What an odd film to have as part of a horror marathon of sorts, wouldn’t you agree? Nominated for an Oscar, this movie comes from the pile of oddities, let’s see what I think.
One can only understand the fame of a radio presenter as Kay Kyser was when one understands that there was nothing more similar to the task of what TV did and does today than radio in those years. It was entertainment, it was direct integration between audience and the makers of the entertainment, it was a direct link, and only then one could understand the jump that a presenter as popular as Kyser does to the movies, where he plays himself, profiting on his radio personality strengths while at the same time he actually manages to be strong enough a performer to outweigh the antagonists present here, which are Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre, each of them playing their archetypical roles in a way that only enforces the spoof air that the movie leaves around as it plays the murder in the haunted house trope for laughs, most of the time.
The plot is thin enough to set the things in motion. One of the talents that works with Kay Kyser in his weekly radio show is in love with a college girl that’s about to turn 21, and she’s throwing a big party at the creepy house of her aunt, where she’s managed to get not only Kay Kyser but his whole band and routines to play privately at the house of this girl whose lineage might be a bit too posh for her own liking. It’s there that she’s starting to be subjected to assassination attempts by strange and seemingly supernatural forces, which might be connected to the death of her father, something that has marked her life. The film starts with a potpourri of popular songs, and it constantly stops the action short to introduce new songs from different performers. This is a musical, ladies and gentlemen, but not a natural one, it’s one of those where the songs are the selling point in terms of their performativity, instead of how they are integrated to the plot. By the third song I was already tired though, it’s not something I like at all.
But the high point is the presence of Bela Lugosi as a fake medium, Boris Karloff as a judge who’s behind the assassination attempts towards his niece, and Peter Lorre who plays a fake investigator who is supposedly there to bring Lugosi’s character down so the aunt can wake up from her fake-trance induced stupor. The film is quite plain in most scenes, specially in the musical ones, but there are two seance scenes that actually manage to bring forward some scary imagery, even though we know that the whole thing is being faked, but there are some floating heads, some electricity, some woobly sounds here and there that manage to be interesting enough so the whole thing doesn’t go to waste. It’s actually great to see these three wonderful actors together (apparently for the only time at least on film), but this is more a curiosity than anything remotely essential.