A Blueprint for Murder:
"Lynne's warmth and affection for Doug helped so much to soften the blow of his sister's death. Never did Maggie's absurd suspicions seem more fantastic than now." That's Cam Cameron speaking to us. Doug is his nephew, a little boy whose sister, Polly, has just died in hospital of what turns out to have been strychnine poisoning. Their step-mother, the cool, beautiful Lynne Cameron (Jean Peters), is, of course, distressed, just as she was when her husband, the children's father, died mysteriously with the same symptoms. Lynne's brother-in-law, Whitney Cameron (Joseph Cotton), Cam for short, who flew into town when Polly became ill, can see for himself how solicitous Lynne is toward young Doug. He's not about to listen to the suspicions raised by his good friends, Maggie and Fred Sergeant (Catherine McLeod and Gary Merrill).
But wait a minute. Fred, a lawyer, now remembers the terms of the will he drew up for Polly's and Doug's father. A great deal of money was placed into a trust, the interest of which is going to Lynne. Ah, but if the children die, Lynne will get the principal as well as the interest. A little worm of doubt now starts to nibble away in Cam's brain, which is particularly unsettling because Cam is beginning to have certain feelings for Lynne. All we know for sure is that Lynne is the kind of cool. competent woman who would most likely warm up only if she had a whip in her hand and you at her feet. It all comes together on board a transatlantic liner taking Lynne, Doug and Cam to Europe. It involves a clever ruse that calls for a pill that might or might not be aspirin, a cocktail that tastes a little bitter and a whole lot of scenery chewing.
Unfortunately, the final revelation is so abrupt and commonplace and the movie then ends so quickly and complacently that we can only give a shrug. Still, up to then it's passably pleasurable.
Man In the Attic:
"Jack the Ripper...what a revolting, stupid name!" says Mr. Slade. He has every reason to be offended. Note that while elements of the plot are discussed, almost everything is laid out for the viewer in the film's first 15 minutes. It's 1888 and Jack has been at work off and on for several weeks. His victims are all women who have been entertainers at one time or another. Jack's knives leave messy leftovers.
Late one night with the London fog swirling around the gaslit streets, Mr. and Mrs. Harley (Rhys Williams and Frances Bavier) hear a knock on their door. It's a Mr. Slade (Jack Palance) who is answering their notice of a room to let. He not only takes the room but also their small, third floor attic. He needs it, he tells Mrs. Harley, so that he can conduct his experiments. Mr. Slade is a pathologist. He seems nice enough, the Harley's dog takes to him at once and he pays a month in advance. When he learns that the Harley's niece, Lily Bonner (Constance Smith), will be staying in the house, and that she is a showgirl on the stage, he is obviously distracted. Her act, Lily Bonner and Her Girls, is getting a lot of notice. We even get to see her do two full numbers. Prince Edward is seen clapping approvingly. But the swirling fog keeps blanketing the city, more women are found brutally cut to death, and Mr. Slade keeps returning home at very late hours. The police put every resource they can into the hunt. Queen Victoria makes it clear that no married man could be capable of such crimes and recommends that all bachelors be rounded up. The police investigation is led by Inspector Paul Warwick (Byron Palmer), a smart copper who is attracted to Lily as soon as he meets her. And it seems that Slade is attracted to Lily, too. He confesses to Lily that his unease and loneliness is due to his mother, a woman "incapable of love, only lust," who left home when he was a child. His father took ten years to drink himself to death with absinthe. "Did you ever see your mother again?" Lily asks Slade. Yes, he says. She'd become a street walker. I saw her once. We also have a sense of Slade's unbalanced torment. Often his late evenings are spent simply in lonely and unhealthy contemplation. "Sometimes I walk close by the river," he tells Lily. "The river is like liquid night flowing peacefully out to infinity." We know what's coming; there are no surprises. After a rousing night-time chase through London's damp streets, the last thing we see is the swirling waters of the Thames.
Oh, what a grade B hamfest this movie is. I mean that in a kind way because the movie is fun to watch. There are so many things wrong with it that the movie has a kind of endearing, well-intentioned amateurishness about it.
Jack Palance, young and tormented, with his small sunken eyes, prominent cheek bones, strong chin and heavy brow, does a credible job. So do Frances Bavier and Rhys Williams. But the rest of the cast can barely act. Some of the dialogue is so ripe it's juicy. "You're the same as my mother," Slade shouts, "the same as all of them...mocking love and living for lust! Your beauty must be cut away!"
Man In the Attic has a kind of Poverty Row charm. The film is trying hard to be a Jack the Ripper psycho-thriller. The producers just couldn't round up the talent or the budget to come close, but they tried.
The DVD picture for both transfers looks fine. There are no extras of any significance.