5/25/2019

Strange Illusion

Edgar G. Ulmer, US, 1945, 87 min., b&w

5/25/2019 | 8:00 PM

$10

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$8

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A young man has a recurring dream in which an uncanny gentleman attempts to woo his mother, after seeing his dad die mysteriously in a car accident in the same dream. His father had indeed investigated the man before his death. Paul Cartwright consults a psychiatrist, who is also a friend, and realizes that his dream is coming true, especially after receiving a posthumous letter from his father about his mother’s suitor. Brett Curtis is actually a homicidal maniac who is a clinical patient in the sanitarium of Dr. Muhlbach, a doctor with an underdeveloped sense of ethics. The film is filled with twists and turns, and it seems Curtis is interested in Mrs. Cartwright’s money, but also casts a lecherous eye on Paul’s sister, Dorothy. When Curtis tries to marry Paul's mother, Paul tries to stop the relationship and eventually learns the truth about his dreams.

The plot of Strange Illusion may be strictly Poverty Row, but it also steals admirably from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” with a major dose of post-World War II interest in Sigmund Freud. Ulmer made several films for PRC, a film studio at the bottom of the Poverty Row heap. Nevertheless, Ulmer always got stellar performances from his cast while utilizing the camera to aesthetic effect, especially from Warren William and Regis Toomey. Like so many films by Ulmer, it is also an exercise in style; its opening and closing dream sequences hardly differentiated from the rest of the film’s shadowy black-and-white chiaroscuro lighting, creating a sense of delirium throughout the story.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by the AFI/NEA Preservation Grants Program.