The Hidden Hand (1942)

Article #1692 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-1-2005
Posting Date: 3-31-2006
Directed by Benjamin Stoloff
Featuring Craig Stevens, Elisabeth Fraser, Julie Bishop

A rich woman decides to fake her own death so she can have the joy of watching the heirs bicker over her fortune. Towards that end, she brings in her brother to help her, who has just escaped from an insane asylum.

Did I say yesterday that the Old Dark House genre had run out of steam in the forties? I take it all back; this one is a hoot! At least part of the reason I really enjoyed this one was the crisp pace. Another was that it largely jettisoned the mystery angle; we pretty much know who the two homicidal loonies are, and the fun is watching how they go about their dirty deeds. It also helps that one of them (the insane brother) is played by none other than that perennial undertaker, Milton Parsons, and he makes for one of the most gleefully over-the-top psychos I’ve ever seen; it’s easily the best role I’ve seen of his. The movie also contains one of the funniest booby traps I’ve ever seen (the one involving the ship’s wheel), and it comes up with the cleverest murder frame-up I’ve witnessed in a movie. In fact, the only thing this movie really shares with THE GIRL WHO DARED is the presence of Willie Best as (once again) a comic-relief chauffeur, and even here the difference is remarkable. Whereas TGWD merely tried to mine laughs from him by having him be scared at everything, this one actually bothers to give him specific comic bits and situations that provide a real context for his actions, and he rises to the challenge and gives one of his best comic performances as well. For Old Dark House movie fans, this one is irresistible.


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