After an audience member dies during a hypnotist’s act, the guilt-ridden mesmerist moves into a wax museum to “relax.” What could possibly go wrong?
Alex Gregor (aka Gregor the Great) has a mentalist act that he performs with his fiancée partner Maura Daniel. During one of their performances, a drunk heckler interrupts and Alex invites the man onstage to prove Maura’s clairvoyance isn’t a trick; he’ll do the same with him. The man stumbles onstage, remaining obnoxious. Alex mutters that he could kill him, then starts to hypnotize him. Unfortunately, the man inconveniently drops dead.
Later, backstage, Alex and Maura are talking to investigating detective Inspector Brant. Alex’s manager, George, walks in and woe-is-me Gregor insists he killed the audience member with his mind. He did it, he killed him! He wished him dead! The cop gets word that the heckler was a long-time drunk with a bad ticker; he had a heart attack, it wasn’t the mentalist’s fault. Alex isn’t convinced and rushes out to wander the streets all night, moping and blaming himself.
The next morning, Alex returns home and tells George and Maura he’s calling it quits; not just the act, but the engagement, too. George then asks a friend of his for help. Valerie Monet owns and operates a wax museum, can Alex stay there until he gets his head straight? Valerie extends the invitation, which includes a job giving the lectures on the tableaux to the patrons (which we never see). Alex accepts. Once there, she introduces him to her young niece, Nina, and former plastic surgeon, Rudi Polden, the eccentric man who crafts the wax figures (he talks to his creations).
Well, Rudi is shifty, and stirs up trouble by playing off Valerie’s romantic interest in Alex by telling her Alex has eyes for Nina. Valerie gets into a bitch-fest with Alex about both Maura and making a play for Nina. In his anger, he hypnotizes her (what?) and she faints. He goes into a fugue state and starts walking around town again, clutching Valerie’s scarf.
When Alex returns next morning, Valerie is gone and Nina has called the police. The same cop from earlier is there to take the report. Not long afterwards, Nina goes missing, and Alex enlists the aid of former partner Maura to find out what happened to the two.
This is one of six short, (60 minute) low-budget Inner Sanctum movies Universal churned out in the 1940’s, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. In this one, he plays Alex Gregor and it’s a rather bland performance. The rest of the cast, including Evelyn Ankers and Milburn Stone, put in decent enough performances, given the material they have to work with. The detective, played by Douglass Dumbrille, is also a bit of an eccentric. Martin Kosleck, as Rudi Polden, is always enjoyable to watch and can make a simple line like “Little Nina” sound simultaneously affectionate and sinister.
There are problems with the script. For instance, the mentalist act. It seems Alex is only a hypnotist, but Maura is the psychic. If she’s doing all the heavy lifting, shouldn’t she be the headliner? Also, why is the cop, who identifies himself as being with the homicide squad, later investigating a missing person? Why are three different women swooning over mopey, hang-dog Alex? There’s a key plot point discussed later on that’s questionable, but mentioning it would be a spoiler.
This is far from a great movie, I’d give it a 5 out of 10 (*), but I’m a sucker for a creaky old wax museum flick and Martin Kosleck causing trouble. This is a rainy weekend time-waster if you turn off your brain and just enjoy. (* I’ve raised my rating to 7.5 after a subsequent viewing. Very re-watchable, at least for me. Your viewing mileage may vary.)