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The Lady and the Monster
Horror, Noir, SciFi

1944 | 4:3 | BLACK & WHITE | Quality: Excellent

Erich Von Stroheim

Vera Ralston

Richard Arlen


Somewhere in the Arizona desert is a gloomy looking mansion where doctors Erich Von Stroheim and Richard Arlen are doing experiments on animals to see if their brains continue to work after they have been pronounced dead. A monkey dying of lymphoma is experimented on, and the brain continues to thrive for an hour after the poor creature has passed on. Of course, this inspires the bellowing Von Stroheim to take the step further: to try it on a human! He has his hands full, being domineering to his nurse (Vera Ralston) who is in love with Von Stroheim's assistant (Richard Arlen) whom Von Stroheim considers unworthy of her. A convenient plane crash gives Von Stroheim an excuse to interrupt Arlen and Ralston's date, sending them to the sight of the crash to retrieve the dead body of a passenger (named Donovan, an alleged financial wizard) for an autopsy. Realizing that while Donovan is dead, his brain is still functioning makes Von Stroheim decided to remove the brain for further experimentation in hopefully using this for the good of society to keep the great deeds and words of great men going. But was Donovan really the great man they believe? A visit from his widow opens up that can of worms, and Arlen is soon used as a vessel to bring Donovan's spirit back to life, not necessarily a good thing!

This was one of Vera Ralston's first starring roles in what would become an infamous career that ultimately contributed to the the ousting of studio head Herbert J. Yates and the eventual downfall of Republic Pictures. Ralston at the time was dating Yates (they would later marry) and he insisted she be given starring roles. Unfortunately, she spoke very little English at this point and spoke all of her lines phonetically, without having any idea of what she was actually saying. Director George Sherman found working with Ralston so taxing that after this film was completed he quit Republic - where he had spent many years - because he knew he was going to be asked to direct another one of her pictures. The film itself, however, has much going for it. Excellent photography, lighting, and the genuinely ghoulish atmosphere provides enough of an edge to keep you hooked, and for that reason, I rate it jigher than its better known 1950's remake. Von Stroheim keeps in character throughout, manages to emote over dramatically without somehow becoming too campy or over-the-top, and Arlen gives it a true touch of class. Even with the complete non-acting of Ralston, the film stays devoted to its theme of how mankind should not interfere in extending life beyond its expiration date, and how when they do, it turns out to be a complete disaster for everybody involved.

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