Reginald Le Borg, 1944
Starring: Lon Chaney, Jr., Jean Parker, Paul Kelly, Acquanetta
After enjoying the second Inner Sanctum mystery, Weird Woman, far more than I expected, I really tried to like this third entry in the series. As one other reviewer put it, (I believe he was quoting the American Gothic book) the series as a whole is “stubbornly underwhelming.” I wish I could find a better, more optimistic way to describe these films, but it’s almost as though Universal purposefully didn’t want anyone to like them. With the combination of an average-at-best director, Reginald Le Borg, responsible for the first three Inner Sanctum films, and star of all six, Lon Chaney, Jr., it’s hard to expect much.
Dave Stuart, an artist, is accidentally blinded by his model, Tanya, which ruins his life and career. His fiancée’s father offers to donate his eyes to Stuart (!!!) upon his death, so that Stuart can get an eye transplant operation. Soon after, the man drops dead and Stuart is the main suspect. As with the other Inner Sanctum films, this has basically the same premise. Chaney plays a down-on-his-luck moper who mysteriously (and preposterously) attracts loads of women. Someone is murdered and the evidence points to Chaney, but a jealous woman is usually the real culprit. While this film and Weird Woman have somewhat interesting, imaginative premises, they don’t really go anywhere. The characters are also all completely unlikable from Chaney to his ice cold fiancée and her obnoxious ex-boyfriend. As with Weird Woman, many of the characters are creepy and sexually obsessive -- men and women both -- and we are somehow expected to care about a series of love triangles that typically point the way to the real perpetrator.
There are some completely ridiculous leaps of reason in the script, such as an eye transplant surgery, which is shown in the cheapest way possible with shots of Chaney’s eyes squinting. Though Tanya is supposed to be guilty for blinding Stuart, he’s the one who kept a bottle of corrosive acid not only on the same shelf as his eye drops, but right next to them.
Jean Parker (Edgar Ulmer’s Bluebeard) is not quite a replacement for series regular Evelyn Ankers, but she does her best. I think. She at least does a lot better than model-turned-actress Acquanetta (Captive Wild Woman), who is lovely to look at, but has the emotional range and acting skills of a goldfish. It is sadly easy to see how her character could have confused a container of eyedrops with acid. Paul Kelly is believable as Stuart’s doctor and the only likable character on hand, but can’t be expected to save the film on his own.
If you’re really curious about Dead Man’s Eyes, you can find it on the two-disc Inner Sanctum collection, though I would recommend a rental above a purchase. It’s certainly one of Chaney’s lesser roles, though that isn’t saying a lot. Son of Dracula, here's looking at you.