Thursday, February 05, 2009

Strange Confession

Strange Confession posterStrange Confession (1945) is part of the Inner Sanctum Mysteries series, a franchise of mystery, terror, and suspense programs popular in the 1940s. This story begins with a terrified and suspicious looking man carrying a bag through the streets of a city at night, hiding from policemen in alleys when they pass. The man calls at the house of a successful lawyer, Mr. Brandon, and asks to talk to him. Despite the late hour, the lawyer agrees. The man, who is covered in sweat and has a feverish, desperate look in his eyes, reveals himself to be Jeffrey Carter, a former schoolmate of Brandon's. He begs his host to listen to him--"just listen"--and Brandon agrees, but not before he has told his butler to call the police. Carter opens his bag and reveals a man's head; seemingly unaware of Brandon's horror, he begins his tale with a faraway look in his eyes.

Here begins the flashback to Jeffrey Carter's story. He is a brilliant chemist, working for successful businessman Roger Graham. Graham steals all of Carter's ideas and profits from his intelligence without giving Jeffrey any credit or even a raise for his work. But Carter doesn't care; he is happy to work for mankind, for the progress of humanity. He has a lovely wife and a five-year old son named Tommy at home. They do not have much money, much to Mrs. Carter's dismay, but they are happy. One day Carter and Graham have an altercation at the laboratory: Graham wants to start producing a drug for which the chemist hasn't finished the formula. Carter finally stands up to Graham's bullying and resigns. He takes a job as a pharmacist earning much less, but continues his work as a chemist in a makeshift lab in his bathroom. One New Year's Eve, Graham visits the Carters and asks his former employee to return to his old job at whatever terms Carter wants. Although Carter initially refuses, suspicious of Graham's true motive, his wife convinces him to agree, so that the family can have a better style of life.

With Carter back in Graham's lab, things change for the Carter family. They have a large and comfortable house and a housekeeper, Mrs. Carter has some fine clothes, and they are invited to dinners at Graham's luxurious home. In the lab, Carter has almost perfected a cure-all drug called Zymergine. The animal tests have a 75% cure rate, but this is not enough for Carter. To perfect the drug, he needs a special mould found only in South America. Graham kindly agrees to send Carter away so he can finish his work; however, his real motives are far from benevolent. Graham is in love with Mrs. Carter, and wants Jeffrey off the scene. Furthermore, Graham wants to begin production of Zymergine in its unfinished form so that he can profit from a recent influenza outbreak, and must dispose of Jeffrey as quickly as possible. So Jeffrey and his assistant go down to South America while Graham starts producing and selling Zymergine. While Jeffrey is gone, little Tommy falls very ill with influenza. Mrs. Carter, who has just received a letter from her husband declaring his final completion of the Zymergine drug, goes to the drugstore to buy the medicine. She doesn't know that she has bought the unfinished version sold unscrupulously by Graham. After administering the drug to Tommy, he dies. Meanwhile, down in South America, Carter is at the local supply store responding to a telegram from his wife. By chance, he sees that the store carries Zymergine, and realizes that Graham has begun manufacturing a fraudulent version of the drug. He sends a telegram to home warning of the fake medicine, then he and his assistant hop on the next ship for the USA.

Back at home, Mrs. Carter receives Jeffrey's telegram and realizes Tommy's death is Graham's fault. Hiding a gun in her purse, she goes to Graham's house to seek revenge. Just after she leaves, Jeffrey Carter barges into the house looking for her and his housekeeper tells him the unfortunate news of his son's death. Enraged, he also heads for his boss's house. At Mr. Graham's, Mrs. Carter pretends to fall for Graham's efforts to seduce her until the moment is right; then she points the gun at him and tells him what he's done. Suddenly Jeffrey arrives, ready to avenge his son's death. In the fight that ensues, Jeffrey is shot, but in his crazed grief he leaps upon Graham and saws his head off with an ornamental sword that hangs above the mantle piece. The flashback is over, and we are back at Mr. Brandon's house, as Jeffrey is saying, "I felt my brain was in his head, and I knew I needed his head to get it back again." Mrs. Carter shows up with three policemen and Jeffrey Carter is taken away, but not before Mr. Brandon agrees to do everything he can to defend him.

Not exactly a "horror" movie as described, but then again nothing in this film is very exact. Especially nothing about South America. There are no details regarding where in South America Jeffrey and his assistant are sent. All we see is a jungle and a rickety shack housing Jeffrey's laboratory. The animals upon which he conducts his tests are monkeys, which are plausibly South American. His assistant jovially throws a few misused words of Spanish into the conversation--another South American element. Finally, the owner of the supply shop, fittingly named José, is a dark man with a black handlebar moustache and a strong accent. South America is a generic, flat environment without any particular descriptive elements. In this film, the most specific thing about South America is the mould that grows there.

For Jeffrey, South America holds the key to his formula, something that cannot be found in the United States. The Latin American jungle holds the cure for a deadly disease; it is the hope of medicine. For Graham, South America is merely a distant place he can send the people that stand in his way. He doesn't care or even know where Jeffrey is going, but South America is good enough for him as long as it is far away. It seems even farther because of the time period; lack of communication technology makes Jeffrey blind and deaf to the troubles occurring back home. South America isolates him completely. It is this vague continent "down there"'s distance from the United States that is its most defining trait.

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