Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Amazing Mr. X (1948) The Spook Trade Noir

This film, aka The Spiritualist was directed by Bernard Vorhaus (Bury Me Dead (1947)) he was active in the UK  during the 1930s. He was later blacklisted in Hollywood. Original story written by Crane Wilbur, with Muriel Roy Bolton, and Ian McLellan Hunter combining on the screenplay. The none other than excellent cinematography was by the great John Alton. The music was by Alexander Laszlo and that also includes two Frédéric Chopin pieces Prelude for Piano, Op. 28 Nr. 4 in E minor & Nocturne for Piano, Op. 9, no. 1, in B-flat minor

The film stars Turhan Bey as Alexis the psychic consultant, Lynn Bari (Nocturne (1946)) as Christine Faber a wealthy recently widowed woman, Cathy O'Donnell (Bury Me Dead (1947), They Live by Night (1948), Side Street (1950), Detective Story (1951)) as her younger unmarried sister Janet Burke, Richard Carlson (Behind Locked Doors (1948), The Sound of Fury (1950), segueing into SiFi/ monster movies and TV The Magnetic Monster (1953), It Came from Outer Space (1953) Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)) as Martin Abbott, with Donald Curtis and Virginia Gregg rounding out a pretty small cast.

Our story begins in a seaside mansion on a cliff above the Pacific. It's two years after Christine's husband Paul was incinerated in a fiery auto crackup along the Pacific Coast Highway. Christine finally is over mourning for Paul. She is convinced, by her younger sister Janet, to go out on a date with the persistent next door neighbor. He's equally wealthy, a lawyer, his name is Martin Abbott. He's in love with Christine and wants to propose. The date is for a show and later dinner at the Blue Angel.

Martin calls in to Christine and tells her that he has been running late, a last minute client has caused the delay and he just arrived at his house. He offers to drive over as soon as he changes. Christine, in turn, suggests that she can walk over along the beach and meet him.

Christine (Lynn Bari)
Christine and Janet (Cathie O'Donnell)
phone call

Martin (Richard Carlson)

On the moonlit beach walk, below the cliffs, Christine thinks she hears Paul's voice hauntingly calling to her above the turbulent breakers and the rushing sea foam. She becomes a bit rattled, then more so after the wind swept hem of her dress, suddenly catches on a protruding nail sticking up from the bow of a beached dory. She unhooks herself from it's grasp, and runs to the base of the path that climbs to Martin's house.

Beach Walk

This whole beach and seaside cliffs sequence is gorgeously filmed quite noirs-ish-ly by Alton.

Near the start of the path to Martin's house, she is startled by the squawking of a pet raven sitting on a branch of driftwood. Turning and running again she accidentally bumps into a man smoking a pipe.  It is a very suave and mysterious gentleman.

Alexis (Turhan Bey)
The man is Alexis, and he immediately goes into his professional spiritualist spiel. He tells her just enough about her whole recent situation, regarding Paul's death, in a very charming way that she can't help but be convinced that this guy must be for real, how can he know all this. He kisses her hand and excuses himself. She asks if he lived around here? He's says he wishes, he lives way across town and gives her his card, he is a "psychic consultant." When she reads his title she is slightly befuddled.

Christine: Oh!
Alexis: I see you place me in the same category as fortune tellers, snake charmers, and magicians. Oh well, many people do.
Christine: But you must know who I am, how else could you know all these things?
Alexis:  Perhaps because we are very much alike. You and I free spirits, like our friend here [points to the raven] you like the night, and the mist of the ocean. The wind whispers, the sand that is cool under our feet. We are not like, I hope I don't have his name wrong, Martin.
Christine: There's nothing wrong with Martin,
Alexis:  Of course not, but if you will only understand how little he understands.
Christine: Well Martin is very logical.
Alexis:  Yes that's why you should marry him. All free spirits must come out of the night sometime put on their shoes, pay their bills, go to the dentist, and of course family dinners on Sundays. You really shouldn't be so irritated by his little mannerisms, like when he clears his throat, announcing that he's going to kiss you in a minute. Or how he counts up all his plans on his fingers. I can't tell you how I know these things but it hardly matters. We are not going to meet again.....

The hook is proverbially in.

Martin has finally come down to the beach near the end of this meeting and is now calling Christine. She walks over to him. He clears his throat then kisses her. He asks what took her so long and she says she was talking to Alexis, but when she turns back to show him, Alexis has vanished.

Getting back to matters at hand, Christine has to now go and change her torn gown. By the time they get back to her house, they decide it's too late for the show and dinner. So Martin and Christine decide to spend a cozy evening at Christine's. While Christine is changing Martin sets the mood he mixes drinks, and puts on a phonograph record. Its a piece that Paul always used to play. Christine hears it and gets upset with Martin. Martin calms her down,  gives her the engagement ring, and proposes.

Martin and Christine

fixin' to propose

The happy couple with a portrait of Paul looming ominously in the background
That night, Christine faintly hears that same piano piece again and Paul's voice calling her name. She awakens and runs towards the window. She turns and sees a wilted bouquet, her wedding ring, Paul's picture on the floor, and then her wedding dress is floating towards her in her bedroom. She runs, screams, and feints. Janet runs into her sisters room. When Christine recovers, she finds the flowers are fresh, the engagement ring on the dresser instead of her wedding ring, and Martins picture in the frame instead of Paul's.

the ghostly wedding gown
Of course all these unexplainable phenomena now make her think of Alexis. He deals with this stuff professionally and of course she heads off to her psychic consultant.

Alexis' house at 6200 Warner Drive

The skull knocker
Alexis' house on 6200 Warner Drive is something else to see, outwardly it is quite normal. But Alexis has got lots of two way mirrors installed, that he uses to observe and read his clients. When Christine gets to his door she greeted by a skull doorknocker. She lifts handle to knock but it rings a chime. Alexis flips up a sliding panel to see who is at the door. The front door automatically opens onto a dimly lit interior filled with arcane artifacts.

Christine walks in, the door closes and she is greeted with a squawk by the same raven from down of the beach. The raven and Alexis work together. While looking at the raven, a set of sliding door panels open silently, and the raven jumps off his perch and flies through them.  Christine follows the raven. After stepping through the door panels they again close automatically. When she sees Alexis leaning against his fireplace, she tells him sarcastically, that she thought the "fog and the ocean were more effective." Alexis chuckles. He then goes again into his spiel. He tells her that he agrees, but that in his line of work he's dealing with all kinds of minds, and that three types of people come to see him. The first group comes to scoff, but sometimes they remain to pay. The second are childlike creatures of mind, they are tired and sad and need comfort. (They are the ones that go for all the histrionics). The third group is those of us who honestly explore the outer world. Alexis then tells her that "I feel that you have come here today to join that group." By this time he has manipulated her into sitting down at a table with a crystal ball.

Alexis' Spook Parlor

crystal ball

A two way mirror

Alexis checking out the rocks on a new client
So Christine is now under Alexis' spell so to speak. He sees her so much in the next coming weeks that Janet and Martin become concerned enough to follow her to Alexis' house. When Marin sees that all that Janet has been telling him is true he gets upset enough to hire a detective. He finds a detective named Hoffman (played by Harry Mendoza a real magician and actor), who specializes in exposing  phony mediums.  He tells them that he is a former vaudeville magician, who knows all the tricks in the spook trade. He is a crusader, much like Harry Houdini was starting back in the 1920s, and followed right through to the present by The Amazing Randi, Dorothy Dietrich, Penn & Teller, and Dick Brookz.

Spook Detective

Martin believes

Hoffman (Harry Mendoza)

coin flip

Martin and Janet's visit to their hired detective provides for another amusingly interesting sequence. All the while they are speaking with Hoffman he is performing various "sleights of hand" tricks. It's very entertaining. Hoffman looks through his files and finds a spiritualist who looks a lot like Alexis with a swami hat. Janet decides to visit Alexis and try and get his finger prints to see if they are one and the same man. However, Janet falls instantly for Alexis' charms also.

The elaborate hoax is all undone by a very unexpected twist that leads to Noirsville.



Alexis' wife and researcher

<spoilers below>

What's interesting about this film is how we are dropped into the middle of the phony spiritualist story, though we don't realize it at the time. It's only later that it comes to light how elaborate the preparations, and the physical rigging's of the hoax actually were.

The reason this film is not as highly regarded as Nightmare Alley is because one it's never seen and two,  it's cast with lesser know talent. You can imagine Vincent Price, Paul Henreid, or say Clifton Webb playing the spiritualist, Joan Bennett or Ava Gardner, in the Christine role (originally it was supposed to go to Carol Landis (I Wake Up Screaming (1941)) but she committed suicide right before filming was to start). Martin could have been played by Howard Duff or say Mark Stevens.  Margret O'Brien would have aced the Janet role.

However Turhan Bey is, believe it or not, better at being the suave slimy type than say Zachery Scott, he's more believable, possibly because of his Turkish/Austrian accent. Lynn Bari is good as the manipulable widow as are Cathy O'Donnel as Janet and Richard Carlson as Martin.

The Amazing Mr X followed right on the heals of Nightmare Alley. Other Crime and Noirs dealing with the same subject of spiritualists are Ministry of FearFallen AngelNight Has a Thousand EyesConfidence Girl, and later Hitchcock's Family Plot, I'm sure there are a few more out there.

The story is good and the cinematography breathtaking. It's John Alton, but not in his usual milieu of cityscape's. Here he makes a rugged moon lit seacoast, a cliff side house and a spiritualist's spook parlor his subjects. Images are from the French DVD. 8/10


  1. Ha! I just literally heard about this movie for the first time a few weeks ago and am intrigued. It's on youtube, but I heard the cinematography is so good, I think I'll buy the DVD.

    So I won't read your review now, because I heard the movie has a lot of surprises. Don't want to ruin them.

    Lynn Bari is one of the most underrated actresses in classic film. Her name barely pops up in discussions, don't know why. She was quite popular back then.

    Nice screenshots.

  2. I found it and saw it. Yes, I really liked it. That it's so good is definitively due to John Alton's cinematography. I'll write a review too soon.

    I never understood how Lynn Bari didn't become a bigger star. I had actually never heard of Turhan Bey before.

  3. With me it's the opposite, I'd never heard of Lynn Bari before but remember Turhan Bey from Ali Baba, and other adventure stuff.

  4. You have to see Lynn Bari in Shock, with Vincent Price. Great little B, with Bari in totally rotten dame mode. Evil.