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CRIMES AT THE DARK HOUSE (director: George King; screenwriter: from the book The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins/Frederick Hayward/H.F. Maltby /Edward Dryhurst; cinematographer: Hone Glendenning; editor: Jack Harris; cast: Tod Slaughter (The False Percival Glyde), Sylvia Marriott (Laurie Fairlie/Anne Catherick), Hilary Eaves (Marion Fairlie), Geoffrey Wardwell (Paul Hartwright), Hay Petrie (Dr. Isidor Fosco), Margaret Yarde (Mrs. Bullen, housekeeper), Hilary Eaves (Marian Fairlie), Rita Grant (Jessica, the Maid), David Horne (Frederick Fairlie), Elsie Wagstaff (Mrs. Catherick), David Keir (Lawyer Merriman); Runtime: 69; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Odette King; Sinister Cinema; 1940-UK/USA)
“Campy overwrought melodrama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

George King effectively directs this campy overwrought melodrama based on the 1860 book The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Tod Slaughter gives an energetic over-the-top performance that is so bad it’s gloriously good, from the opening moment he enters a strange tent at night and hammers a spike into the sleeping prospector’s head –laughing with great glee and smacking his lips in triumph at his evil deed. He then steals the wealthy titled man’s identity as Sir Percival Glyde, and leaves Australia in 1850. An unrecognized Percival, after a twenty year absence, returns to the Victorian country English mansion he inherited upon his father’s death. Conferring with his mediocre lawyer Merriman, who doesn’t even check adequately to make sure if he’s really Sir Percival, the impostor discovers the old house is heavily mortgaged and he owes huge bills. But there’s one consolation: his father has arranged for him to marry the wealthy Laurie Fairlie (Sylvia Marriott) and she has enough money to take care of all the debts. Laurie’s uncaring weasel of an uncle, Frederick Fairlie, has been her guardian since her father’s death, and refuses to break the marriage contract as she requests because he’s an irresponsible dolt. Laurie has fallen in love with solicitor Paul Hartwright (Geoffrey Wardwell), and is in quandary of what to do next. Percival will not hear of his beautiful future bride’s request to get out of the contract and instead pushes for an immediate marriage, which her devoted sister Marion cautions against but is not listened to. While waiting for six weeks to elapse before the wedding, Percival knocks up maid Jessica, whom he promises to marry. When she makes the mistake of insisting on the marriage, he strangles her in the boathouse and is never heard from again.

Problems arise when Percival learns from Mrs. Catherick through the crooked shrink Isidor Fosco that he married her before he sailed to prospect for gold in Australia and they had a child named Anne, who is in an insane asylum fueled with intense hatred for Sir Percival for ruining her mother’s life. Anne escapes and threatens to go after her miserable father. The unscrupulous Fosco tries to shake down Percival for more money to keep him from squealing that he knows he’s not the real Percival, but instead gets trapped into becoming partners with someone he doesn’t realize is so dangerous.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

Percival lures escapee Anne to the boathouse and strangles her, and then identifies her body as that of his recent wife Laurie. The lunatic replaces the dead Anne with look-alike Laurie and carts her off to the loony bin, buying Fosco off again with still another promissory note to not disclose the switch. The suspicious Paul returns to the creepy old-dark-house and soon discovers his Laurie is in the asylum as Anne Catherick, and frees her. They return together to the house and confront the lunatic impostor, who eventually goes up in flames in a fire of his own making at the church.

In 1948 Warner Bros. made The Woman in White, which was based on the same Wilkie Collins novel.

This unfaithful adaptation of the novel can be viewed as silly fun.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”