during a breakfast scene. Of all the pictures in the collection, this is the sloppiest.
This disc has an interview with Ulmer's Daughter Arrianné explaining her non-profit foundation to preserve her father's films, many of which have fallen into the limbo of unresolved legal rights. She apparently recovered the original elements for Daughter of Dr. Jekyll at the last possible moment, by asking the original producer to reassign her the rights only a few weeks before he died.
The final title in the disc, not in chronological order, is 1946's The Strange Woman, a mini-masterpiece done on a reasonable budget that almost raised Edgar Ulmer out of poverty row. Instead, its success made him impatient with his deal at Producer's Releasing Corporation and he left to do even wilder independent projects in Europe.
The movie is an intelligent drama about a headstrong woman who eventually falls victim to her own negative karma. Hedy Lamarr plays the ambitious Jenny and the story is set in Maine in the early 1800s when land swindles were cornering the lumber market. The daughter of the town drunk, Jenny uses her beauty to maneuver herself into a marriage with the richest man in town and then has trouble getting his handsome son (Louis Hayward) to do the old man in. The irony builds as Jenny establishes a reputation of charity and personal integrity - only she knows what a fraud she is. When jealousy over the handsome George Sanders comes into the picture, her conscience gets the better of her.
This Ulmer film has no need of excuses or explanations; it's just plain superior and is easily Lamarr's best vehicle. The Ill-fated Jenny is as complicated as Scarlett O'Hara (whom Lamarr resembles in the role) and much more believable than Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven.
To top it off, David Kalat provides one of his highly entertaining commentaries, packed with fact, analysis and intelligent conclusions about Ulmer, Lamarr and the entire moviemaking process. It's a great listen.
The quality of Ulmer DVDs is always an issue as few decent prints of the movies survive. Many PRC pictures now lack anything but worn 16mm television negatives, and Ulmer's entire 40s output exists in spotty condition. Happily, The Strange Woman has been improved with new elements from French archives. Allday's encoding and digitizing improved over the years but some of the transfers are not as good looking as they might be. Dr. Jekyll and Strange Illusion suffer from strange pincushion graininess in their frequent dark foggy scenes.
Still, the Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive three-disc collection is a bargain and a great introduction to Ulmer's prodigious output. With extras included it adds up to over six hours of entertainment.
For more information about Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive, visit Image Entertainment. To order Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive on DVD
While Strange Illusion is by no means completely faithful to Shakespeare's original storyline - the Ophelia character is omitted for example and the tragic climax is replaced with a happy ending! - it remains a fascinating attempt to reimagine Hamlet as an impulsive teenager living in sunny Southern California amid the affluent trappings of country clubs and private schools. The added subplot of Paul volunteering to admit himself to a sanatorium for psychiatric evaluation (He is observed through a one-way mirror in his room by the phony psychiatrist-in-residence) gives Ulmer a chance to generate some additional tension, which he accomplishes quite nicely with atmospheric cinematography and moody lighting effects.
The down side is a rather lackluster performance by James Lydon as the Hamlet stand-in. He's simply unable to lose the goofy juvenile persona he brought to his previous role as Henry Aldrich, the main character in a long-running series of films for Paramount (It was their answer to MGM's Andy Hardy series). At least former Warner Brothers contract player Warren William is on hand to spice things up with his wonderfully sleazy performance as Brett Curtis, Paul's potential step dad.
Producer: Leon Fromkess
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Screenplay: Adele Comandini
Cinematography: Philip Tannura
Art Direction: Paul Palmentola
Music: Leo Erdody
Cast: Jimmy Lydon (Paul Cartwright), Warren William (Brett Curtis), Sally Eilers (Virginia Cartwright), Regis Toomey (Dr. Martin Vincent), Charles Arnt (Prof. Muhlbach), George Reed (Benjamin), Jayne Hazard (Dorothy Cartwright).
by Jeff Stafford
The working title of the film was First Illusion. It was also reviewed by some sources as Out of the Night, the title under which the film was copyrighted. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Fritz Rotter was paid $10,000 for the original story upon which the film is based. Hollywood Reporter news items also state that director Joseph H. Lewis was once assigned to the film. In an interview published in modern sources, director Edgar Ulmer claims that Eugen Shuftan was the uncredited director of photography of the film.