Man in Black (1949)

Article #1377 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-21-2004
Posting Date: 5-20-2005
Directed by Francis Searle
Featuring Betty Ann Davies, Sheila Burrell, Sid James

When an old man dies as a result of a freak yoga “accident”, scheming relatives try to get hold of the heiress’s fortune by trying to frighten her into madness.

This movie starts out like an “old dark house” variant, but then shortly switches to a “Gaslight” variant. Given my general dislike for “Gaslight” variants, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how engaging this one is. There are actually a number of reasons for this. First of all, the movie doesn’t try to fool the viewer into thinking that any of the scare attempts are the result of real hauntings; we see and understand the scheming behind them from square one. Furthermore, the schemers consist of something more than a single man masquerading as a loving husband; here we have a conspiracy of three people, and at least one of them has designs of his own that threaten to undercut the plot. Another plus is that it is all put forth with a great deal of British wit and subtlety, and this keeps me engaged; most “Gaslight” variants seem rather crass and obvious in contrast. Perhaps the biggest plus of all is that the movie has some truly stunning tricks up its sleeve which it doesn’t start dealing out until the last fifteen minutes; as the movie nears its conclusion, you will be left wondering as to a) who is really going mad, b) who is falling into whose trap, and c) who is dead and who is alive. The ending is a real satisfying surprise. The title role is the narrator of the story, and he’s played by Valentine Dyall. Hammer fans will notice several familiar names in the credits, and sure enough, this is another one of Hammer’s earlier forays into horror. This one is highly recommended.

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