John Hoffman, 1945
Starring: Lon Chaney, Jr., J. Carrol Naish, Brenda Joyce
Though the fifth film in the Inner Sanctum mystery series isn’t a particularly good one, it at least breaks from the plot mold of the first four films. A scientist, Jeff Carter (Chaney), is experimenting on a new break through vaccine for influenza, but things go horribly wrong. He shows up at the home of a lawyer friend with a bag and announces that he must make a confession. It turns out that the bag contains the head of his former boss, greedy businessman Roger Graham, who took credit for Carter’s vaccine and stole all the profits. While Carter was in South America, perfecting the formula, Graham tried to steal his wife and killed his young son by releasing the vaccine before it was ready or fully tested.
Strange Confession definitely benefits from mixing up the tired old plot formula. Though Chaney is again downtrodden for basically the entire film, at least he isn’t surrounded by a gaggle of women desperate to get in his pants, something that made the premises of the first four films difficult to accept. I also tend to enjoy films that begin with the ending and Strange Confession delivers in that department - Carter confessing to murder while holding a decapitated head in a bag is fairly lurid. The use of flashbacks is refreshing, considering that all the other films have been mostly linear and relied mostly on silly voice overs.
Lon Chaney, Jr. stars, yet again, but the wonderful J. Carrol Naish returns and Brenda Joyce joins as the leading lady, a role she would reprise for the final film in the series, Pillow of Death. Naish is certainly the main reason to watch this film and though he is also in Calling Dr. Death, the first film of the series, this entry has far more to offer than that dud. While this is still fundamentally a mystery-melodrama, it has a sense of atmosphere only equalled by the second film in the series, Weird Woman, and the final final, Pillow of Death, which is partly a haunted house movie.
Also known as The Missing Head, this film was essentially unavailable until the ‘90s due to an issue with the rights to the story. Strange Confession was basically a remake of Claude Rains’ vehicle The Man Who Reclaimed His Head (1934). Though Universal had the rights to use the story for that film (from a play by Jean Bart), there was a dispute about whether or not they had the rights to make a second remake, so it all but disappeared until its video release in the ‘90s.
You can get all six of the Inner Sanctum films in this two-disc set. While neither the set nor Strange Confession comes highly recommended, they might be of interest to fans of early mystery films or fans of Lon Chaney, Jr.