I know I shouldn’t, but I actually have some decent expectations surrounding this movie. On the one hand, the movie is loosely based on the Jack the Ripper murders, which have always interested me. Plus, it has Jack Palance, who I know is a good actor, at least in all of the movies I have seen him in. The only thing that worries me about this is that this movie is in the Chilling Classics box set, and those have not always been the best of movies for me to watch. Still, there have been a couple of hidden gems in the set so here is hoping that Man In The Attic is one of them.
The plot: In Victorian London, two policemen are patrolling the streets when they stop to escort a drunk woman home. However, when they leave, the woman goes back out and ends up being killed. Elsewhere, Helen and William Harley are commenting about the murders when there is a knock on their door Helen opens it and a man named Slade introduces himself and asks about the rooms for rent the couple had advertised. Helen shows Slade the room and he takes both it and the attic, explaining that he is a pathologist and he will use the attic to do his work and experiment while living in the room below. Sometime later, Slade is leaving for work when he sees the Harley’s getting ready to leave for the theater with their neice, Lily Bonner, who is starring in the show. Lily strikes up a conversation with Slade and after he leaves, Helen and William comment on him being odd but Lily says she finds him interesting. After her performance, Lily is approached by Inspector Paul Warwick and questioned about the latest victim, a woman named Annie Rowley, who had visited with Lily before her performance. When Inspector Warwick says that a man carrying a small, black bag was seen in the area, and asks if Lily had seen anyone like that, Lily hesitates briefly but says no. That night, Helen begins to get suspicious about Slade, as he had a small bag with him when he left that night and as she is getting ready for bed, she sees him returning to the house at 3 in the morning. The next morning, Inspector Warwick stops by to question Lily again and while they are talking, Slade comes down to get the morning paper and states his opinion about the Ripper, but only makes Helen more suspicious. When she is bringing Slade his lunch, she smells something burning but he says it is an experiment and not to disturb him. Later that day, Lily is getting ready to leave when Slade comes downstairs and they end up walking together. When Lily asks him where he is going, he explains that he is going to the medical university as they let him use their facilities for his work. Meanwhile, Helen had snooped around and discovered what she considers proof that Slade is the Ripper. When William gets home, she shows him her proof, the burnt handle of Slade’s black bag, and William says it is genius. William shows her his own bag, which he had hidden, and explains that the city is in hysterics and people are turning in everyone who owns a small black bag so he understood Slade’s reasoning for getting rid of his. At Scotland Yard, Inspector Warwick is writing a letter to Lily inviting her to Scotland Yard when he is approached by the Chief Inspector, who says that their boss has resigned over the Ripper murders and they need to solve them soon. At the house, Slade and Lily are having tea and Slade admits that being with Lily makes him happy, resulting in them sharing a kiss. When Lily asks him about his hatred for actresses, he grows angry at first then apologizes and explains his reasoning. He tells Lily about his mother, who was an actress in Paris, but constantly cheated on his father until she finally left him, causing his father to spend 10 years drinking himself to death due to the heartbreak. When Lily asks if he saw his mother again he says he did, but she had become a woman of the streets and died on those same streets. Inspector Warwick arrives to escort Lily to Scotland Yard and when she invites Slade to go with her he agrees, much to Warwick’s displeasure. At Scotland Yard, Inspector Warwick shows Lily and Slade the various items related to some murder cases that they solved, then asks Lily to tea, which Lily accepts. When the chief inspector enter the room and comments about the Ripper, Slade comments that they will never catch the Ripper with the methods they are using. That night, another woman is killed but the police are unable to find anyone. That night, Lily is woken by the dog barking then crying out in pain. She goes downstairs and discovers Slade burning his overcoat, claiming that a container containing a blood contagion. The next day, Inspector Warwick, goes to the university hospital to see if Slade does work there and they prove that he does work there and works there most nights. Warwick goes to pick up Lilly to escort her to the theater and the Harley’s maid, Daisy, voices her unease about Slade. After questioning William about it, Warwick goes to Slade’s room to get some items for fingerprints but Lily sees him and is angered that he doesn’t trust her judgement regarding Slade. At Scotland Yard, Warwick checks the fingerprints against the one they have of the Ripper and they don’t match, but when he realizes that the killer could have used his other hand, he checks again and the Sergeant watching him comments that the photograph he has is the first victim. At the theater, Slade is watching the performance but is uncomfortable seeing all of the men staring at Lily. Warwick arrives looking for Slade and when he doesn’t see him in the audience, he goes backstage to warn Lily but she doesn’t believe him. In her dressing room, Lily finds Slade waiting for her and he asks that she leave town with him as he is jealous of all the men staring at her beauty. When she politely refuses, he gets angry and threatens to kill her but breaks down at the last minute and escapes out the window. Warwick and some others break into the room and Warwick chases after Slade. Using a taxi to escape, Slade makes his way to the river and walks into the water and disappears. Warwick and other police men follow and dive into the water looking for him but are unable to find a body.
A pleasant surprise indeed as I was very entertained by this movie. The acting was good all around in this one, with Jack Palance doing a great job as the secretive Mr. Slade. but all of the supporting characters were good as well, especially the jealous Inspector Warwick (Byron Palmer) and the suspicious Helen Harley (Frances Bavier). The plot was pretty good as far as fictional recreations of the Jack the Ripper murders go. The story did a good job of ramping up the suspense and continuously teasing about whether Slade is or isn’t the killer until the very end. A surprisingly good old crime movie that is worth giving a shot.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5