Strange Impersonation (Anthony Mann / U.S., 1946):

Anthony Mann and surrealism. Brenda Marshall offers a definition of the medium ("dreams and fantasies, normal or otherwise"), to which the director adds a note of cruel combustion -- scientist Marshall is in her laboratory, fiancÚ William Gargan sneaks up on her and the chemicals she's mixing catch fire for a second or so. "Leave the science at the lab," she's told, but she decides to try out her experimental anesthetic on herself at home; she injects the serum in her veins and dozes off, her assistant (Hillary Brooke) wants Gargan for herself and sets the room ablaze. The heroine awakens bandaged at the clinic, Mann shoots the ensuing daze astonishingly, with images of decay, mirror compositions, clinical surfaces and scarred flesh, everything quick and cheap for a dark, hard Republic Pictures gem. Brooke deftly maneuvers Gargan out of Marshall's life, then escorts her home, where the disfigurement is unveiled in a lacerating close-up that would be jack-o-lanternish if it weren't so taciturn. The first half provides an instructive crossroads between Mann and Lang (Fury is recalled, The Big Heat anticipated), the second half proceeds from A Woman's Face toward Eyes Without a Face, Jailbait, The Hunger -- a blackmailer (Ruth Ford) takes a swan dive out a balcony, Marshall takes her name and face, then infiltrates the traitor's home and marriage. It's a woman's perverse world out there, full of paranoia, doubles, and wormy ambulance-chasers, with the moral center a former Christ (H.B. Warner) turned plastic surgeon and given bony homilies ("You can change a face... but you cannot change yourself"). With George Chandler, and Lyle Talbot. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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