The Amazing Mr. X

September 25, 2011 at 4:47 pm (9 Heads, Amazing Mr. X) (, , , , , , , , )

The Amazing Mr. X – 1948 – United States

While rousing, The Amazing Mr. X’s title is a misnomer—there is no Mr. X. Go figure. Amazing Mr. X is directed by the eclectic and prolific Bernard Vorhaus, a director of many genres including western, adventure, comedy, romance, and crime. Despite sublime gothic ambiance, Amazing Mr. X is usually considered film noir due to cinematography by John Alton. Alton lensed many classic noirs (Bury Me Dead, He Walked by Night, Raw Deal, The Crooked Way, The Big Combo) and wrote Painting With Light (1949), a defining book on noir technique, discussing Amazing Mr. X.

Two wealthy sisters (lovely noir veterans Lynn Bari and Cathy O’Donnell) live in a seaside manor. After 2 years, the older sister still mourns her husband who died in an accident. Strolling on the beach, she fatefully encounters a handsome “psychic” whom astonishingly understands her innermost thoughts. Soon they are meeting regularly to contact her former husband’s spirit. Of course, the psychic is a fraud, creating illusions through a devious system of informants, one-way mirrors, cameras, projectors, radios, air pumps, and trap doors. The younger sister tries to debunk him but instead falls for his charms. Several interesting twists convolute a winding plot climaxing in blazing gunfire.

Cinematographer John Alton is Amazing Mr. X’s best asset. Combining noir style with horror atmosphere, his shadowy layered compositions and dynamic camera angles utterly engross. An especially chilling moment: The older sister and her boyfriend kiss in her darkened room. A painting of her former husband watches, the face illuminated by a single point of light. In another noteworthy bit, a gun-wielding shadow creeps behind the older sister. Amusingly, it is revealed to be the younger sister holding a hairbrush. Also check out the ethereal optical effects used to create the wavering phantasmal figures. Very cool.

Similarly, the cast provides excellent performances, particularly Turhan Bey (dubbed “The Turkish Delight” by fans) as the suavely sinister psychic. Also see Richard Carlson, later in The Maze (1953), It Came From Outer Space (1953), and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). But my favorite is the uncredited detective, unconsciously executing endless sleight of hand tricks as he talks.

I really dig Amazing Mr. X. A few bits amuse unintentionally and its implied sexism is outmoded, but it deserves more recognition. Unfortunately, the video versions are transferred from a weary print with missing frames and out-of-focus sections. But that’s a small detriment to Amazing Mr. X’s outstanding quality—a delight for noir and horror fans both.

Rating: 9/10 Shrunken Heads. See it with Nightmare Alley (1947) for a phony spiritualist noir double feature.

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