When Strangers Marry

(1944) William Castle. Film Forum.

Might have had another murder or two, but Commissioner Gordon does make a thematic point about preventing the next murder, as a result of his own failure to prevent future murders in past unresolved cases, which all involved everyday looking guys in shabby suits and a goofy edge in their eye - a description inapplicable to Robert Mitchum, who has the build and eyelids of neither a schlub nor strangler, but acts as both. William Castle uses Mitchum as a grand gimmick for which the actor's richly mesmerizing persona is so fit, in the Castle tradition of Emergo in House on Haunted Hill or Illusion-O in 13 Ghosts. When Strangers Marry Castle is sharp and sly about his gimmicks, and likewise faithful to the topographical gridmap of Manhattan. The wife abets her husband's escape from the city, in a cab to Louisville with a mute bug-eyed old lady, a young mom and her shrieking baby, and the shrieks should have been reproduced in the theater a la Castle’s sound-o-rama tricks in the 1950s. The baby sounds break the man, as the CIA once proved in its Cold War MK-Ultra tortures. When the couple flees the cab, they are where they should be, in Harlem, and they journey south down Lenox Avenue and enter a basement club, where they are the only whites, and a young couple dances majestically, and for a moment, because of the sirens and ruckus at the door, they think they’ve been caught. But the hubbub is caused by the ingress of the Champ, Joe Louis, who just showed up. The Harlem Club is naturalistic in a way not scene much in black&white movies. The smoke and pulp nature of it is Castle’s way of giving the sequence a true, juicy meaning.

Robert Mitchum is cool cool right up until the last mail drop, when he goes wacky in proto-Crispin Glover style. From the Gorilla mask, to the male Regress-O. The silk stockings, originally intended as a gift, become the murder weapon, a salesman killing for cash.

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