Strange Illusion

Overview

This is a decent DVD treatment of a five-star movie, though one little known beyond a small cult audience. Strange Illusion is a very odd and elusive film by director Edgar G. Ulmer. Made at the Poverty Row company Producers Releasing Corporation in 1945, it was one of the finest films in both the director's considerable output and the studio's history, and it was a staple of local television for decades (this reviewer first saw it in the early '60s, in place of a rained out New York Yankees game). Yet it ...
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Overview

This is a decent DVD treatment of a five-star movie, though one little known beyond a small cult audience. Strange Illusion is a very odd and elusive film by director Edgar G. Ulmer. Made at the Poverty Row company Producers Releasing Corporation in 1945, it was one of the finest films in both the director's considerable output and the studio's history, and it was a staple of local television for decades (this reviewer first saw it in the early '60s, in place of a rained out New York Yankees game). Yet it apparently was never registered for copyright and has vanished from authorized distribution to television. It was originally announced for release on laserdisc by the Roan Group four years ago but never showed up, then suddenly appeared in stores without any fanfare on DVD from Roan in the early spring of 2001. The DVD was worth waiting for in most respects. Roan claims to have used a nitrate 35 mm source for its disc (though one Ulmer expert claims to have access to a better facility on which to have based a disc), and it looks good much of the time, at least during the first hour. There is some slight softness to the image, and there are times when the limitations of the resolution of the print that was used come through -- the image gets slightly jittery and some digital artifacts seem to intrude. The sound also has its limits. Rough in the opening credits, especially when Leo Erdody's orchestration reaches its crescendo, harps joining strings and brass, it settles down well enough until the first hour is over, and then the volume seems to drop somewhat, requiring an adjustment upward. On the other hand, the night shots reveal more than enough detail to make them watchable, and the fact is that almost any movie from PRC -- forget about one of the best they ever produced -- showing up in decent quality is a notable achievement. It's good enough to make watching this beautiful, haunting, exciting, and very troubling psychological chiller/murder mystery a delight for both first-time viewers and those just discovering the movie. Although one may wish to take issue with some aspects of the notes -- Ulmer may well have shot Detour (running 63 minutes) at PRC in under a week, but it seems highly unlikely that Strange Illusion, with its 87-minute running time (and none of it taken up with stock- or second-unit footage of any length) could have been done in six days (two weeks maybe) -- the packaging is otherwise well put together, if a little skimpy. The chaptering is adequate, though one wishes there were an insert listing the chapter breakdown, and the disc offers a brief biographical sketch of Ulmer. The menu pops up automatically on start-up, and it is very easy to use.
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Special Features

[None specified]
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
Strange Illusion is one of the most enchantingly bizarre and thoroughly enjoyable examples of film noir ever to come out of the celebrated "B" studio PRC, as well as being one of the most unsettling psychological thrillers of its era. Director Edgar G. Ulmer had become fascinated with the subject of psychology in the mid-'40s when he decided to make this movie, intended initially as an adaptation of a contemporary play, not a single element of which ended up in the final film. The screenplay that did result crawled with Freudian subtexts and several levels of neurosis and psychosis; the Oedipal fixation of the young hero and the villain's thinly veiled pedophilia (directed at teenage girls) being only the most obvious. The basic plot derives from Hamlet, but it is given a particularly nasty (and startling) edge by making the Claudius character (Warren William at his oiliest) into a would-be child molester. Coupled with Jimmy Lydon's vulnerably neurotic (yet appealing) hero, that onscreen pairing is as disquieting as it is startling to watch. Even in a movie made two decades later, these elements would be extraordinary, but the fact that they are presented within the context of a stylish little '40s B-mystery programmer makes them even more unsettling. Ulmer also filled his movie -- shot, as was usual in his case, in under three weeks, though not the mere six days in which Detour was filmed -- with all manner of stunning visuals, from the eerie dream sequences that open and close the film to the paranoia-laced, claustrophobia-inducing scenes of the hero trapped in a sanitarium. One particular scene, of the hero turning an eavesdropping gambit of the villains (a one-way window behind a mirror) into a means of escape, is a brilliant piece of photography, staging, and psychological symbolism. What's even more amazing is that none of the budgetary limitations under which Ulmer was working show through. This is one of the best-looking B-movies of its era, and it even offers a rich musical score by Leo Erdody (partly adapted from Schumann) that is central to the plot -- though to appreciate this film fully, one should find the best-looking DVD edition (probably the one from Allday Entertainment). There were directors working during this period who had scripts costing ten times in fees and time what this one did, and budgets of a million dollars or more (which would be up to 40 times what Ulmer had to spend here), who never made a movie a quarter as good, or as fascinating, disturbing, and complex, as Strange Illusion.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 1/30/2001
  • UPC: 785604205920
  • Original Release: 1945
  • Rating:

  • Source: Roan Archival Group
  • Format: DVD
  • Sales rank: 56,043

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Charles Arnt Prof. Muhlbach
Jameson Clark People
Jimmy Clark
Sally Eilers Virginia Cartwright
John Hamilton
Jayne Hazard Dorothy Cartwright
Jimmy Lydon Paul Cartwright
Mary McLeod
Victor Potel People
George H. Reed Benjamin
Sonia Sorel
Regis Toomey Dr. Vincent
Pierre Watkin
Warren William Brett Curtis
Technical Credits
Edgar G. Ulmer Director
Harold Bradow Costumes/Costume Designer
Adele Comandini Screenwriter
Leo Erdody Score Composer, Musical Direction/Supervision
Leon Fromkess Producer
Paul Palmentola Art Director
Carl Pierson Editor
Harry Reif Set Decoration/Design
Elias H. Reif Set Decoration/Design
Fritz Rotter Original Story
Philip Tannura Cinematographer
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Scene Index

Side #1 --
0. Chapters
1. Main Titles [1:22]
2. A Premonition [6:58]
3. More Coincidences [10:59]
4. Background Check [9:01]
5. The Good Doctor [6:51]
6. Engagement [12:36]
7. Sanitarium [9:29]
8. Discovering Evidence [11:06]
9. Trapped [8:53]
10. The Boathouse [7:48]
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Menu

Side #1 --
   Play Movie
   Film Background
   Credits
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