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Calling Dr. Death (1943) April 19th, 2020

Originally a radio show, the Inner Sanctum Mysteries jumped to the film medium like a Tales from the Crypt precursor with 6 films starring Lon Chaney Jr. We chose to watch this movie for two reasons. First it was the next on the list and second, the 18th was the last day of National Telecommunicators Week which we decided to celebrate one day late by watching a movie with a title that vaguely indicated it might involve a telephone. Cue Calling Dr. Death! What a great title…

…to bamboozle me! Yeah, that’s right, not only does this movie have nothing to do with telecommunications but Lon Chaney Jr.’s character isn’t even named Dr. Death! Also, I kinda doubt he’s even a doctor. With a name like that I expect the literalness of a Dick Tracy crook or Jack Kevorkian. All Dr. Death does is hypnotize women into speaking to him. I guess that’s what doctors could get away with in the 40’s, now-a-days you’d just have a reality show on VH1 (by now-a-days I apparently mean 2007, am I the only one who remembers the train wreck that was The Pickup Artist?). So if this movie isn’t about a death doctor making house calls, or any other calls, then what is it about?

Nonsense, it’s about nonsense. Lon Chaney Jr. plays a psychiatrist who might just be a hypnotist in a white coat with the hippocratic oath ironically mounted on his office door. Where’s the harm in grifting rich imbeciles? They feel better and Lon gets richer, no one’s worse for wear. Everything would be swell if he hadn’t married a two-timing gold-digger who had the nerve to go off and get murdered leaving all evidence pointing to Chaney as the prime suspect! Gasp! How much suspense can they cram into 63 minutes? More. The answer is always more.

Spoilers (you do not care about me spoiling this film. See? You don’t do you? Irrefutable proof that hypnosis works): His secretary murdered his wife in a jealous plot to get Chaney all to herself. That is repeatedly the most outlandish commonality of the Inner Sanctum Mysteries films. I’ve seen only Weird Woman and Dead Man’s Eyes in the series but my memory is it’s always the same. Lon Chaney Jr. always plays a wrongly accused lady killer who’s irresistible to women. I will report back on this when I finish the series, which I will do, there’s no way I’m skipping over promising titles like The Frozen Ghost and Pillow of Death… unless they’re just as misleading as Calling Dr. Death… Damn. I should’ve saved Sorry, Wrong Number for National Telecommunicators Week. I should really plan these quintessential holiday tie in films ahead of time.

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