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Dark Past: Film Noir by German Emigrés

Saturday, March 24, 2012
8:35 p.m. Strange Illusion
Edgar G. Ulmer (U.S., 1945)

Archival Print!

Alas, poor Ulmer. If the noted director hadn’t been working for Producer’s Releasing Corporation, the chintziest of the low-budget studios, he might have mounted a Hamlet of stately proportion. Instead he had to concoct a story more noir than dankly Dane. Frail and squeamish, the young Paul Cartwright (James Lydon of “Henry Aldrich” fame) is haunted by dreams of his father, a judge-turned-criminologist who died in a questionable car wreck. These aren’t just bad dreams, but visions that predict unfolding events. And, as predicted, along comes a shadowy man claiming to be Paul’s father, resolved into the form of Brett Curtis, a dapper but smarmy suitor to Paul’s mother. Curtis is played by Warren William, the matinee idol, whose monumental profile cuts the air around him like a hatchet. As if inhabiting the body of Charlie Chan’s #1 Son, Paul gleefully sets out to solve the mystery of his dad’s demise and the truth of uncouth Curtis, committing himself to an asylum run by a conniving shrink (Charles Arnt). Strange Illusion dwells on the stuff of psychoanalysis with its dreamscapes, father figures, and compulsive motivations. To get deeper into this recurring motif, Edgar Ulmer throws dim chiaroscuro across the face of Freud.

—Steve Seid

• Written by Adele Commandini, based on a story by Fritz Rotter and on Shakespeare's Hamlet. Photographed by Philip Tannura. With James Lydon, Sally Eilers, Warren William, Regis Toomey. (83 mins, B&W, 35mm, From the Library of Congress, Preserved by the Library of Congress)