DEVIL’S MASK, THE (director: Henry Levin; screenwriters: Dwight V. Babcock/from radio series I Love a Mystery by Carlton E. Morse; cinematographer: Henry Freulich; editor: Jerome Thoms; music: George Duning/Irving Gertz; cast: Anita Louise (Janet Mitchell), Jim Bannon (Jack Packard), Michael Duane (Rex Kennedy), Mona Barrie (Louise Mitchell), Barton Yarborough (Doc Long), Ludwig Donath (Dr. Karger), Paul E. Burns (Leon Hartman), Frank Wilcox (Arthur Logan), Thomas Jackson (Capt. Quinn), Richard Hale (Raymond Halliday), John Elliott (Butler); Runtime: 66; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Wallace MacDonald; Columbia; 1946)
“Enjoyable but flat B film entry in the short-lived I Love a Mystery series.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Henry Levin (“Where the Boys Are”/”Genghis Khan”/”Journey to the Center of the Earth”) directs this enjoyable but flat B film entry in the short-lived I Love a Mystery series (only three films) that was based on a popular radio show. The shrunken head murder mystery tale with occult pretensions has some genuinely spooky moments even though the story is far-fetched, the killer is too easy to spot and the characters are cartoonish chowderheads that make it hard to sympathize with any of them.
A transport plane that’s bound for South America crashes and the police find an unidentified shrunken head in the wreckage. San Francisco police department’s Capt. Quinn (Thomas Jackson) checks with the local museum to see if any of its five piece shrunken head collection is missing and the curator Halliday (Richard Hale) tells them none are missing but that the recovered shrunken head is similar to the ones in his collection. The Indian head hunters no longer do shrunken heads, so this leaves the lawmen scratching their heads over whose head was shrunk. Also at the museum are private detectives Jack Packard (Jim Bannon) and his partner Doc Long (Barton Yarborough), who are waiting to meet a new client–Louise Mitchell (Mona Barrie)–and to find out what she wants from them. She’s the wife of Quentin, former director of the museum, who is missing in the S. A. jungle after going on an expedition there with his wife and best friend Arthur Logan (Frank Wilcox). She asks the detectives to find out what happened to her hubby and to protect her from her accusatory stepdaughter.
Janet Mitchell (Anita Louise), Quentin’s daughter and Louise’s stepdaughter, suspects foul play, saying dad knew the jungle too well to get lost. She suspects her stepmom and former lover Arthur of killing her dad so they can resume their romance after Louise inherits the estate. Since Janet can’t prove it, she has her shady boyfriend Rex Kennedy (Michael Duane) tail Louise. This frightens Louise, because she thinks Janet wants her killed.
Janet and Rex visit the workplace of Janet’s friendly Uncle Hartman, an eccentric taxidermist who knows how to shrink heads Indian style and keeps a ferocious pet panther caged among the stuffed animals on display. After Packard investigates Rex and discovers he’s a gambler and con artist, Janet begins to have some doubts about him and turns for help to Uncle Hartman.
One evening Arthur shows the detectives slides of the expedition where everyone seems happy, but an unseen assailant fires a blow gun at him through the window but misses and while escaping kills the butler, who recognizes him, with a poison dart from the blow gun.
Things eventually work themselves out as they usually do in these Charlie Chan type of detective stories, and this atmospheric horror/mystery tale winds down in an uncomfortably pat way.
REVIEWED ON 11/7/2007 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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