Synopsis: A funeral is being held for Barbara Carlin (June Lockhart), a woman killed in a stable fire on her family’s estate. But almost as soon as this fact is established, we learn that Barbara isn’t dead at all. She attends the funeral hiding behind a black veil, musing that her husband Rod Carlin (Mark Daniels) doesn’t seem very broken up about her death. When the graveside service has concluded, Barbara approaches the family attorney, Michael Dunn (Hugh Beaumont) and reveals to him that she’s still alive. She tells him that she believes someone started the fire in an attempt to kill her, but got the wrong person; the body recovered from the horse barn was burned beyond recognition and identified only by a diamond necklace that belonged to Barbara.
Barbara is particularly troubled by the question of who was actually killed in the fire, because she thinks it might be her younger sister Rusty (Cathy O’Donnell). Rusty has a history of mental illness and often disappears for extended lengths of time. But she finds Rusty safe and sound, though still embittered that she was cut out of her father’s will because she was adopted. With Rusty eliminated as a possible victim, she goes to confront Rod, who claims to be delighted that Barbara is still alive — even though he has been carrying on with goodtime girl Helen Lawrence (Sonia Darren), who had previously told Rod that she’d like to be the next Mrs. Carling.
Barbara had had a dalliance of her own with dim-witted palooka George (Greg McClure), who’d previously been seen around with Helen. Rusty still harbors a grudge against Barbara for stealing the big lug away from her, but it might be that Barbara was trying to save Rusty from a bad situation.
Barbara finds there are plenty of people who might have wanted her dead. But not only does she not know who committed the murder, she still doesn’t know who the victim was….
Comments: I’ve written about Bury Me Dead once before, and as often happens I felt more charitable toward the film after a second viewing.
Don’t get me wrong. The movie has plenty of flaws; it’s cheap and a bit dreary, its second act is muddled and a lot of plot points appear to have been thrown in simply to pad its 65-minute running time.
But it does have a few things going for it. June Lockhart, who seems a good deal older than her 22 years, effectively anchors the film as Barbara, and Hugh Beaumont is convincing as the buttoned-up family attorney Michael Dunn. I’ve written favorably in the past about Cathy O’Donnell’s portrayal of Rusty, and I also liked Sonia Darren, who didn’t have a huge role but still managed to stand out as Helen.
The movie also gets off the blocks quickly with the fire that supposedly kills Barbara. It’s an exciting way to start a movie and the central mysteries — who started the fire, and who died in it? — are raised in the first few minutes, and for a poverty row quickie, that’s a definite plus. Don’t look too closely at the stock footage used for the fire, though — it’s clear that the structure that’s burning is a house, not a barn.
Something that strikes me as a little unusual for a film from this era is its understated but unmistakable sexual politics. Barbara’s estranged husband Rod is carrying on with Helen — not an unusual plot point in a movie from this era — but what is unusual is that Barbara gives as good as she gets, engaging in a fling with George. The fact that George is Rusty’s boyfriend at the time makes her seem all the more wanton by the standards of 1947. Also, Barbara is not only the protagonist but an active agent throughout, which wasn’t the case in Lockhart’s starring role in She Wolf of London — a film in which the woman presented to us as the protagonist had almost no influence on the events around her.
A full restoration of this film would be nice, but is probably unlikely to ever happen. John Alton’s compositions are intriguing and were no doubt perfectly lit, but you can’t tell that from the muddy prints used to strike the DVD copies.