Synopsis: Dr. Charles Randolph (John Carradine) lives comfortably in a large seaside house with his wife Elaine (Claudia Drake). Working in the basement with an array of high-voltage appliances, Randolph and his assistant David (Robert Shayne) are trying to find a method of bringing the dead back to life.
As the movie opens, Randolph and David are trying to restore to life a drowned sailor they found washed up on the shore. David is uneasy with this, fearing that they have crossed a moral line; but Randolph insists that they can’t do any harm to a man who’s already dead.
As they apply higher and higher voltages to the body, Randolph notes that the face of the sailor has taken on a stone-like appearance. As the two men watch, the sailor sits up, then stands, but suddenly collapses, dead. The experiment has failed, but Randolph feels they were very close to success. He notes that the electrical generator has burned out, and he goes into town to get a replacement.
The next day the local chief of police comes to visit Randolph, who had earlier alerted the authorities a body had washed up on the shore. The chief says the sailor Randolph found died under curious circumstances. — an autopsy has revealed he was electrocuted. Furthermore, the sheriff notes that Randolph had gone into town to buy a replacement generator, and he wonders if there is a connection. Randolph tries to laugh it off, but it’s clear that the police chief is suspicious.
Meanwhile, we learn that Elaine has fallen in love with David. Randolph is entirely unaware of this; and David’s behavior is quite above-board, but the Randolph’s maid Maria, who’s very loyal to Elaine, practices voodoo, and plants a doll under David’s pillow – one that she believes will make him fall in love with her mistress. Meanwhile, Dr. Randolph, noticing David’s growing uneasiness around the house, arranges for David’s girlfriend Linda (Maris Wrixon) to come and visit. This only increases the tension in the household, and before long Linda becomes troubled by the house’s odd vibe and leaves.
Dr. Randolph decides to try the experiment again — this time on Elaine’s beloved Great Dane Brutus. He and David fail to revive the dog. But before long, they hear Brutus barking from another room. The dog is alive, but somehow changed: it has an odd, stony faced appearance, seems to have turned savage in the presence of humans, and has an odd ability to walk through walls.
Unexpectedly, Elaine dies, and Dr. Randolph can only think of one way to save her –by reviving her the same way he revived Brutus, and suffer the consequences, whatever they may be….
Comments: Hoo boy, another Monogram picture, and perhaps not coincidentally, another picture about scientists working on a way to bring the dead back to life. This no doubt seemed like a jolly good idea back when Frankenstein premiered. But really guys, enough already.
The problem with The Face of Marble isn’t that it’s bad (though it isn’t good, exactly); it’s that it never quite figures out what sort of movie it wants to be, and lurches from one disconnected plot point to another until time runs out. Using electricity to revive the dead and stealing corpses for the experiments is borrowed from countless movies that in turn borrowed from Frankenstein; the voodoo maid could have come from Night of Terror or I Walked With a Zombie or a dozen other movies. The small-town chief of police who keeps stopping by for friendly “chats” about sinister doings about town is equal parts The Devil Commands and Son of Frankenstein.
Only two plot points come across as even slightly original. The love triangle stands out because it’s Elaine, not one of the men, who wants to change the romantic equation. In this era, women characters were distinctly lacking in agency, particularly involving matters of sexuality. By introducing Maria and her black magic, the movie cheats a bit, taking some of the onus off Elaine. But there’s no way around the fact that Elaine hungers for something she doesn’t have and which society says she shouldn’t want. And this is made more interesting by the fact that the movie chooses not to stack the deck against her husband, Dr. Randolph. He is not depicted as a jerk or a boor. To the contrary, he is charming and generous to those around him, certainly more likable and lively a character than stuffed-shirt David.
The other point of interest is the mysterious transformation of Brutus. The dog’s personality changes as a result of the experiment — he becomes savage — and he also gains the ability to move through solid objects, which even for a movie like this is an unexpected side effect. And so it’s a bit novel to have the dog wandering around the house, walking through solid walls. And later, when Elaine inevitably undergoes the same treatment, she and the dog become a tag team, moving through solid objects like ghosts in a spooky seaside manor.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not a John Carradine fan but I have to admit that I liked him here. He plays a character not unlike the one he played in The Invisible Man’s Revenge, which perhaps not coincidentally was the other Carradine performance I liked. I never find the man’s evil characters interesting or compelling, but for some reason I find him more believable as a good-natured (but slightly naive) tinkerer.
Claudia Drake is perfectly acceptable as Elaine, and Robert Shayne gets all of his lines right as David.
The Invisible Killer
Synopsis: Fast-talking newspaper reporter Sue Walker (Grace Bradley) always seems to be just one step ahead of her boyfriend, homicide detective Jerry Brown (Roland Drew). Every time he shows up at a crime scene he finds that she’s there ahead of him. This time she beats him to the scene of a gangland killing, an illicit gambling den where a mobbed-up high roller named Jimmy Clark has been murdered, shot while on the telephone. But it is soon revealed that the gunshot wounds didn’t cause his death.
Meanwhile, Sue discovers that Gloria Cunningham, daughter of a prominent anti-gambling crusader, was there at Lefty Ross’ gambling club at the time of Clark’s murder. This is problematic not only because of who she’s related to but who she’s engaged to: no-nonsense D.A. Richard Sutton, who is just embarking on a new effort to crush the underground casino racket in the city. Sutton rounds up the men he knows are operating illicit casinos in the city and instructs them to stop paying protection to the mob and close up shop.
After the conclave Lefty phones Sutton to tell him that he’s ready to spill his guts in exchange for protection. When Sutton replies that he can’t offer immunity from prosecution, Lefty says he’ll take his chances with a jury — what he wants is to live long enough to testify.
Sutton agrees and arranges for Lefty to be brought to his house; Sue bribes the butler into letting her inside. A phone call comes for Lefty. As soon as Lefty begins talking on the phone he keels over and dies.
Brown disassembles the telephone and discovers that the phone has been tampered with: a capsule of poison gas is hidden in the mouthpiece and can be triggered remotely. But who is the arranging the death of the mobsters?
Comments: Fans of the horror genre might find The Invisible Killer’s title a promising one, but if you’re expecting a killer who turns out to be…you know…invisible, forget it. This isn’t that kind of movie.
Some web sites (including IMDB) describe the titular killer as murdering through the use of sound waves, which sounds mildly interesting. But….no. That is not the killer’s m.o. In fact, the murderer plants capsules of poison gas in the mouthpieces of telephones, then triggers the gas to be released just as the victim starts chatting away on the old dog and bone.
Between you and me, sound waves would seem a less fool-proof form of execution.
The Invisible Killer’s gimmick notwithstanding (a gimmick that isn’t even established until a good half-hour into the picture), this is a standard-issue crime drama from PRC. Of particular interest is Grace Bradley’s performance as Sue Walker, the brash lady reporter type that turned up in any number of films of this era and was parodied by Jennifer Jason Leigh in the Coen brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy.
At the end of the film Sue agrees to marry Jerry and tells her boss she is quitting her job. While it seems rather unlikely today, successful career women ca. 1940 actually were expected to give up their jobs for the (allegedly) more respectable life of cooking, cleaning and general housewifery. Interestingly, that is exactly what happened in Grace Bradley’s case: she cheerfully abandoned a promising movie career in order to be housewife and number-one fan to one William Boyd, a.k.a. Hopalong Cassidy.
Roland Drew’s career was more durable, as he was one of those lucky actors who was able to transition from silent films to sound productions without a hitch. Though he worked steadily through the 1930s this was a rare turn as a leading man. He is best remembered as Prince Barin in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940).