Synopsis: George Winson (George Macready) is a famous surgeon and humanitarian who is dying in a city hospital. An accidental tear in his surgical glove exposed him to an infection, and now he only has hours to live. It seems everyone in the city has some memory of his kindness and selflessness, and it seems that everyone has joined together in mourning him.
George has come to accept his fate, but his wife Ann (Jeanne Bates) is another story. She is angry that a man who has contributed so much to the world is being taken out of it before his time, while others who do evil and contribute nothing live on. George’s devout friend Fred (Erik Rolf) tries to console her, telling her it is God’s will, but Ann will have none of it. What God, she asks Fred, would allow such an unjust thing to happen? Either God doesn’t exist or he has abandoned George; either way, she wants nothing to do with him. She then says that if any other force in the world — the Devil, for example — would intervene and save George, then she would owe that force her allegiance. And to prove the point, she calls out to the Devil, asking for George to be saved.
At that very moment a woman in black walks along the darkened streets of the city. She never breaks stride for a moment, and walks right into the path of an oncoming car. The couple driving the car slam on the brakes, and leap out, thinking they struck her – but no one is there. The woman in black continues walking, unconcerned at a downed powerline that is sparking only a few feet away from her. She walks into a building up to the very room where George is dying.
The woman tells those assembled that her name is Lilyan Gregg and that she heard Ann’s offer. Does it still stand? Ann says it does, and at the woman’s word, George begins to recover.
The next day the newspapers are filled with the amazing news: George Winson has made a seemingly miraculous recovery. But Fred is deeply disturbed by George’s behavior. He is now distant and cold, no longer the kind and compassionate man he once was. He snarls at his faithful dog, throwing a pair of hedge clippers at it in a fit of rage. Fred later discovers that the dog has been killed, and its blood is on George’s work gloves. Ann is having second thoughts too, as George displays an increasingly rude and dismissive attitude toward her.
And there are other strange things: when George holds a flower in his hands, it immediately shrivels and dies. He seems to have no pulse. And when Ann accidentally cuts him, he does not bleed….
Comments: By the mid-1940s, Universal’s vaunted Golden Age of horror films was pretty much over. The vibrant, sumptuous productions of the 1930s had given way to perfunctory franchise entries (House of Dracula), humdrum mysteries with only meager horror trappings (She-Wolf of London) and low-budget programmers with a distinctly non-supernatural pedigree (House of Horrors). Meanwhile, interesting things were cooking over at Columbia. We’ve already seen Return of the Vampire and its follow-up Cry of the Werewolf; and tonight we’re treated to the studio’s most Val Lewton-flavored effort, The Soul of a Monster.
Night of Terror
Comments: This quirky variant of the Old Dark House plot clearly doesn’t want to get too deep into the ghoulish stuff, and so it assiduously soft-pedals its scares. In an attempt to compensate for the low-octane thrills, it presents us with an overly busy plot, hoping to keep the audience off balance. The result is a horror film you can bring your flapper-girl date to. She won’t have to play close attention in order to get the plot points: they aren’t subtle. There are secret passages and seances and a good old-fashioned murder now and then. Nothing that happens really connects with anything else; and if by chance she misses something, don’t worry: someone will rush into the room carrying a newspaper with a blaring headline and it will all get explained again. In fact, the Maniac pins headlines of his own exploits on the bodies of his victims, priving that self-promotion pays.
If there is any protagonist in this picture it must be Wallace Ford’s Tom Hartley, who as a newspaperman serves as a proxy for the audience. He does not belong to the class-conscious world of the Rinehart estate, with its Downton Abbey-style divisions. He can poke fun at the pretensions of the Rinehart stuffed shirts, just as he mocks the peculiarities of the oddball servants. Yet at the same time he is able to court Mary Rinehart with his lower middle-class charm. Tom’s social mobility makes him the only active agent in the movie — even the Maniac is trapped, doomed to keep stabbing people without a motivation.
Watching this film again makes it plain just how insubstantial the character of Degar is, and I found myself wondering how Bela Lugosi’s career might have been different if he had turned down roles like this one and The Whispering Shadow’s Dr. Strang. He was offered big money for both these movies, but he was really doing glorified cameos that seemed to diminish him as an actor. In the end Lugosi wound up like Karl Dane, who was also in The Whispering Shadow: hobbled by a poor command of the English language, unable to find work, and haunted by the loss of a fame that had once seemed permanant.