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Strange Confession (1945) May 9th, 2020

Strange Confession is an odd addition to the Inner Sanctum Mystery series. It’s missing the melodramatic intrigue and whodunit plot typical of the previous films. No, Strange Confession‘s story is probably the best of the 5 so far. The first half is dreadfully dull and makes you want to stop watching, and then an unsettlingly topical tragedy unfolds as the film begins to lay out it’s damning omen. Like an ancient dark prophecy Strange Confession warns of the very realistic terror in rushing a miracle influenza drug to market before adequate trials have proven its efficacy and safe for public consumption.

Lon Chaney Jr. plays Jeff (I can’t remember his last name, they say his first name 1000 times and IMDB doesn’t have his surname listed either) a chemical scientist specializing in the creation of novel pharmaceuticals. Jeff is always at odds with his money hungry boss and eventually quits his job in protest for the unethical business practices of his company. Eventually he’s rehired and put back to work with the promise that his lab will have all the resources to meet his personally high standards of medical ethics.

Eventually his boss sends him to South America to search for a rare fungus necessary to complete his latest influenza medicine and Jeff couldn’t be happier. While Jeff is gone his bachelor boss begins taking Jeff’s wife out on dates to dinner and the theater, they become very friendly and you could say overly familiar. At one point the boss even suggests he has some sort of hypnotic power of suggestion over Jeff’s wife, but that’s immediately proven false and never addressed again… regardless, in Jeffs absence his boss has rushed an incomplete version of the influenza medication to market without proper testing just in time for a huge wave of the disease to hit the country. Pretty good time to be in the miracle influenza business right?

About this time Jeff and his lab mate have just cracked the code and created a complete formula that’s proven 100% effective in their trials. He sends word home but it’s too late, massive amounts of the drug are already on the market and it’s too late to pull them off the shelves, we’ll change the formula in the next production cycle, no harm no foul. Only people who took the faulty drug start dying including Jeffs only son. Only he doesn’t know it yet, he’s just learned the dangerous version of the drug has been sent all over the world and people are buying as much of it as they can, it’s a bad bug going around after all and this is supposed to be a miracle cure. “Take it, what do you have to lose?”

Furious over the loss of her son, Jeff’s wife decides to pay his boss a lethal visit. Completely oblivious to the countless deaths he’s caused, Jeff’s boss confesses his love for Jeff’s wife and begs her to come run away with him. Nah, that’s not going to happen. She pulls out her gun and prepares to shoot him only to have the gun wrestled away from her feeble grasp. She announces the death of her son and Jeff’s boss is shocked at the news, but not nearly as shocked as he is when Jeff enters the room, grabs a sword off the wall and cuts off his boss’ head right there in his sitting room.

I was shocked by this film. Not by the violence or the performances or anything. I was shocked at how far our collective commitment to medical best practices have devolved since 1945. I called this blog the Quarantined Critic because we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. Duh, you’ve no doubt figured out that riddle. I even started by cheekily reviewing Outbreak (Terrible movie). I never expected the situation to get this dire. We’ll have 80K deaths in the United States by Monday and in the last month we’ve seen the President of the United States advocate for less testing, putting disinfectant into your body and the wide spread use of hydroxychloroquine despite not being or having the support of medical professionals. Every time Lon Chaney Jr. says something righteous like “We can’t rush this drug to market, people might die.” I recoil in my seat. “We can’t put lives before profit.” I pull the sheets up over my head. “You’ve killed hundreds of people with your recklessness!” I put my head in my hands and wish this would all end, both the movie and the pandemic. I don’t think he actually says any of that in the movie exactly but it’s definitely the gist of his character’s morality.

This movie was, as we like to say in my house, “Too Real”. Maybe I experienced it exactly as intended when in was released in 1945. The real risks of new industrially manufactured drugs with ever increasing complexity and effects, both direct and side, must’ve been as frightening as they ever are in 1945. Thalidomide was still 10 years out. I can’t really speak too much to that time but I can say my days of laughing at silly pandemic movies like Outbreak might be over.

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