The Unknown (1946)

Article #1698 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-7-2005
Posting Date: 4-6-2006
Directed by Henry Levin
Featuring Karen Morley, Jim Bannon, Jeff Donnell

Two detectives accompany a young woman to the reading of a will. They discover that there is a streak of madness in the family and that someone is plotting to murder them all.

This was the last of the short-lived “I Love a Mystery” movie series based on the popular radio drama. I’ve covered the other two of the series, and like them, I found this one quite enjoyable. On the surface, it looks like your basic Old Dark House movie (creepy mansion, shadowy figures, secret passages, murders), but it actually is playing a slightly different game. I would say this movie is actually a bit closer to gothic melodrama than Old Dark House style mystery; the southern setting, the generally serious tone, the characters that are somewhat more complex than the usual Old Dark House standbys – most Old Dark House movies don’t bother with this kind of thing. It’s closer to JANE EYRE or WUTHERING HEIGHTS than THE CAT AND THE CANARY, and it points toward later developments of the form, such as SUNSET BLVD, and though it seems odd to compare this movie with that last one, bear in mind that this movie also opens with narration by a dead person. Also take into account that the black servant who appears in this movie is not intended nor used as comic relief; in fact, the story takes him seriously enough that he is a legitimate suspect in the story; this sort of thing never happened with Willie Best or Mantan Moreland playing the role. The movie is far from perfect; the beginning flashback is drawn out too long, for example. But it’s one of those movies where the characters of the individuals matter, and that is rare for this type of movie. It’s a shame that this whole series only lasted for three movies, and is now mostly forgotten; movie for movie, it was a highly entertaining series.

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