Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire, Clarence Muse, Terry Walker, Betty Compson, Ernie Adams, George Pembroke, Ottola Nesmith, Fred Kelsey, Jack Mulhall
Written by: Helen Martin, Al Martin
Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 64
Date: 04/25/1941

Invisible Ghost (1941)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Killer Deceit

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In Invisible Ghost nothing turns invisible and there are no ghosts. But it is a spirited, entertaining murder story with Bela Lugosi in a fun role. He plays Charles Kessler, who remains with his daughter in their big house even though people keep getting killed. They stay because they are waiting for the return of Kessler's wife (Betty Compson).

What nobody knows is that she's being kept in the servant's quarters nearby, and she occasionally escapes. When she does, she possesses a kind of (totally unexplained) hypnotic power over Kessler; he goes into a trance and kills whoever happens to be handy. This time, his daughter, Virginia (Polly Ann Young), has a man visiting. He is Ralph Dickson (John McGuire), and he's in the wrong place at the wrong time and is accused of the murder.

I won't say much else except to suggest that a character's twin is (ludicrously) involved.

Otherwise, the great Clarence Muse plays the family's beloved black servant Evans, a role that seems to have more dignity and more screen time than was usual.

A cheapie from Monogram Pictures, this was an early effort by director Joseph H. Lewis, who would go on to notable noirs like Gun Crazy (1949) and The Big Combo (1955), as well as the excellent Western The Halliday Brand (1957); he shows a wonderful style here, getting excellent use from tricks of lighting (the power goes out and the candles are lit) as well as weirdly high or off-kilter angles, or shots through windows.

Legendary poverty row producer Sam Katzman probably didn't care much about that stuff, however. But he and Lugosi continued to work together, cranking out nine cheap films with other directors in just a few years.

Though the film is in the public domain and available streaming just about anywhere online, Kino Lorber has released a nicely restored Blu-ray with clean, sharp images and clear sound (only the dissolves between scenes are unrestored). It includes a commentary track by historians Tom Weaver, Gary Rhodes, and Dr. Robert J. Kiss, as well as trailers for other Lugosi titles.

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