Renault Capture

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DR. RENAULT’S SECRET is a pretty fine 1942 B-movie horror, really — I watched it some time ago as part of my mad, ever-receding quest to see every film illustrated in Dennis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies. Finally I got around to showing it to Fiona.

The film deals with a mad scientist (George Zucco) in a French village who has fashioned a man — well, J. Carroll Naish — from an ape, in the best Dr. Moreau style. There’s some boring love interest and inappropriate comedy relief from comedy drunk Jack Norton. The real relief — and surprise — comes when Norton gets offed in the night. Then we get Arthur Shields as a detective, who has a great face for horror movies, and Mike Mazurki, Hollywood’s greatest brute-for-hire.

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Detective Shields

The 4F leading man’s name is Shepperd Strudwick, which cracks me up. He’s credited as John Sheppard, though, so he sounds like a lead, looks like a lead, but can’t attract interest like a lead. And the script sabotages him by having him stand by disapprovingly as poor monkeyman Naish is bullied by the villagers. Why doesn’t he intervene? His character has the same problem as many “heroes” in horror movies, from the worthless bystanders in FRANKENSTEIN (John Boles) to the male leads in the early Cronenberg films — he’s basically irrelevant to the action, and if he were able to intervene effectively, there would be no movie. He’s there so that we can have someone “relatable,” as if audiences were known to prefer impotent bores to sneering mad scientists and shambling ape men.

Naish does quite well — “Noel” the “throwback,” now thrown forward up the evolutionary ladder to the putty-faced level of John Mills in RYAN’S DAUGHTER, is a very sympathetic character, despite his occasional murderings. And though the slightly out-of-shape thesp struggles to convey the athletic prowess of a simian superman, the rather weird, uncanny quality Naish always had — you couldn’t cast him as human beings, really — works well here.

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Zucco’s photo album of his experiments is unfortunately a bit more comical than terrifying.

Every five minutes or so there’s a really striking closeup. Director Harry Lachman, on his last movie, did intermittently beautiful things throughout his career, the most famous being the 1935 DANTE’S INFERNO with its astonishing hellscape (at 51.53).

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7 Responses to “Renault Capture”

  1. Naish had a slightly similar gig in “House of Frankenstein”, as a hunchback expecting mad doctor Boris Karloff to transplant his brain into Lon Chaney Jr.’s studly bod, giving him a chance with the hot gypsy girl.

    Worst romantic lead in an old horror movie was Otto Kruger in “Dracula’s Daughter.” His character is such a jerk through much of the movie that you just assume a conventionally worthy hero will arrive to challenge the wrongheaded Kruger and console the heroine when Kruger dies for his jerkitude. But no. After his attempts to cure the title daughter of vampirism fail, he ends up chasing her to the old castle to kill her off.

    A nice chunk of the shipwreck from “Dante’s Inferno” turns up in Universal’s second “Green Hornet” serial. Early on they have Britt Reid sailing home from somewhere when disaster strikes. Shame they couldn’t work in some of the Hell footage for a cliffhanger (cut in shots of GH removing his hat and mopping his brow.)

  2. Kruger wasn’t the romantic lead type. At MGM in one film (THE WOMEN IN HIS LIFE, I think) he played a lawyer so twisted that even when he “reformed” he ended up pimping out his own girlfriend (for an honorable purpose, of course!) In the precode ’30s, I think lawyers were less Clarence Darrow and more William Fallon.

  3. Then in Sirk’s “Magnificent Obsession” Kruger pimped for God.

    Off-Topic: Jack Larson R.I.P.

  4. The Curse of Superman claims another victim!

    Kruger is creepy even in Magnificent Obsession. Probably a nice chap if you knew him, but redolent of weird just-under-the-surface nastiness on screen. Hitchcock had the right idea about how to use him.

  5. kevin mummery Says:

    Oddly enough, Kruger managed to turn down his innate creepiness a notch or two in “Cover Girl”, where he only lusts after Rita Hayworth because she reminds him of her grandmother who Kruger dated when she was Hayworth’s age. Still creepy, but somewhat less so than his usual amount. Who says progress can’t be made, however incremental?

  6. “Cover Girl” is kind of ambiguous. Kruger sets her up with a wealthy young man and you wonder if he’s vicariously taking her or treating her as the daughter he thought he was entitled to have.

    What sets him straight is Hayworth telling him her mother was happy with her choice and her life; rewriting history is unnecessary and unwelcome. It’s that, not Hayworth being creeped out or disinterested.

    Another oddity: The best song in the film “Long Ago and Far Away”, has a lyric that sounds written for Kruger’s character: It’s all about reunion with a long, long lost love. Instead it goes to Kelly, who was never long ago or far away with Hayworth.

    Compare to “Evergreen”, a British film of a Rodgers & Hart show about a young actress who impersonates her mother who retired and died in Australia. She attracts one of her mother’s old suitors; near the end he blandly explains he knew all along and was just helping her pull it off (there’s no hint of this not being the case).

  7. Do you suppose “Long Ago and Far Away” was intended for Kruger, until everyone concerned saw the madness of Otto singing a song in a film where you’ve got Gene Kelly?

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