The wind howls and waves crash on a dark, sandy shore. The background music swells, underscoring the furiously subdued passion of the beautiful woman, clad in a foaming white gown, who hears her deceased husband call her name from beyond the sea. She is startled when she meets a suave and well-dressed stranger, and his pet raven, on the turbulent beach.
Thanks to the taut direction of Bernard Vorhaus (who would emigrate to England and retire in 1953 after being blacklisted by Hollywood); across the board fine acting (including Cathy O'Donnell, who earlier was blacklisted by Samuel Goldwyn after marrying the brother of William Wyler, with whom he was feuding); and especially the moody cinematography of John Alton (who would win an Academy Award for Color Cinematography for AN AMERICAN IN PARIS,) this low-budget thriller, THE AMAZING MR X, is rather amazing, indeed.
I scribbled "should have been Peter Lorre" during Turhan Bey's first scene. Bey plays the Spiritualist - a vaguely sinister, vaguely continental rogue who, most of the time, shares the frame with his big, black, pet raven. Your typical Lorre role. So it was with some trepidation that I left the very entertaining early scene that chronicled Bey and widow Lynn Bari's initial encounter. These movies almost always stumble somewhere - a `humorous' character who isn't funny, and/or a threatening character who, unfortunately, is.
Bey, who I've never seen before, is perfectly cast. He may not be as skilled an actor, but even someone as prodigiously talented as Lorre would have had a hard time playing a romantic character. With the movie forcing little sister O'Connell to gush some tough puppy love at the Spiritualist, with the handsome Bey in the lead role credibility is maintained. Talented or not, Lorre was severely appearance challenged.
Alton lit and framed it wonderfully - in fact, the whole movie looks great - but there was still that threat posed by the cover art. A turbaned, apple-cheeked Bey grinning mischievously over an illuminated crystal ball. THE AMAZING MR X had `schlock' written all over it. Loud schlock, at that. But this movie is much subtler than its promotional material, or unfortunate title, would lead you to think. It's a fine mystery/thriller, supremely entertaining and even a little thought provoking. This IS that hidden gem fans of old movies are constantly on the lookout for.
THE AMAZING MR X is a virtually flawless movie. Whether flooding blinding light through the Spiritualist's front door or pulling the ceiling into the frame to create a sense of maddening claustrophobia in the young widow's home, the cinematography is brilliant (NB - the transfer print is a little washed out but watchable.) The story is engagingly told and even provides a genuine thrill or two. Overall the acting is competent, Bari is quite good as the haunted widower, and Bey is a real find as the smooth charlatan.