Now this is interesting. Today I have an old Bela Lugosi movie but instead of being in the Legends Of Horror box set, it is actually in the Pure Terror box set. Now I find this a little interesting because while the majority of Lugosi’s work was in the horror genre, I don’t know if I would necessarily say it was really that terrifying. Then again, it could be a generational thing, as horror movies today, and real life for that matter, tend to be a lot scarier than those in the past. So let’s see how good of a movie I have here as I watch Scared To Death (1947).
The plot: At the city morgue, two pathologists are preparing to do an autopsy on a woman, who shows no physical signs as to her cause of death. In flashback, it is shown that the woman, Laura Van Ee, is the wife of Ward Van Ee and is being examined by Ward’s father, Dr. Joseph Van Ee, but she is frightened. Joseph asks her why she won’t give Ward the divorce that he wants but she refuses to do so. When Ward enters the office, Laura leaves and the two talk about Ward’s situation and Joseph says he has an idea on what to do but refuses to tell Ward. Later, Joseph receives a visitor from a woman named Mrs. Williams, who appears to have information about Joseph’s past and asks him to do something for her but Joseph refuses, feeling like she is trying to blackmail him. At Joseph’s house, his maid Lilybeth is talking with Bill Raymond, a cop that works as Joseph’s security guard who is sweet on her, when the doorbell rings. Elizabeth answers the door and finds Professor Leonide and his midget assistant Indigo, who promptly both come in and after Leonide introduces themselves, he heads into Joseph’s office. Joseph reluctantly greets Leonide and reveals to Bill that they are cousins and while there was something in their past that made Joseph distance himself from Leonide, he allows Leonide to stay in the house for a few days. Later that night, Ward talks with Leonide about a photo he found of an act that appears to feature Laura, though the name on the photo says it is Laurette. As they are talking, they are unaware of a man in a green mask watching them through the window. After Ward leaves, Indigo gets Leonide’s attention and the two head through a secret passage in the wall. The next day, Laura receives a package in the mail that was addressed with a warning and when she opens it, she sees a dummy’s head that is made to look like her. Laura questions Lilybeth about the package, accusing her of trying to scare her off, and the end up arguing before Lilybeth leaves the room. Laura throws the head at her but ends up hitting Bill with it, who promptly shows it to Joseph. When Joseph sees it, he recognizes it as belonging in a supply cabinet that is locked in the basement and wonders how it got out, as he lost the only key. Later, Bill and Joseph are talking about Leonide and Joseph says that Leonide was once committed in the house back when it was an asylum, and managed to get out and made his way to England. After Bill leaves, Joseph grabs the phone and starts to call the police but someone hits him over the head, then rips the phone cord from the wall. Bill is talking to Lilybeth when the door rings and Lilybeth opens it to reveal Terry Lee, a reporter for the Times, and Jane Cornell, a telephone switchboard operator. Jane had called Terry Lee about Joseph’s call being disconnected and they decided to see what is going on. Bill, Terry, and Jane head into Joseph’s office and find the busted phone and Joseph laid out but he refuses to say someone attacked him, claiming that it was an accident. Terry and Jane are allowed to stay the night and Terry talks to Bill about Laura and her marriage to Ward. Terry also seems to recognize Leonide when he shows up, claiming to have seen him in Albany. When Laura appears, Laura talks with Terry and tells her she is a prisoner there and that Ward and Joseph are trying to make it seem like she is crazy. As Ward and Joseph show up and they all start arguing, Lilybeth suddenly walks in carrying a green cloth and as she approaches Laura, she says, “He said to put the blindfold on and you will know the truth.” As Laura grabs the blindfold from her, Lilybeth collapses and Jospeh says she is dead, prompting Laura to scream and faint. As they tend to Laura, everyone is wandering what is going on and Ward and Terry are suspicious of Leonide when he shows up in the room. Suddenly, shots are heard coming from upstairs and when Terry and Ward rush upstairs, they find Bill bound and gagged to a chair while Jane is in the next room with a green mask on her face, but no sign of Laura. As Terry asks Jane and Bill what happened to them, Leonide grabs Lilybeth’s body and takes it into the hidden passage. Later, Terry and Bill are trying to find an entrance to the hidden passages when they notice Leonide wandering around outside. Terry tells Bill to go outside and follow him but when he opens the door, he finds Lilybeth lying against it. As he picks up her body, Joseph shows up and tells him to take her in her office, then tells Bill and Terry that she is not dead but just in a deep hypnotic trance. When Terry pressures him to explain why he said she was dead and Joseph says he has his reasons just as Leonide shows up. Leonide eventually wakes Lilybeth and she starts to tell Terry what happened. Jane enters the room and asks if it is Halloween, wondering why there is someone with a green mask outside. Jane then starts to tell Terry what happened earlier, as Ward enters the room, when the lights suddenly go out. They hear Laura screaming out “No” and they all head towards the den, where they find Laura in a trance. Suddenly, a voice calls out tells Laura to explain what happened in her past. Laura explains that she was married to Rene, her co-star in her act, but she turned him in to the Nazi’s, then fled to America. The voice then says he will have his revenge and Laura ends up screaming once before collapsing in a chair, and Joseph declares her to be dead. Bill heads outside and catches Mrs. Williams trying to leave through the bushes and brings her inside, where she is revealed to actually be a man. Leonide identifies the man as Rene, Laura’s husband, and Bill decides to hold Rene on a count of possible murder, and holds Leonide as well for knowing too much about what was going on. Back in the present, Bill, Terry, and Jane head to the morgue to ask the pathologist about the cause of death and he tells them that she had lived in mortal terror for years and was literally scared to death.
Scared To Death (1947) met with mixed to positive reviews from modern critics, holding a 63% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, most of the critics felt that while it was good, it seemed to be more comedic than an actual thriller. Production for the movie was finished in April of 1946 but it was not released until February 1997. Although he has appeared in color films before, this is the only color film in which Lugosi has the starring role, making it somewhat historically important. Production for the movie was finished in April of 1946 but it was not released until February 1997.
Ok, I am honestly confused about what all was going on in this movie. The acting was ok, with Bela Lugosi doing a good job as Leonide but I personally liked Nat Pendleton (Bill), who was some great comedic relief, and Douglas Fowley (Terry), whose interactions with Bill was fantastic. The story was weird, basically being told all in flashback but during several of the scene changes, they would go back to Laura’s body, where she would say what was going to happen, then flashback to the next scene. The plot itself was also confusing and you didn’t really know what was going on until the end. This movie really wasn’t that scary or even dramatic, except for the end, as it really felt like more of a comedy. I can give it a nod as a comedy with some slight drama, and for the historic aspect, but as far as a horror movie goes, this is lacking.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5