THE MAN IN THE TRUNK (1942)
Article #1378 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-22-2004
Posting Date: 5-21-2005
Directed by Malcolm St. Clair
Featuring Lynne Roberts, George Holmes, Raymond Walburn
A lawyer makes a last ditch effort to save his client from execution when he discovers a body in a trunk that may end up clearing the man. He ends up with an unexpected sidekick when the dead man’s ghost also begins to take a hand in the proceedings.
Initially, I expected this comic mystery to be one of those movies that only got in under the bar due to marginal horror elements; the dead body in the trunk is a bit on the grisly side, and there is a moderately scary scene in an attic. The addition of the ghost to the mix puts it clearly into the realm of the fantastic. The ghost is largely used for comic purposes, and though his comic shtick threatens to become tiresome, Raymond Walburn’s bright performance keeps his character likable and fun. His best moments come from the character’s gimmick; he isn’t quite a “first-class ghost” yet, and so he’s unable to knock on tables or walk through walls. Some of his best bits involve him trying to get the humans around him to open locked doors for him. Still, his contributions to solving the mystery are pretty slight. In fact, the movie could have been done as a straight and somewhat suspenseful mystery had they omitted the ghost and made the prisoner on death row more sympathetic. This wouldn’t have solved the movie’s worst problem, though; the story itself is very confusing. Still, with the array of familiar names and faces in the cast (I recognized the names of J. Carrol Naish and Milton Parsons right off the bat, and though her name escaped me at first, I instantly recognized Eily Malyon), this proves to be a minor problem only.