Friday, May 5, 2017

'Invisible Ghost' - Bela Lugosi's first Monogram film

Review by Steve D. Stones

Thank goodness for Kino Lorber Video. They are a top of the line New York company who is dedicated to digitally restoring and distributing classic forgotten horror  films in the DVD and Blu-Ray format. Many of the films they distribute are in the public domain.  Kino Lorber's print of Invisible Ghost (1941) (buy it here) is sharp and beautiful, unlike the worn out quality of public domain prints.

Bela Lugosi plays kindly Dr. Kessler who thinks his wife has died and roams his home as a ghost. She appears at his window at night, causing him to go into a strange trance to commit murders.  Mrs. Kessler is actually held as a hostage by the gardener in the garage cellar of the Kessler mansion. She suffers from brain damage due to an automobile accident.

Dr. Kessler's first victim is the young maid, Cecile Mannix.  Mannix was once romantically involved with Ralph Dickson, played by John McGuire.  Dickson is the fiance of Kessler's daughter Virginia. Because of their romantic involvement, Dickson is accused of the murder and executed.

Ralph's brother Paul arrives to unravel the mystery as to why his brother was blamed for the murder. He is mistaken at first as the ghost of his deceased brother because the two look so much alike. Paul soon discovers that Kessler is the murderer.  Kessler is later arrested after going through a trance.

Some of the humor in the film is a bit politically incorrect for our time. For example, after Kessler's black butler Evans, played by Claurence Muse, mistakes Ralph's brother Paul for Ralph, he asks the gardener "Do I look pale? I sure feel pale." This is meant to be a strange joke with regard to Evans' skin color.

The film was also known as Murder By The Stars and The Phantom Monster. During production, it was known as The Phantom Killer. Producer Sam Katzman and actor Bela Lugosi made a total of nine films together for Monogram Pictures. Invisible Ghost is their first and considered one of their best.

As with all of Lugosi's work, he is a true professional in Invisible Ghost and gives a great performance. Even his more hammy scenes of walking slowly with his coat stretched out to strangle his victims seems to work in the film.  He dines at a long table, pretending to  speak with the spirit of his wife at the other end of the table as they both enjoy a meal.  A bit campy, but still fun to watch.

Speaking of Kino Lorber, don't miss their Blu-Ray print of Lugosi's 1931 horror classic - White Zombie. This is a must have for any serious fan of classic horror films. Like Invisible Ghost, the print is sharp and beautiful. Happy viewing. (Watch a non-Blu-Ray version above).

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