(director: Lew Landers; screenwriters: Griffen Jay/story by Arthur St. Claire; cinematographer: Jack Greenhalgh; editor: Roy Livingston; music: Karl Hajos; cast: Erich von Stroheim (Diijon), Jeanne Bates (Victoria ), William Wright (Tony Holiday), Denise Vernac (Denise), Edward Van Sloan (Sheffield), Hope Landin (Mrs. McGaffey), Mauritz Hugo (Danton), Simon Ruskin (Guzzo), Antonio Filauri(Alex); Runtime: 73; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alfred Stern/Max Alexander; Image Entertainment; 1946)

No surprises here.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

No surprises here, a typical dark Erich von Stroheim film. Lew Landers (“The Return of the Vampire”/”Inner Sanctum”/”Jungle Jim in the Forbidden Land“)keeps the psychological thriller as heavy going fare, as it’s enjoyable only if you appreciate von Stroheim doing his over-the-top diabolical shtick as an obsessed paranoid magician bent on murder. It’s based on the story by Arthur St. Claire, and is written by Griffen Jay.Its only point is that the anti-hero is stark raving mad, and that the second-rate magician was driven completely mad by failure and jealousy.

In London, at a seedy boarding house for down-on-their-luck showbiz folks that’s run bythe kindly Mrs. McGaffey (Hope Landin), reside the unlikable overbearing emotionally unbalanced retired stage musician Diijon (Erich von Stroheim) and his long-suffering pretty young wife and stage assistant Vicky (Jeanne Bates). Diijon treats the gentle lady like dirt for no reason, while she remains loyal for no reason. Also residing there are a dance partner team of Denise (Denise Vernac-von Stroheim’s real life lover) and Danton (Mauritz Hugo). One day lively piano playing band leader Tony Holiday (William Wright) arrives atMcGaffey’s boardinghouse and becomes a boarder, as his ulterior motive is to check up on Vicky. He always had a crush on Vicky, and is now concerned she’s starving because her egomaniacal husband, who has illusions of grandeur, refuses all work and spends his time studying hypnotism. As a favor to Vicky, Tony arranges with his nightclub boss Alex (Antonio Filauri) for Diijon to do his new hypnotism act. When the act backfires on opening night, Diijon absurdly blames Tony for sabotaging the act. Then Diijon’s twisted mind leads him to suspect Vicky is unfaithful, which is the last straw for her as she moves out to live with a showbiz girlfriend and work as a singer with Tony at the nightclub.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

When Diijon feels confident he’s perfected his hypnotism skills after getting one of the residents in the boardinghouse to drown himself, he seeks deadly revenge on his wife and Tony. But in the exciting finale, after Diijon puts his estranged wife under hypnoses and commands her to shoot Tony–that fails because she grabs the wrong gun that has blanks and his evil scheme is exposed. While running from the police, the madman conjurer is tricked up in Sheffield’s magic shop that’s located in the basement of his boardinghouse. There Diijon gets fatally caught in a trick he rejected because he thought it was inferior for someone as great as he is to use. While Diijon hides in place of the dummy under a guillotine, he gets his head lopped off when the pet cat plays with the string and trips the mechanism of the magic trick.

The clever ending and the usual intense wacko performance by von Stroheim, are enough to keep this Poverty Row film watchable even if it signals how far the great actor has fallen from grace in his career.

The Mask of Diijon (1946)