STRANGE ILLUSION (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945)

A strange Hamlet with a postmodern twist, Strange Illusion presumes that Paul, a pre-law student whose father, California’s former lieutenant governor, recently mysteriously died, is all too familiar with Shakespeare’s most brilliant tragedy. Indeed, the play, which is nowhere mentioned, is the “elephant in the room” in every room of the film. As with Prince Hamlet, Paul has been having bad dreams; they disclose that his father was murdered and that the murderer, Brett Curtis, who has been operating at the behest of an evil psychiatrist, Dr. Calig—er, Muhlbach, has marital designs on the dead man’s widow and her inheritance, that is, when he isn’t leching after the woman’s daughter, Paul’s sister, Dorothy. Written without bluah by Adele Comandini, from an original story by Fritz Rotter, this creepy, suspenseful thriller was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer between two other remarkable low-budget works, Bluebeard (1944), which informs Curtis’s backstory, and Detour (1945), the circularity of whose ironical narrative informs the structure of Strange Illiusion, which may be unfolding, in its entirety, in Paul’s mad-as-a-hatter, incestuous dream.
     Insanely, the lost soul who contributed the film’s “plot summary” to the IMDb gets nearly everything wrong by failing to take into account that the boy is mentally unhinged and, by the end, very likely on his way to death. Curtis and Muhlbach may be no more than figments of Paul’s imagination, for at the last there’s a hint that Mom’s romantic feelings, which are such a source of distress for Paul, have been invested in kindly Dr. Vincent, who according to the script that Paul’s dream follows helps Paul uncover “the truth” about Curtis and Muhlbach while Paul is presumably playing at being the only “guest” at Muhlbach’s rural sanitarium.
     Jimmy Lydon is hysterical trying to escape.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

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