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  Amazing Mr. X, The The Man With The Crystal Balls
Year: 1948
Director: Bernard Vorhaus
Stars: Turhan Bey, Lynn Bari, Cathy O'Donnell, Richard Carlson, Donald Curtis, Virginia Gregg, Harry Mendoza, Norma Varden
Genre: Horror, Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: That's strange... Christine (Lynn Bari) thought she heard someone calling her name on the sea breezes outside her clifftop mansion home, but that can't be right, can it? And surely the voice did not sound like her late husband, gone these past two years? Nevertheless, she's feeling a little spooked by her experience tonight, so when her younger sister Janet (Cathy O'Donnell) walks into the room to encourage her to get ready for a social gathering, she can't help but mention she has been reminded of her deceased spouse. Janet tells her not to worry, and persuades her to slip into her best gown and be ready for a proposal from her boyfriend Martin (Richard Carlson); and yet...

The Amazing Mr. X was a filmed tinged with tragedy from the outset, as its initial star Carole Landis committed suicide mere days before the production was ready for shooting. Not wishing to cancel, the studio signed up Bari, the second most popular pin-up of World War II among the American soldiers (Betty Grable was first), and perhaps it was something in that loss that haunted the atmosphere of the project which took as its subject spiritualism and contacting the dead. Only there was a difference between this and other horror movies that adopted that subject, as there was a definite scepticism in the air as the plot unfolded, the worry that Christine was well and truly duped.

That said, though the storyline had that theme, the presentation came across as if it really wanted to believe in life after death, largely thanks to the genius of photography John Alton who worked his magic on many a B-movie and the occasional A-movie too, his somewhat argumentative perfectionism responsible for his relegation to the cheaper end of the movies. His consummate skill at creating a strong mood thanks to his careful use of light and shadow has made him renowned by vintage cinema fans who actively seek out the efforts with his name in the credits, and they are rarely disappointed: Alton made his movies look the way they should in the popular imagination.

That manner in which the deep blacks and well-placed whites of the monochrome photography genuinely sing off the screen (Alton was no less accomplished at colour, too) was well to the fore here, one of those minor works that end up being the discoveries of dedicated classic film buffs, who wade through all sorts of forgotten pieces, rightly or wrongly in the hope they will stumble across a gem like this. Its slightly illogical plotting was part of the charm, with not everything explained even as "THE END" appeared at the conclusion, but it had a nice cast too, leading them that exotic matinee idol Turhan Bey in the title role, a Muslim-Jewish leading man whose dashing good looks found him the centre of a strong fanbase, not bad for an actor who mostly appeared in the cheaper end of the Hollywood spectrum.

He would find his metier in the briefly popular Arabian Nights style of entertainment, but there was something about his handsome countenance and suave manner that was very easy, enticing even, to watch, and in this he may have been something of a rogue, but you could not accuse him of being a scoundrel - he does save the day as best he can by the conclusion. For the rest of the running time, he was the fraudulent psychic who has decked his house out with an array of tricks and subterfuges designed to part the rich clients from their money by telling them what they want to hear about those no longer with us. This should have made him hateful, but that Bey charm was not to be underestimated and the good humour with which he set about the role was his redeeming feature, that and his romantic interest in not having the worst of fates befall the two leading ladies in the cast. Carlson was a bit of a plank here as everyone else ran rings around him, but there was a neat twist or two and it did look terrific, a shame that it is now in the public domain and its most pristine glow is far behind it. Music by Alexander Lazslo.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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