The Soul of a Monster (1944)

The Soul of a Monster (1944)‘Light or dark, you wouldn’t buy dead flowers.’

An ailing philanthropist is hypnotised at the point of death by a mysterious woman, and proceeds to make a miracle recovery. Unfortunately, he’s no longer the man he was, and his wife suspects that dark forces have possessed his soul…

Curious ‘B’ picture from Columbia Studios with an interesting premise that’s eventually derailed by a preachy tone that becomes more and more overbearing as the picture goes on. George Macready is a world-famous doctor, whose good works look destined to die with him until wife Jeanne Bates unwisely suggests she would do anything to save him, even appeal to powers somewhat less than celestial (oh dear!) Before you can say ‘bell, book and candle’, he’s up and about again, courtesy of the sinister Rose Hobart who turns up on the doorstep accompanied only by her witchy ways.

It’s a low-key but intriguing setup with the revived Macready’s behaviour becoming increasingly moody and susceptible to the influence of his questionable saviour. At first this is effectively presented, mainly due to atmospheric black and white photography from Burnett Guffey. There are also some imaginative flourishes from director Will Jason, including a ‘jump scare’ with an elevated train that owes an obvious debt to the sudden arrival of the bus in ‘Cat People’ (1942).

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t really develop beyond the initial idea, and Hobart’s origins remain unexplored, apart from some rather unsubtle inferences. The lack of a romantic subplot is a refreshing change, but the script remains relentlessly talky and the dreadful ‘twist in the tale’ was old hat even when the film was made. By the end, the increasing moral righteousness on display has overwhelmed the more interesting aspects of the story and left the audience no room for manoeuvre when considering the larger ideas involved.

The Soul of a Monster (1944)

‘…and we haven’t seen mother for simply ages…’

The presence of the steely-eyed Macready in the lead just about manages to keep the ship afloat, even if his character is rather one-dimensional, given that we never see him before his resurrection. He enjoyed a long and successful career in films and was a very familiar face on U.S. network television, but he’s perhaps best remembered now for his chilling portrayal of the French General in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Paths of Glory’ (1957).

Bates was only a year into her screen life when the film was made but was still acting in her 80’s in 2002. ln between, she took guest slots on many TV shows like ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and ‘Wonder Woman’ as well as making an appearance in David Lynch’s debut feature ‘Eraserhead’ (1977). The director returned the favour many years later, giving her a prominent role in ‘Mulholland Drive’ (2001), which was her final film. Director Jason enjoyed a far lower professional trajectory, helming Ann Miller musical ‘Eve Knew Her Apples’ (1945), noir comedy ‘Blonde Alibi’ (1946) and the unappealing ‘Sarge Goes To College (1947), among others.

There is a germ of a decent idea here, but the film treads a very safe and predictable road, perhaps not surprisingly given the era of its production. Viewed by a modern audience, it’s just a mild oddity and nothing more.

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