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Friday, 10 May 2013

Classic Film Review: Experiment Perilous (1944)

Experiment Perilous stars George Brent as Dr. Huntington Bailey, a man who becomes embroiled in the Bederaux family and suspects murder at the heart of it. He first becomes acquainted with Cissie (Olive Blakeney) during a difficult train journey and she lets slip that she's kept a secret diary about her brother, Nick Bederaux's (Paul Lukas), life. However, she doesn't want to return to his house in New York so she asks Bailey to arrange her a room at his hotel and send her luggage on. He parts from her but later learns that she died soon after her arrival at her brother's home. He visits the house and encounters Bederaux and his nervous wife Allida (Hedy Lamarr). He also finds Cissie's notes on her brother mixed up with his own luggage and finds himself on a quest to discover the truth behind Nick Bederaux.

As a mystery this works quite well. Paul Lukas shows the various sides to Bederaux without much villainous flourish and Hedy Lamarr's portrayal of the anxious Allida is contrasted neatly in flashbacks to how she was in her earlier days with Nick. However, whilst Bailey's attempts to free Allida are understandable, I didn't at all buy the whirlwind romance that has the hardy doctor essentially fall in love at first sight. It felt like an unnecessary strand of plot, though perhaps it was just hugely undeveloped. 

In addition, I felt a little betrayed by the progression of the plot. Cissie was an integral character for the first fifteen minutes of the film and, really, her suspicious death was the most interesting aspect for me. I thought this was swiftly passed over later during the confrontation between Bailey and Bederaux and unjustifiably so. The romance between Allida and Bailey becomes the centre of the plot and dilutes the effect of the confrontation scene somewhat. 

That said, Hedy Lamarr put in an excellent performance, particularly in the flashback scenes without Brent. He was also good but, together, the story seemed to falter. There was one scene, however, which stays in my mind as the most intelligent scene of the film. Bailey is visiting his sculptor friend Clag (Albert Dekker) and they discuss Bederaux while Bailey walks about the studio of half completed heads. If more of the film had been employed in such ways I would've enjoyed it more. As it was, though, I found it to be a tense little mystery, though one that relies too heavily on romance as its solution. 

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