The Mysterious Doctor, 1943. 4/10

Weird premise for this wartime mystery/horror deal. A headless ghost in a mine. Headless anything sounds good to me; and a mine, essentially a man-made cave, is a great setting. Not to mention an isolated English village, with vigilante justice, ala Frankenstein movies. And then German agents, maybe a downed Luftwaffe pilot too.

Lester Matthews is Doctor Holmes, an outsider. Bart Redmond (Matt Wills) is the village slow-wit. Sir Henry Leland (John Loder), the local big cheese. There’s Letty Carstairs (Elanor Parker), Hugh Penhryn (Forrester Harvey), Lieutenant Hilton (Bruce Lester), and Simon Tewksbury (Simon Mayo), the innkeeper.

No time wasted at Morgan’s Head, as the thick-as-cotton-candy night reveals the headless guy. Not to let up on this motif, the innkeeper that Homles encounters is wearing what looks like a executioner’s mask–a mining explosion has disfigured him. Then Holmes learns of the town’s curse: the headless guy is ‘Black Morgan’ the result of a clan feud.

Sir Henry shows up at the inn. Holmes wonders why the mine isn’t reopened to provide a wartime necessity–tin. Problem is, the mine is Black Morgan’s hideout. Meanwhile, we hear of an errant flyer; the townspeople suspect that Holmes is that guy, i.e., a German. He’s got good evidence of his identity though. Then they get the idea that their guy might be lying low in the mine.

Letty sends Bart to the mine to look after Holmes. Surreptitiously, Simon tails Holmes as well. The fog is down in the mine, as well as Black Morgan. We see the silhouettes of the headless guy stabbing someone, probably Simon. The Lieutenant tries to rouse the villagers to reopen the mine, but they’re still wary. They go in search of Holmes, but still won’t go in the mine. Letty tells them all off; she’s right, they’re chickening out.

Finally, the Lieutenant, Sir Harry, and Redmond do go in. Aha! There’s Holmes’ body, minus head–so they say, that is. “Ghosts don’t kill” says the Lieutenant, but the villagers beg to differ. Bart is fingered for Holmes’ murder; they want to railroad him. Letty manages to let him out of jail somehow.

She and Bart go down into the mine; what’s this? a secret passageway. To Sir Henry’s, no less. Well, it seems that Sir Henry keeps a headless disguise above the mantle. He walks in on them, as the Simon shows up (ok, it’s really Holmes, undercover, literally, using Simon’s mask). So, Sir Henry is Black Morgan, aka, the German agent. Bart takes two bullets, but Sir Henry gets his comeuppance, impaled on his own knife. Well, that about does it.

What kills me is that, as wartime audiences would know, and the Lieutenant has let on, the Government would be much more worried about the actual threat from the war, for which the tin mine is key, than the threat of an alleged ghost. It would be better to forget the outside world and the war, and just do the straight horror plot.

The atmosphere is the best aspect of the movie. The villagers, though, are just too quaint. If we add them all together, they still only make half a person. If we’re going to buy the level of local superstition, then we ought to be in the 19th century, if not before. In fact, with the peddler’s cart in the first scene, it might as well be 1843 instead of 1943.

I can’t recommend The Mysterious Doctor. For a short movie, it seems to go on forever, the villagers jabbering endlessly. There’s a bit of mystery surrounding the ghost/Black Morgan, as it skulks about. But, after a pretty good beginning, the plot sort of tumbles out of the peddler’s cart. Bart is so obviously a red herring; it’s ridiculous that he continues to be the main suspect until nearly the very end. The German agent subplot doesn’t just subvert the main plot, it also promises more than it delivers. We hear about the downed pilot, but he never shows up. One good thing is that Letty has more guts than most of the guys put together; decently progressive touch, but it also underscores the overwrought mob mentality at work.

Farmermouse was scared of Black Morgan, and he thought that the fog really was cotton candy, so he ate it. 4/10

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