Monday, July 20, 2015

The Face of Marble – review

Director: William Beaudine

Release date: 1946

Contains spoilers

I need to start this with a thanks to Doug Lamoreux and the vampire trivia game he was playing on Facebook. Had it not been for that I would have been in the dark about this strange movie. Why strange? Well despite the pseudo-science on view and the disturbing stereotyping (from a 21st Century perspective), it actually has quite a compelling aspect, an unusual premise and what I found to be a cracking ending (which I am going to have to spoil).

Apologies in advance for the screenshots accompanying this review. I found the film on Daily Motion and it is both low res and an horrendous print – this is one that could be nicely cleaned up and put out on a special ed DVD, methinks. It could also stand a remake…

uncomfortable stereotyping
The film starts off with Elaine Randolph (Claudia Drake) sleeping on a couch, a blanket is draped over her by the maid Maria (Rosa Rey), waking her and rousing her large dog, Brutus. Elaine asks about the Doctor and is told that he left the house to go to the shore some time ago. Worried that he is sailing in a storm Maria declares that the Great Spirit Tonga will protect him. Elaine is dismissive and Maria starts to speak about the jungle but her beliefs are disparaged. Suddenly the other servant, Shadrach (Willie Best) comes in babbling about the devil bringing a dead body into the lab. The scene was uncomfortable, mainly because of the way Shadrach is portrayed – a servant with no sense and almost irrelevant (the film actually turns this on its head at the end, though whether intentionally I don’t know).

In the lab is Dr. Charles Randolph (John Carradine) and his assistant Dr. David Cochran (Robert Shayne). They found a drowned sailor on the beach and have brought him back to the house. Elaine comes in but is stopped by David and sent away like a good girl (ahem). The doctors have been working on a way to bring the dead back to life and a chance to experiment on a human is too good to miss. The technique uses a formula invented by David and electrical equipment ala Frankenstein. They try to revive the guy, who develops a face like marble, awakens, stands but then falls dead.

Elaine and David
He is quite dead, suggests Charles, beyond our help. Later they talk about the man being quite deranged (we didn’t see that) and his altered face being an indicator of being trapped between life and death – it is to draw aspects like this out that makes me think of a remake (where the man can act deranged for instance). David is worried about the fact that they took the body but, not to worry, they take it back and call the coastguard. After they go to their respective bedrooms, Elaine goes to David to ask him what was going on and confesses that she believes something sinister is afoot. Charles finds his wife speaking to David but shows no level of jealousy.

I liked this about the film. There is a love triangle but only one person in said triangle knows and she is in denial. It seems that Elaine had an accident that left her with a brain injury, only sorted when Charles operated on her. They then married. She has fallen for David – though he doesn’t realise, obsessed with work and his fiancé back home, Linda (Maris Wrixon). Maria knows, however. Hence leaving a fetish under his pillow that Charles identifies as a Quandrava , a jungle fetish designed to make you fall in love.

Thomas E Jackson as Norton
All is not good, however. David destroys a fetish (in acid apparently) and Maria swears that the act will bring a curse and death. Charles’ old cop friend Inspector Norton (Thomas E. Jackson, Valley of the Zombies) comes visiting. The dead man on the beach showed signs of massive electrocution and Charles has bought a replacement electrical component because one burnt out. Putting two and two together… no one mentions the fact that there was a storm that night, thus his drowned body might have been electrocuted through lightning nor the obvious signs of drowning. This was ill thought through and was expedient to bringing the cop in only.

shooting at Brutus
Charles wants to complete his work and… kills Elaine’s dog. They put Brutus on the slab and go to resurrect the pooch but the attempt fails… they think. As they leave the lab they hear barking, rush back and Rufus is up and about and… not the mild mannered pooch from before. Charles shoots the dog at point blank but the bullets just go through it. The dog eventually leaves, becoming insubstantial and walking through the wall and closed window! So as to finish the set up, I also need to mention that Charles arranges for Linda to visit for David’s birthday. Finally, I need to mention that Maria is a wonderfully casually evil character – happy to kill if that means Elaine is happy.

insubstantial dog
So, vampire… The Inspector shows up asking about the dog. Charles is caught within a lie he told Elaine of the dog going to the vets and so tells the cop the same. However the dog has been seen (and recognised) attacking livestock, ripping out the throats and draining the blood. Charles never admits it’s his dog but calls its actions a hemomania, suggesting that there is something missing from the blood that it needs to replenish. However Elaine is accidentally murdered by Maria (she thinks she is getting Linda) and she is revived. Whilst we see her become insubstantial we do not see (or hear) of her drinking blood. I like to think that it is only a matter of time.

will they be back?
To the ending... as I mentioned I liked it. Charles realises that Maria killed Elaine and is incensed. Maria uses her voodoo to summon Brutus and take control of Elaine, making the oblivious woman kill her husband. The inspector, of course, believes it is David who did it but David gets away from him – worried for Linda who is being attacked by the pair. In the turnaround I mentioned, even Maria discounted Shadrach and he tells the inspector what really happened (and so saves the day). The inspector bursts in as Elaine strangles Linda and David wrestles with Brutus. When he switches the light on the pair vanish – not because of the light but because Maria has committed suicide it seems. We later see the footprints of the woman and her dog heading in to the sea and I liked that, it gave hope of them returning.

before the terrible deed
The film had problems, don’t get me wrong, it threw too much in, it had racial and gender stereotypes that are frankly cringe worthy, its logic was flawed in places, a lot. But it had nice bits. It had a vampire dog, it had the use of voodoo and it had atmosphere. It had Carradine being… well Carradine, erudite and gentlemanly so that even when he killed the dog you kind of didn’t lose your empathy for him. It could be taken, expanded in certain areas (gore and madness), have the extraneous parts removed and make a fine little film. For this flawed version though, 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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