Halloween Watch: Strangler of the Swamp (1946)
Once again, join Adam and Samantha in their Halloween viewing.
S: Strangler of the Swamp is an eerie story about a small-town legend. A man was hanged for a crime he did not commit. Before he died, he threatened the family of the man who gave false testimony against him, vowing to curse them all. Since then, several men have died, all strangled in some fashion, but in plausible ways so as to have been written off as accidents. The townspeople know better. They say it is the curse, and that the strangler of the swamp will get them all someday.
While the story is solid, and the cinematography is good, this film is lacking in many ways.
A: I would not recommend it to most people, but it’s a movie I hold dear. It’s so obviously created in a studio and yet I get lost in the fantasy every time. It’s what I imagine The Wizard of Oz would look like if it had 1/1000 the budget and was written, directed, and produced by death-obsessed Germans. The sets are dark, enveloped in fog, and there seems to be no ground nor sky, just a black abyss. For a movie that revolves around a ferry, there’s hardly any water--just the strange illusion of the ferry being floated back and forth. All the talk of the bog town’s Halloween dance (ha!) and young love are so out of tune. These characters cannot exist outside of this fake swamp. The 1945 Los Angeles Times review complained that none of the “swamp dwellers” even have a Southern accent. I would counter that criticism with the question, does this even take place in the South? Or even this world?
Maybe one reason the movie’s setting is indistinct is the director Frank Wisbar had only been in the country a few years. He was an established director in Germany leading up to World War 2. From what I’ve seen of the early work, especially the films starring Sybille Schmitz, they’re striking and melancholic. Die Unbekannte deserves to be restored. Strangler is a remake of Fährmann Maria. Unlike the PRC Picture, it is a fully realized work and I would recommend to just about anyone.
S: I was surprised this was an Image Entertainment release because the print was murky and suggested a low-quality source. Is that typical of PRC? I am not super familiar with this studio's output.
A: PRC does have that reputation, but I have a feeling if somebody went back to the original elements, like the Academy Film Archive did with Detour, these movies would clean up nicely. I agree, the Image DVD is ugly.
S: Rosemary La Planche plays the granddaughter of the old ferryman and she takes over running the ferry when, upon arrival she is told her grandfather just died days before. The townspeople warn her that it is a dangerous job, and not one for a woman, but she persists. La Planche is pretty, but she is a wooden actress.
She attracts the attention of Chris, the son of a prominent man in the town who deliberately sent his son away in home of sparing his life. He is played by Blake Edwards who went on to greater fame as a prolific comedy writer, penning things like The Pink Panther, The Great Race and one of my favorite series: Richard Diamond, Private Detective (for both radio and television). He is adequate as an actor, but it is fortunate for us he never caught on in the profession and turned to writing instead.
A: Rosemary La Planche was Miss America 1941! She is also in Devil Bat’s Daughter where she plays the daughter of devil bat. I’m also fond of that PRC blockbuster although I don’t know if I could write up any sort of coherent defense of it. I've seen plenty of Peter Gunn but somehow I've never seen/heard Richard Diamond. It sounds great!
In Cincinnati, Strangler played on a double bill with Roy Rogers’ Sunset in El Dorado. After the gloomy claustrophobia of the horror movie, a friendly open-air cowboy picture would hit the spot.
I’m always curious how ‘B’ movies were exhibited—how they were promoted, what theaters they played, and what titles they were paired up with on double bills. There’s a 1947 Motion Picture Herald item that describes the ballyhoo the theater manager of the Royal in Atchinson, Kansas did for the double bill of Bedlam and Strangler of the Swamp. They had a doorman “dressed in swamp clothes” descend from the stage into the audience while an usherette got on a microphone to raise the alarm that “The Strangler” was loose. The theater also offered a cash award to the woman who could endure both pictures all alone starting at the stroke of midnight. I’m sure it was hokey even at the time but reading that reminded me that watching films at home is strictly second rate. I miss going to the movies.
Incidentally, the last movie I saw in a theater prior to the pandemic was with you. We saw the new restoration of Revenge of Frankenstein at the Wexner Center. That movie was a bloody good time.
S: Yes, I always look forward to that wintertime festival they do. There are usually some really great movies.
I found the build-up of this film to be exciting, but the ending disappointed me. Maybe I'm jaded by modern movies, but I wanted some sort of a twist or shocking revelation. This was too straightforward for my taste.
2 mellowcreme pumpkins.
A: Just like mellowcreme pumpkins, this one is not to everyone’s taste. But I’m giving it 4 pumpkins.