Holmes Herbert

British Intelligence (1940, Terry O. Morse)

It should be obvious British Intelligence is based on a play, so much of it takes place in a single house, but director Morse and screenwriter Lee Katz open it up enough it never does. Actually, even though it’s a low budget picture, their expansive approach even obscures the concentration around the one setting.

Intelligence is an early World War II propaganda picture; even though it’s set during World War I, all the ramblings from the Germans or against them are clearly about Hitler. Sometimes Morse can make it work, other times not.

Most of the film is Boris Karloff and Margaret Lindsay conspiring against the English. They’re German spies thrown together and mildly distrustful of each other–whenever Intelligence runs out of scenes, another double agent is revealed to perturb the plot a little.

Karloff is fantastic. Lindsay’s performance, however, is a wee broad. She concentrates on likable instead of believable and has conflicting chemistry with a couple male costars. Sure, Intelligence has to confuse to keep the viewer guessing but it shouldn’t be at the expense of an actor.

Almost no one else in the cast makes an impression. Bruce Lester pops up at the beginning and end to romance Lindsay–Intelligence even starts with him as the protagonist, the shift being a big reason it never feels like a play adaptation–and he’s weak. Holmes Herbert is good though.

Morse and his crew do all right considering they’re cutting in recycled war footage.

Intelligence‘s watchable but disposable.



Directed by Terry O. Morse; screenplay by Lee Katz, based on a play by Anthony Paul Kelly; director of photography, Sidney Hickox; edited by Thomas Pratt; music by Heinz Roemheld; produced by Bryan Foy; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Margaret Lindsay (Helene von Lorbeer), Boris Karloff (Valdar), Holmes Herbert (Arthur Bennett), Leonard Mudie (James Yeats), Bruce Lester (Frank Bennett), Lester Matthews (Henry Thompson), Winifred Harris (Mrs. Maude Bennett), Austin Fairman (George Bennett), Louise Brien (Miss Risdon) and Clarence Derwent (The milkman).

Calling Dr. Death (1943, Reginald Le Borg)

Reusing music in b movies isn’t uncommon, but to reuse music from a movie with the same star? It kind of gets distracting.

Almost everything about Calling Dr. Death is distracting, actually.

The movie opens with a head in a glass sphere ominously describing the film’s setting (Dr. Death is a filmic episode of Inner Sanctum Mysteries–a radio program). It’s nowhere near as distracting, however, as what the first scene reveals… the hair-styling.

Lon Chaney’s hair is absolutely amazing, perfectly molded in each shot, even when it’s supposed to be messy. It’s a styled, gelled (or whatever) messy.

Then there’s his voiceover narration. Chaney’s neurosurgeon psychotherapist–I really don’t think screenwriter Edward Dein knew what a neurosurgeon did, he just liked the sound of it–describes all his thoughts. There’s a long section of it at the beginning, almost five minutes of it, with Chaney walking around his office talking to himself about himself, then more later, just in smaller doses.

Chaney’s actually pretty good in his role. He seems out of place in the apartment scenes–he’s a neurosurgeon with a butler and a high rise apartment with an ornate dining room–but he does well as the doctor, which kind of surprised me. He doesn’t exactly get any help from the supporting cast.

Neither of his female costars is effective. Ramsay Ames is hilariously bad, but Patricia Morison is lousy too. Ames is–taking screen time into account–better, just because her role is smaller. It isn’t simply a matter of lack of chemistry, it’s how amateurish their performances come off opposite Chaney. He might have be in a crappy b movie without a single competently written moment, but he’s still a professional. Ames and Morison look like deer caught in headlines whenever it’s time for them to deliver lines. You can even watch Ames do something with her hand, flexing it or something, to aid in her delivery.

It doesn’t really help director Reginald Le Borg is mind-numbingly boring. He’s got a couple bad shots, but nothing atrocious. Nothing good either. There’s a well-produced montage (unfortunately uncredited). It’s fairly well-lighted, with Virgil Miller bringing small points of light into previously dark shots. The costumes–Vera West did the gowns, which look competent, but I’m not talking about those–are hilarious. Chaney’s running around his apartment in a silly, sort of flower-patterned set of pajamas for a while. It’s something to see.

The problem’s the script. Not just the mechanical failure of the narration, but the lack of compelling situation. Why should we care if Ames is lousy to Chaney, because he can narrate a voiceover explaining it? Calling Dr. Death opened in December, which means moviegoers weren’t in search of air conditioning. Heat, perhaps?



Directed by Reginald Le Borg; written by Edward Dein; director of photography, Virgil Miller; edited by Norman A. Cerf; music by Paul Sawtell; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Lon Chaney Jr. (Dr. Mark Steel), Patricia Morison (Stella Madden), J. Carrol Naish (Inspector Gregg), David Bruce (Bob Duval), Ramsay Ames (Maria Steele), Fay Helm (Mrs. Duval), Holmes Herbert (Bryant, the Butler), Alec Craig (Bill, the Watchman), Frederick Giermann (Marion’s Father), Lisa Golm (Marion’s Mother), Charles Wagenheim (Coroner), Mary Hale (Marion), George Eldredge (District Attorney) and John Elliott (Priest).

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