Eagle-Lion May: The Amazing Mr. X
To preview our screening of Canon City and a short documentary about Eagle-Lion studios with an introduction by Alan K. Rode at the convention, we are spotlighting films made by this short-lived studio.
RODNEY BOWCOCK: The Amazing Mr. X is an anomaly. It’s a film mostly noted for its cinematography, yet has been reduced to Public Domain Hell, where it is rarely seen to its best advantage, generally on poor YouTube uploads and dollar store DVDs. However, being the intrepid film fans that we are, we decided to tackle this one and see what treasures it holds.
The story revolves around a wealthy widow Christine Farber (Lynn Bari), who is living in a lonely mansion with her younger sister Janet (Cathy O’Donnell). She’s engaged to Martin (Richard Carlson) and while not unhappily engaged, she still misses her deceased husband very, very much. After believing that she hears her late husband’s voice one night, she investigates the beach in front of her home where she meets Alexis (Turhan Bey), who seems to know an AWFUL lot about her. Alexis starts hanging around the house a bunch, eventually hooking up with Janet, but really sucking both Christine and Janet into his creepy, unsettling vibe of seances and such.
Eventually, Janet and Martin get suspicious that everything isn’t exactly as it seems, and suspect that Alexis’ motives may not be completely pure after all.
SAMANTHA GLASSER: This movie looks like noir, but it is out-and-out soap opera. Two women, who both love to wear fur, are infatuated with the same man, a misunderstood ex-convict. There are seances and dead men who aren't actually dead and dramatic walks on a blustery beach. It is glamorous and mysterious and larger than life and I had a blast watching it.
RB: First the good news: I was able to dig up a pretty good copy of the film (Film Detective has also restored this one on DVD, and if you want to see it, that’s likely the best way to go, although I can’t confirm that myself), and the cinematography by John Alton (discussed at length in his book Painting with Light) is indeed gorgeous, and Lynn Bari, an actress that I am generally drawn to is absolutely gorgeous here, probably never looking more glamorous in a film.
SG: She is dripping with wealth and clearly gets her hair done on a regular basis, especially considering her penchant for letting it blow all over the place on her beach walks. There are many great shots in this movie. We look up at the characters gazing into a crystal ball from under the table, up from the bathroom sink, or from inside the fireplace. They're conspicuous shots, but they really add to the pleasure of watching the movie. There is smoke and sunlight beaming through dark rooms, and we see the dust motes floating around. It is dreamy and otherworldly and beguiling.
RB: The bad news, is that this film is SLOW. The plot creeps along at a snails’ pace as everyone paces and plods around the mansion as if they’re in some sort of a mid-dream state. In a sense, I guess it does add to the atmosphere, but at what cost? Also, everyone kind of speaks in a monotone. Why? I have no clue. It’s just a thing that happens here.
SG: Harrison's Reports agreed with you, saying, "Although the action is leisurely and lacking in turbulence, it manages to generate considerable suspense because of the eerie doings and backgrounds, which make for a number of spine-chilling moments." I was surprised at how horror-like some of the scenes were. We could have reviewed this in October and it would have fit in just fine.
There are many laughable moments. When Christine is on the beach and she hears her ex-husband calling her name, it sounds like a vignette from Creepshow. ("Come to the beach, Christine!") There is an action sequence near the end and a rescue effort that made zero sense, but that added to the fun of watching it.
RB: I highly recommend Jeff Gordon’s authorized biography of Lynn Bari, entitled Foxy Lady if you’re the least bit interested in the career of studio contract players. Bari had just left 20th Century Fox before making this film, and that was probably one of the biggest mistakes in a career that had more than a
few. Anyhow, she speaks a bit about this film, noting that on its original release it was titled The
Spiritualist. The re-titled version that we’re familiar with is from a reissue. Lynn spoke to Jeff regarding the titles: “I don’t know why they changed it; either one of those names were terrible. I mean, they could’ve called it anything - The Falcon’s Lair or something”. Well, that’s true, but at least The Spiritualist makes sense. I don’t know what’s amazing about this film, nor do I know who Mr. X is.
SG: Lynn Bari is gorgeous and sophisticated and fits right into the wealthy widow role that any of the MGM leading ladies would have filled at a bigger studio. Cathy O'Donnell is painfully earnest and sweet, a perfect casting for the role of the younger sister. Turhan Bey begins the film seeming oily and sinister, but he softens throughout the film to be quite sympathetic.
RB: A couple of other notes worth noting: This was Bari’s second film on a three film contract with Eagle-Lion, but was the last film that she completed for them. The biography doesn’t really explain why, but the fact that she became pregnant around this time may have had something to do with it. Also, Wikipedia states that Carole Landis (another former Fox contract player) had been scheduled to star in the film, but had died by suicide a few days before filming was to begin. Filming began on January 5, 1948 and Landis passed away on July 5, 1948. Landis DID star in one film for Eagle-Lion (the very good Out of the Blue), but was certainly alive throughout the filming of Mr. X.
The mansion is actually the Paul Getty house, so if you’re a REAL fan of this film, you can visit the Getty
Museum and see it in all its glory, although I can assure you that there are MANY other more notable
reasons to visit the Getty Museum.
SG: The Image release has lots of scratches and blemishes which is somewhat distracting.
RB: In all, there’s not a lot to recommend this film. The premise is interesting, but the slow structure of the film left me cold, and I was really looking forward to it. I’m going to grant it two stars, and relish the fact that I don’t have to think about it anymore. Lynn Bari was a very capable actress, who deserved better than this kind of drek. Two stars.
SG: I was swept up in the bigness of this drama. These are larger than life characters living in a completely exaggerated and unrealistic world and I was all for it. While I recognize its shortcomings, the pure fun of the film made it an enjoyable three star enterprise.