In this lighthouse on an isolated island three miles off the German coast, there is a problem. As the harbourmaster Kleber (Morland Graham) is wont to complain, keepers simply do not wish to stay there with the head keeper Wolfe Kristan (Wilfrid Lawson) as he refuses to talk to them which causes no end of frustration and mental pressure for months until each assistant decides they cannot take it anymore and quits. Kristan cuts an imposing figure, apparently content in his solitude and sporting a hook for a hand since a boiler room explosion tore off part of his arm, but when he does go ashore to get paid he has a habit of buying a bunch of flowers and taking a drink of rum in a local tavern...
The rum sends him into violent reactions, while the flowers are for a more gentle reason - the story goes he throws them into the sea at the spot where his wife drowned. But Kristan's already unsteady grasp on sanity is about to go flying out the window, or at least off the top of the lighthouse, when he has an unexpected visitor in this British film set near Germany, with German characters, where nobody speaks German. They didn't even try the accent, indeed the sole non-English accent came from Movita, who plays concentration camp escapee Marie Durand; she was a Mexican, probably best known for marrying Marlon Brando in the following decade, though what a Mexican was doing in Germany at the time of the Second World War goes unexplained.
Marie is on the run and Kristan spots her desperate jump into the sea as she tries to elude the soldiers pursuing her, picking her up and escorting her back to his lighthouse. Now, Tower of Terror - not to be confused with the television movie based on the Disney theme park ride from the nineties - was made not too long after the disappearance of the lighthouse keepers on Flannan Isle in 1900, which had cemented the opinion of the public that if you took such an occupation you were clearly rather nuts, after all who but someone eccentric at best, off their rocker at worst, would want to spend all that time away from civilisation for a pay packet which would not exactly compensate for the psychological strain? So it is that Kristan turns out to be precisely as crazy as we expected.
When Marie is safe on the island, somewhat ominously Kristan gives her his deceased wife's best dress to wear (a garment featuring two remarkable puff sleeves bigger than Movita's head) and begins to open up a little, mostly because in "You're my wife now" developments he has mistaken Marie for the dead woman. Who can save her now? How about Klaatu? Yes, Michael Rennie, for it was he, is still best known as the alien with the global warning in The Day the Earth Stood Still, so it's a novelty in a way to watch him as an action hero, or as close as he could get in 1941. He plays British spy Anthony Hale, whose German we must surmise is excellent as it sounds as good as his English, because it is English, and he must get some important photographs to his superior.
The lighthouse seems the ideal place to hide out as he awaits to be picked up by a British warship, but Marie proves a complication, not an altogether unwelcome one as they (surprise!) fall in love, though understandably this places a strain on Kristan. After much ho-hum melodrama in the first two acts, very little prepares you for the outright madness of the final twenty minutes, which elevate what was a modest B-movie to the heights of, well, if not a must-see then at least well worth a look to witness how they resolve the dilemmas. Featuring a revelation of what actually happened to the wife who Kristan tries to force Marie to replace in rather more drastic fashion than anyone would have anticipated (does he love her or not?), battles to the near-death as Lawson and Rennie grapple with a complete lack of dignity around the lighthouse, and as if that wasn't over the top enough the British destroyer promptly takes potshots at the construction for reasons that go unexplained, Tower of Terror was about as barmy as the keeper proved to be, therefore wackily entertaining - eventually.
[Network's DVD print shows slight signs of age, but is perfectly watchable. The only extra is a gallery.]