Edgar G. Ulmer's gentle joke erects Hamlet on Poverty Row, casting a spindly brooder "with too much on my mind." Rimbaud's Ophelia ("Strange rumors to your dreaming mind...") informs the prologue, Jimmy Lyndon's nights plagued by visions of a shadowy usurper, a crashing train, Schumann, a lion's head on a bracelet. The reverie is recounted to his doctor (Regis Toomey) en route to a fishing trip but a letter from beyond, mailed after the death of Lyndon's father, brings the boy back home for a splash of unexhumed Oedipal intrigue. Mom (Sally Eilers) is being courted by a smooth lizard (Warren William) who turns out to be the father's criminal nemesis; Lyndon, a budding criminologist, uncloaks him as the dark figure in his dream in the midst of a dinner party, a hallucination revisited by Bertolucci in Luna. The rest proceeds as a "mental shock," Ulmer films it accordingly -- reason can only reach so far, an incantatory anecdote is told by moonlight and reflected on dark water, the car chase from Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler is reproduced as grandly as the budget will allow. Lyndon reads aloud from the criminal file on William, the camera slowly tracks left across the desk and tilts up to meet the stern gaze of the patriarch on a mammoth painting; undercover in an asylum to uncover William's scheme, the hero instead phones his gal: "Hey vixen, what's mixin'?" The pangs of adolescence sting doubly in Ulmer's universe, where the father's grip is felt from beyond the grave and the mother's love becomes part of "the perfect crime" -- closure can come only in the shape of a nightmare revisited and confronted. With Charles Arnt, George Reed, and Jayne Hazard. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce