Monday, June 14, 2021

'Weird Woman' has Lon Chaney Jr. at his best

Inner Sanctum: Weird Woman (1944)
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Anne Gwynne, Evelyn Ankers, Elizabeth Risdon, and Lois Collier
Director: Reginald Le Borg
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

While studying native rituals and superstitions, an anthroplogy professor (Chaney) falls in love with marries the daughter of an old mentor (Gwynne). Upon his return to the United States, he discoversn that his wife is a fervent believer in the native gods and that she has been practing rituals that she believes will protect him from the evil intentions of one of his colleagues (Ankers). Appalled that his wife believes in such supersitious nonsense, he forces her to destroy all the charms and fetishes she owns... but as soon as he does this, his life and career start falling apart.

"Weird Woman" is a decent adaptation of one of Fritz Leiber's best novels, "Conjure Wife". It features a nice, tight script, great performances by the entire cast, and a surprise ending that at the same time manages to reinforce and cast doubt on the film's central premise--that the "powers of the supernatural" are nothing but supersition and fear causing believers to act in ways that create self-fulling prophecies.

Of particular note in this film is by Lon Chaney Jr., who is seen giving one of the best performances of his entire career. The character he is playing could easily have come across as a self-satisfied jerk in the hands of an lesser actor. His attitude toward his wife and her beliefs is obnoxious in the extreme, and some of his interactions with the staff and students of the college he teaches at borders on high-handed with a wiff of false humility. But Chaney infuses the character with an air of insecurity that makes the viewer accept and even forgive his behavior.

"Weird Woman" is one of the best entires in the "Inner Sanctum" movie series, and it's one of the best films to come out of the Universal Pictures' horror revival in the 1940s. Fans of classic mystery films, the Universal Pictures horror collection, and Lon Chaney Jr. will all find a lot to like in this one.