Hey, that’s how you get back to doing single movie reviews – become outlandishly busy in all other aspects of your life!
Normal movie-watching and writing time has gotten usurped by the Numerous Jobs and the utterly bizarre circumstance of having a son who is preparing to go to college (pause for look of shocked incomprehension). This has meant, oddly enough, forsaking my usual practice of delaying income tax preparation until the last possible day so I can do it all in a rush while shooting the finger at the government (“I hope they can see this because I’m doing it really hard“). This is because the paperwork is needed for financial aid. While I can’t say doing it without the ongoing reek of desperation and looming deadline was exactly pleasant, it wasn’t all that horrible. It was made much more tolerable by the gift of new music by pal Tim Lehnerer, in fact.
Taking two days to do it rather than one ugly bloc was good, too. But that was two days gone.
Anyway, after finishing them, I wanted something as freaking far away from 2015 and taxes as was possible, and something reasonably short, as it was late in the evening, and the shorter work week after President’s Day (the Day Job is at a state college, after all) means longer hours than usual.
So, hello to Dark Eyes of London, which I guess is far too fanciful and poetic for us Yanks, so we call it The Human Monster.
Inspector Holt (Hugh Williams) of Scotland Yard is dealing with a spate of apparently accidental drownings in the river Thames. Meantime, the philanthropic Doctor Orloff (Bela Lugosi) is lending money to Stuart, a down-on-his luck inventor, until his new invention is picked up by the government. Orloff sings the praises of philanthropy, especially his work with the Home for the Blind run by the Reverend Dearborn, who is himself blind.
It should be noted that Orloff’s philanthropy extends to paying for Stuart’s life insurance policy, as security for the loan. After Stuart promises to visit Dearborn’s Home to do some philanthropy of his own, Orloff does other odd things, like type out a message in braille to throw at the blind violinist playing outside his office.
At Dearborn’s center, one of the blind men is a brutish fellow named Jake, and if we’ve learned anything from the movies, it’s that doctors named Orloff with brutish blind henchmen cannot be trusted. Orloff is, in fact, insuring men and luring them into the Home for the Blind, where Jake drowns them in a iron tub and then throws them out a window into the Thames.
Holt is going to slowly grow wise to this scheme, even if he is saddled with O’Reilly, a wise-cracking cop from Chicago (Edmon Ryan), who escorted comedy-relief forger Grogan (Alexander Field) back into custody. As there is only one evil scheme afoot in England at any one time, Grogan is naturally involved in Orloff’s, forging dead men’s signatures. Balancing out O’Reilly’s involvement is Stuart’s daughter Diana (Gloria Gynt), a plucky lass who goes undercover as Dearborn’s secretary to aid Holt in his investigation.
This is based on popular novelist Edgar Wallace’s The Dark Eyes of London, and it is, at its heart, a cracking good pulp story. Wallace was one of the first crime novelists to use policemen as protagonists instead of amateur sleuths, and watching Holt piece clues together (aided by the proficient specialists of the Yard) is great fun. The comic relief is actually pretty amusing, and the crimes suitably horrific.
In 1939, Lugosi’s star was beginning to wane, but he was still capable of powerful performances. Orloff should be ranked among his best, a character equally as cold-blooded as Murder Legendre, but also convincing in his portrayal as a concerned champion of the downtrodden. Lugosi is really chilling as he goes about his murderous business – that title is well fulfilled by the movie’s end.
I guessed the big twist of the mystery only about a minute before the reveal, but I have to admit that the story relied so much on my understanding of Lugosi and his career that I have to admire the trickery here. I don’t mind playing the sap when I’m played so well.
The Human Monster was a nice distraction after a weekend of pain, both physical and emotional. I went in expecting old school claptrap and was actually rewarded with a nice little thriller that is a bit repetitious, but also pretty chilling. It’s the first movie that Britain released with the “H” rating – for “Horror” – and it actually earned that. Not just in ’39, but here in the more brutal 21st century, it still has moments with the power to make you shiver.