Thursday, June 13, 2019

Off the Tracks and in the Game

"Fight yourself and the part that wins doesn't count. It's the part that loses." There's a great film noir line for you from 1948's Inner Sanctum, a film based on a long running anthology horror suspense radio show. A low budget B-movie by the short lived M.R.S. productions, it nonetheless features an intriguing and subtly weird story.

Charles Russell plays the film's anti-hero, a murderer whose name we never learn but who calls himself Harold Dunlap. His voice is a dead ringer for Jimmy Stewart but he's not so bad in his own right--he certainly has an effectively unnerving gaze.

He impulsively murders his angry girlfriend at a train station then dumps her body in a passing caboose amid some distinctly noir-ish shadows. He's unaware he's been seen by average, innocent kid Mike (Dale Belding). Lucky for the murderer, Mike doesn't realise what the "bundle" was that he saw being dumped and the murderer gets away with hiding his face. He starts calling himself "Dunlap" when he's picked up on the road by a friendly local named McFee (Billy House).

They take turns driving but, when it's Dunlap's turn, he ends up driving the two of them right back into town because roads have closed due to flooding. And then, as luck would have it, McFee deposits Dunlap at a boarding house where none other than kid Mike resides.

Ending up here could be put down to rotten luck but a lot of the bad breaks Dunlap gets can be traced pretty quickly to his own decisions, beginning, of course, with his choice to murder his girlfriend. Mike doesn't recognise Dunlap but for some reason Dunlap decides to make extra sure by forcefully telling the kid he was never at the train station and telling the kid to remember that. If he'd told the kid directly, "Yeah, that was me at the station," he couldn't have more strongly impressed the idea on him.

Also staying at the boarding house is the beautiful Jean Maxwell (Mary Beth Hughes--MST3k fans will remember her from I Accuse My Parents), a frustrated, small town girl with dreams of depraved and glamorous city life. When she tries to get Dunlap to play Checkers with her as part of her designs on wooing him, he sits across from her but just sullenly stares into the night instead of playing. When she remarks on how she's sure to win if she plays against herself he delivers that significant line which certainly seems appropriate after he's damned himself time and again.

A framing story involving a mysterious stranger on the train (Fritz Leiber, Sr.) gives the film a supernatural element, something reflecting the nature of the radio series and its likely influence on Tales from the Crypt. He tells the story of the film as a warning to a young woman who accidentally hurts herself with a nail file when the train hits a sharp curve. The end of the film reveals the strange man has actually been telling her future. But how much of what he said was really meant as a warning? Or did he just mean to mock her and Dunlap, who were always doomed to make their own choices? Inner Sanctum is available on Amazon Prime.

Twitter Sonnet #1245

Returning faces change to newer scalps.
A careful watch predicts a passing train.
As Holmes and Watson climb the pretty Alps.
Attempts to dodge the mind were all in vain.
A rapid current wrought a distant screen.
Banana bones were crunched in tightened grip.
The light of travel painted blue or green.
Along the glowing veins the faeries slip.
A gang of phones intrudes in phantom class.
In steady marches students learn to speak.
As ev'ry thought congealed in spoken mass.
A better word could drift from corner squeak.
The pieces paint a certain red and black.
The ghostly fleet begins an eastern tack.

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