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THE DARK EYES OF LONDON (1939)
[aka The Human Monster]
very few words beginning with M-U-R, and one of them is---”
Director: Walter Summers
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Hugh Williams, Greta Gynt, Edmon Ryan, Wilfred Walter, Alexander Field, Arthur E. Owen, Gerald Pring, O. B. Clarence
Screenplay: Patrick Kirwan, Walter Summers, John F. Argyle and Jay Van Lusil, based upon the novel by Edgar Wallace
Pressure is brought to bear upon
Scotland Yard after a wave of drowning deaths that seem too frequent to
all be accidental – or even suicide. Particularly agitated are the
insurance underwriters who have been compelled to pay out on each and
every one of the drowning victims, each one of whom held a policy for a
significant amount. Several inspectors from the CID are dispatched to
examine the policies and the companies issuing them. In addition,
Detective Inspector Larry Holt (Hugh Williams) reports that a forger
named Fred Grogan (Alexander Field), extradited from the United States,
will be arriving in two days under escort. At the office of the
Greenwich Insurance Company, the head of the company, Dr Feodor Orloff (Bela
Lugosi), writes out a cheque for two thousand pounds, a loan for a man
called Henry Stuart (Gerald Pring), who assures Orloff that he will be
paid backed as soon as an invention of his is purchased by the
government, and that he is willing to sign any kind of bond. As Stuart
is doing so, the conversation turns to Orloff’s work to support a home
for the destitute blind, run by one Mr Dearborn, himself a blind man.
Orloff tells Stuart that if he really wishes to express his gratitude
for the loan, he should make a donation – or better yet, pay the home a
visit. He reinforces this suggestion with a hard look into Stuart’s
eyes, and the flat statement that he
will visit the home, the
following evening.... As soon as Stuart has gone, Orloff summons his
secretary and orders that when Grogan has his court appearance, his bail
is to be paid; he also gives her an advertisement to be placed in the
newspapers. Orloff then prepares a message in Braille and, having
wrapped the strip of paper around a coin, throws it from a window to
where a blind and dumb man named Lou (Arthur E. Owen) plays the violin
on the street to support himself. Lou collects the message, and moves
off down the street.... Holt calls upon Orloff, explaining that an
ongoing investigation requires the inspection of a number of insurance
companies, and asking to see his books. Orloff hesitates, but complies.
Holt asks after two of the drowning victims in particular, asking to see
their policies and noting the beneficiaries. That evening, Lou makes his
way to Dearborn’s Home for the Destitute Blind, where he is greeted
warmly by Jake (Wilfred Walter), a hulking individual with a disfigured
face. Lou gives the Braille message from Orloff to Jake, who nods his
understanding and leads Lou into the dining-room of the home, when the
residents are gathered to hear grace before their evening meal. Jake,
however, makes his way up the attic, where he begins filling a metal
tank with water.... Henry Stuart arrives to inspect the home. Admitted
by Lou, he asks for Dearborn but is instead greeted by Dr Orloff, who
explains that Dearborn has been called away and that he will give the
tour. As the two men move away, Lou, unseen, slips something into
Stuart’s pocket.... Stuart is shown the dining-area, and the open room
in which the home’s residents weave baskets, which are sold to provide
them with an income. Impressed, he remarks that he wishes his daughter
could see Dearborn’s work – at which Orloff, startled, comments that he
thought Stuart had no family.
Stuart explains that his daughter has been in America, but is now on her
way home. Orloff then invites Stuart to see the clinic at the top of the
house, where he provides medical care for the residents. Stuart walks
into the room, recoiling at the sight of Jake, who stalks towards him
with a straitjacket in his hands. Stuart tries to run, but Orloff swings
the door shut. There is a despairing scream....
Comments: Though it’s impossible to tell from the substandard prints that are the way that the film is most readily viewable today, when The Dark Eyes Of London was first released it was kind of a big deal – certainly in England, where in spite of his death some seven years earlier, the name Edgar Wallace still carried a real cachet. Released in 1924, the novel The Dark Eyes Of London had been a best-seller, and there were many people eagerly anticipating its transfer to the screen, particularly when word broke that the film was to star Bela Lugosi, who arrived in England in March of 1939 to great public interest – which is odd when you stop and think about it.
This wasn’t Bela’s first trip to England, but it was
the more successful of the two. He’d been there before in the early
thirties, a trip that yielded only the mostly forgotten thriller,
The Mystery Of The Marie Celeste
Phantom Ship (which
ought to be remembered, if
for nothing else, for being made by Hammer Film Productions) and
garnered him little attention despite his visit coinciding with the peak
of the thirties horror boom. However, this peak was also the beginning
of the end. Although the H-certificate, restricting audiences to sixteen
years and upwards, had been introduced in 1932, largely as a result of
Frankenstein, the increasing
daring of the genre over the next few years finally produced a backlash
that effectively killed the market for horror movies in England,
particularly after the previously “advisory” H-rating became legally
enforced – and which in turn saw the production of genre films dry up in
Hollywood, as financially it was no longer worth it. This had the
unintended side-effect of opening up the field for
British-produced horror – or
at least “thrillers” – and as it turned out,
The Dark Eyes Of London was
the first British production to carry the enforced H-rating .
Of course, if there’s one thing we know about Homo sapiens, it’s that you only have to tell people they can’t have something to make them clamour for it. Bela Lugosi’s arrival in England in early 1939 just happened to coincide with the re-release of Dracula and Frankenstein, the double-bill doing smash business there as it had in America, in spite of the severe censoring of the two films. The name “Bela Lugosi” was news; and upon his arrival in the country the actor found himself the pleased beneficiary of a great deal of newspaper attention and even of a reception at the Waldorf.
(One of the guests at that reception was Hamilton Deane, who had originally adapted Dracula into a play, and who by that time had achieved his ambition of playing the lead roll himself, in a series of revivals. But what was the culmination of a dream for Deane was an admission of defeat for Lugosi who, when his career nosedived, ended up re-donning the cape to support himself, including on the London stage. This third visit to England also produced Mother Riley Meets The Vampire, the less said about which, the better. [Which is my way of saying I’ll probably write a twenty-page review of it someday....])
The Dark Eyes Of London premiered in England in November of 1939 to generally very positive reviews. Curiously, given both the prevailing attitude to the horror genre and the film being released in the wake of, um, that other thing that had happened in 1939, many of the reviews commented what a good thing it was that the film had been produced under H-certificate, as this had allowed the film-makers to “let rip” with the various horrors dreamed up by Edgar Wallace.
These days, however, we are likely to tag The Dark Eyes Of London as very marginal horror at worst. Oh, some horrifying things do happen in it, but “horror”, per se, is largely centred in the alarming figure of Jake, whose image dominates the advertising art for this film, even to the exclusion of Lugosi, and whose disfigurement is never explained – his initial loyalty to Orloff ruling out the obvious explanation.
This is, rather, one of Edgar Wallace’s convoluted masquerade plots, with a supposedly respectable member of society unmasked as the head of a criminal enterprise. The film tips its hand about Orloff to the audience, at least up to a point, well before the good guys figure it out, which is all for the best because, let’s face it, with Lugosi you’re not fooling anyone. This film never goes to the extreme of “kindly Dr Carruthers”, but our very first glimpse of the equally kindly Dr Orloff makes it amusingly apparent who the villain of the piece is – even before Orloff goes into a rant against the fools in the medical profession who ruined his career.
The rest of the film plays out as a police procedural
as much as anything else – the police were often the heroes of Wallace’s
stories, as opposed to the amateur detectives admired by his
contemporaries – and there is a pleasing emphasis on scientific methods
in the investigation. There’s also a light love-plot, which is never
allowed to get in the way of the story, and a certain amount of comic
relief in the form of Lt Patrick O’Reilly of Chicago; although I’m
pleased and relieved to be able to report that the film never stoops to
any really crass culture clash material, as it could have so very easily
have done, and thus avoids the epithet “odious”. The low budget
shows at pretty much every turn, leaving us with one of those films that
consists predominantly of scenes of men in hats talking in bare rooms;
yet overall there are enough creepy / odd / amusing moments to carry the
production lightly through its brief running-time.
The low budget shows at pretty much every turn, leaving us with one of those films that consists predominantly of scenes of men in hats talking in bare rooms; yet overall there are enough creepy / odd / amusing moments to carry the production lightly through its brief running-time.
The Dark Eyes Of London opens with what was by this time the almost compulsory close-up of Bela Lugosi’s eyes (later revealed as “blue” rather than “dark”, by the way) before showcasing the production’s two big names, Lugosi himself and Edgar Wallace. Everyone else connected with the film is effectively relegated to the status of “also with”, although Hugh Williams and Greta Gynt were both popular at the time and would certainly have helped to sell the film on its home soil. The open credits also carry the rather intriguing comment, The producers gratefully acknowledge the co-operation of the National Institute for the Blind, presumably with regard to such things as the use of the Stainsby machine. The film also emphasises the importance to the blind of supporting themselves through their own labour...although we do also have the tiny detail of a home for the blind being used as a front for a serial killer.
The Dark Eyes Of London doesn’t waste any time getting down to business: its first post-credits shots are of a dead body floating in the Thames: a sequence no doubt jolting in 1939, but which today tends to evoke Alfred Hitchcock’s promotional work for Frenzy. It turns out that there have been five unexplained drowning deaths in London over the previous eight months, and the heat – somewhat tardily – is being turned on Scotland Yard. Although no individual death has raised suspicion, collectively they’re enough to provoke a protesting wail from the insurance underwriters compelled to fork out on them – each of the dead people being insured for a tidy sum. The Commissioner is quite frank about the situation: “The Home Office is kicking, and I’m handing the kicks on to you.”
Most of those kicks land on Detective Inspector Larry Holt, in charge of the sector in which three of the drowning victims have turned up. Holt is held back after his colleagues have been dismissed, and asked about the extradition of Fred Grogan, a forger, who Holt reports will be arriving from America in two days’ time. The Commissioner, in turn, tells Holt that Grogan will be escorted by one Lt O’Reilly, who will be staying to observe the “antiquated” British police methods. “I’ll attach him to you,” concludes the Commissioner. “Then he won’t learn anything.”
If we had any doubt about this being a British production in spirit as well as geography, we get it here, as after one hard breath and a, “Yes, sir,” uttered through clenched teeth, Holt makes his way to his own office, slams the door (which doesn’t catch, but hey, no time or money for re-takes here), and---orders a pot of tea.
At the Greenwich Insurance Company, Dr Feodor Orloff is writing out a cheque for a man called Henry Stuart, rather than the other way around. He does get Stuart to sign a note acknowledging the debt – in the process collecting a specimen of his signature.
Stuart is deeply grateful for the loan, which he promises to repay as soon as possible, and his gushing over Orloff’s kindness and generosity leads to a discussion of his charity work – which, we learn, is his way of helping mankind, his first-chosen path, the medical profession, having been effectively barred to him.
Ah, a Lugosi rant! – how I love a good Lugosi rant! If you see The Dark Eyes Of London for nothing else, folks, see it for this scene. It may not be about “a forsaken jungle hell”, but it ain’t bad, either:
“I wanted to devote my life to the healing of mankind. I wanted to be a doctor. But they got together, those narrow-minded, prejudiced medical men, to see how they could ruin me! [*chuckles*] ‘Brilliant but unbalanced’ – that was the verdict. And so – I serve the blind....”
So, his medical career thwarted, Orloff decided to revenge himself upon mankind by becoming – an insurance broker?
Here we learn about the Dearborn Home for the Destitute Blind, with Orloff suggesting – very strongly – that Stuart visit there the following evening. This is oddly executed: we certainly assume that Stuart is having the standard Lugosi-whammy put on him here, but he replies to Orloff quite normally, with no hesitation or slow speech or blank eyes to suggest that he has been influenced, which rather begs the question of why he doesn’t seem to notice anything odd about Orloff’s manner. But maybe he’s just being very British. And maybe Orloff just thinks he has mind-control powers.
Orloff’s secretary, played by an unspeaking Julie Suedo, enters here; and again, oddness prevails. Orloff certainly puts the whammy on her at one point, and there are times when she appears to be “under the influence”, as it were; but there are other times when she appears to be acting entirely of her own volition – and it doesn’t really seem determined by the immediate nefariousness of Orloff’s actions. For example, his first order to her, without explanation or whammy, is to pay Grogan’s bail when he has his court appearance, so presumably she knows who Grogan is and all about his connection with Orloff.
(I choose to stick with the “Orloff is delusional” reading, and imagine that this poor woman is playing along with him simply in order to keep her job.)
The Stainsby machine makes its first appearance here, as we watch Orloff (or his hand-double) type out a message in Braille. All through this sequence there has been violin music in the background, belatedly explained when the departing Stuart drops a coin into the collection tin of the musician, declared by a sign around his neck to be both dumb and blind.
Now, Orloff takes the strip of paper with the Braille message, wraps it around a coin, and tosses it out the window – which doesn’t seem like the most efficient means of communication, particularly when the small package lands in a puddle. Be that as it may, the violinist, Lou by name, gropes around until he finds it, tucks it into a pocket, and immediately taps his way off down the street.
Inspector Holt (wearing a hat that makes his head look weirdly small – a bit like Rocky in the Bugs Bunny cartoons, in fact) then pays a call upon Dr Orloff, and with only a very general explanation asks to see his books. Orloff hesitates, but clearly unable to think of a good excuse, has to hand them over. Holt asks about two people in particular, a man call Ingalls and a woman called Sable, both of whom drowned, and both of whom, according to Orloff’s vague recollection, had beneficiaries who have since left the country. Fancy.
It is evening before poor Lou reaches his refuge and rings the doorbell. Here we get our first look at Mr Dearborn, with his white hair and moustache and dark glasses, who says gently, “Answer it, Jake”, and – in what I imagine was also a jolt for audiences in 1939 – our first look at Jake.
At the front door, Jake greets Lou, who slips him the strip of Braille. He reads it and seems distressed, but does not speak. Instead, with a gentleness belied by his appearance, Jake helps Lou the dining-room, where the other residents of the Dearborn Home are gathered about the table, while Dearborn himself reads from a Braille bible, his gentle tones soothing the spirits of his little flock. (Although I do hope he doesn’t make them listen to the one about the blind seeing every night.) Meanwhile, Jake slips upstairs, and is briefly glimpsed pumping water....
Henry Stuart arrives, as – ordered? – and again we can tell this is a British film, as he stops to select the correct taxi-fare from a handful of coins, rather than shoving the first money that comes to hand at the driver and walking away. Stuart is admitted by Lou (how does he know his name?), who is agitated by his presence and tries to slip him a strip of Braille. He is interrupted by the arrival, not of Dearborn, but Orloff, who explains that Dearborn has been called away, and that he will therefore have the pleasure of showing Stuart around. As the two turn away, Lou slips the Braille massage into Stuart’s pocket.
Stuart is suitably impressed by the home, commenting that he wishes that his daughter could see it. This leads to one of the film’s funnier moments, with Orloff jerking around and exclaiming indignantly, “Daughter!? What daughter? I thought you had no relatives!”
Stuart – un-whammied, yet apparently not bothered by either Orloff’s peculiar manner or his rude questions – explains placidly that his daughter has been in America, but is presently on her way home. This has the effect of, shall we say, speeding up a certain process. Orloff invites Stuart upstairs to see the clinic he has supplied for the home, and where he provides medical care for the residents.
Among other things.
The first thing Stuart sees inside the clinic is Jake, alarming enough even without the straitjacket in his hands. After a frozen moment he bolts for the door, but Orloff is behind him and swings it shut....
The next day, Holt is at Victoria Station for the arrival of the boat train; and an extremely weak cute-meet follows, as in his eagerness to reclaim Fred Grogan, Holt barges forward into a young woman passing through the barriers ahead of the forger, and is immediately smitten by her.
(Personally, I don’t like what they’ve done with Greta’s hair.)
More British-ism follows: Grogan is unrestrained, and just stands there smiling indulgently as Holt and O’Reilly shake hands, and as Holt excuses himself to go after the girl; and even after Holt and O’Reilly manage to handcuff themselves together (don’t ask), Grogan obligingly wanders over to the waiting paddy-wagon and climbs in unasked – checking his watch in disgust as the two police officers discover that O’Reilly doesn’t have the key....
Much funnier is the reception of this less than glorious interlude by Holt’s boss, who again proves himself the master of a wounding word by informing his subordinate that he has managed to, “Keep your Lower Fourth antics out of the papers”, and O’Reilly that, “The Yard is a dour, soulless place of business, where hi-jinks, jitterbugs and horseplay of the more imaginative kind are severely discouraged.” (I would have called the bit with the handcuffs highly unimaginative, but moving on....)
A phone-call proves a welcome interruption, at least until it turns out to be about the discovery of another drowning victim. This time, Holt orders everything left untouched, and heads out with O’Reilly in tow.
The body cast up upon the stone steps at the edge of the Thames is bearing identification. It also has only one-half of a broken, initialled cufflink, which Holt carefully preserves. While looking on, O’Reilly manages to drop his cigar-case, thus establishing the Thames mud as quicksand-like in consistency and action.
At the morgue, the death of Henry Stuart is confirmed as a drowning, occurring about three hours earlier. Holt asks that the water in the stomach be analysed. A message comes that the next-of-kin has arrived to identify the body – and a dismayed Holt finds himself face-to-face with the girl from the station, Diana Stuart. She goes bravely through the identification, but declares herself unable to answer any questions at the moment. In the wake of her exit, Holt learns that a soggy strip of Braille has been found in the dead man’s pocket.
In the police cells, Fred Grogan’s general state of indignation reaches new heights with the intrusion into his cell of a drunk – the loud, happy, laughing, singing kind. The only amelioration is that this new cell-mate has a newspaper in his pocket, which Grogan appropriates at the first opportunity, finding a small coded message in the personals. Meanwhile, Diana Stuart is sipping tea under the kindly eye of Police Constable Griggs – a policewoman – thus kicking off a running joke that is rather hard to interpret.
It can’t be PC Griggs’ mere existence that startles O’Reilly so much, as there had been policewomen in America for over nearly three decades at this point; but perhaps it’s her presence at Scotland Yard, American policewomen being debarred from “serious” police work via the simple expedient of forbidding them the beat experience necessary for promotion. Or maybe it’s Griggs’ uniform, certainly a remarkable piece of sartorial eloquence. Or maybe it’s the just the revelation of her assignment – “the promotion of public morality”.
Diana is adamant that he father did not commit suicide; that he had no enemies, and no serious worries; while Holt reveals his own belief that it wasn’t an accident, either. He asks her not to communicate with any stranger without letting him know first.
Then we get the delicious revelation that the “drunk” was no drunk at all, but a plant to make sure Grogan got a look at the newspaper. Our no longer laughing and singing friend reports Grogan’s interest in a personal ad, which Holt sends off to be decoded. He then orders Grogan brought up, upon which O’Reilly begins literally rubbing his hands together in glee at the prospect of “making him sing”.
“There’s no third degree in this country,” replies Holt placidly, waving away O’Reilly’s piece of rubber hose. “Here we catch our crooks by kindness.”
As a demonstration, Holt tells Grogan that he won’t be opposing his bail – although he can’t get Grogan to reciprocate by telling him who’s posting it. As O’Reilly looks on in disgust, much mutual jocularity follows (including the alarming threat of Holt having a little Grogan named after him), before the forger is led back to his cell.
His place is taken by the decoder of the ad, who reports that it’s simple enough: the first letters mean “Grogan”, the rest, “Orloff”. Holt orders a tail put on Grogan from the moment he leaves the courthouse.
Then it’s off to the lab – whee! – where Holt views
pictures of the body (slides, actually), and checks on the high- and
low-tide times, and learns that the water in Stuart’s stomach was clear,
when it ought to have been cloudy – that it was tap-water, in fact. The
unravelling of the Braille is not so entirely satisfactory, but still
suggestive: although most of the message is too damaged to be
deciphered, the first three letters are M – U – R –
The next morning finds a post-bail Grogan adding what we take to be Henry Stuart’s signature to an insurance policy – but under protest, having heard enough while in custody to know that he’s now an accessory to murder. Unwisely, he tries to use this knowledge as leverage to free himself from Orloff, who doesn’t take too kindly to the prospect. Grogan retreats, but too late:Grogan: “Don’t you worry, I won’t squeal – I’m not that kind.”
Orloff: “No. You – won’t – squeal.”
Orloff then sends another message via the Lou-Express, before hearing footsteps on the stairs. Orloff and Grogan rush to tidy up, and have barely done so before Holt and O’Reilly wander in. Awkward.
Holt is pleased if anything to see Grogan there, and again allows him to scuttle off, while Orloff airily explains away his presence as the result of his own activities as “Vice-President of the Prisoners’ Relief Association”, adding that Grogan was asking his help in mounting his defence.
What follows is the film’s single most exquisite touch:O’Reilly: “The nerve of that guy, asking you to put up the jack for his mouthpiece!”
[smiling at Holt]: “Your
colleague is a foreigner?”
Knowing the way that Bela’s career ended up going, there was always something sweetly poignant about those moments in his films where you could see him enjoying himself....and honestly, I’m not sure there was ever a moment he enjoyed quite as much as that one.
O’Reilly lodges the obvious protest, adding that in place of the holiday he expected upon coming to England, he found a murder case. Orloff here reveals that, yes, he knew Stuart, and that, yes, he had a policy; but that he was also in a financial mess, and that he, Orloff, had lent him the money to pay his last premiums....which is why he is the beneficiary....
There’s also an odd moment here when Orloff whammies his secretary before having her take away the lock-box in which he hid various incriminating documents, which hardly seems necessary.
A highly sceptical Holt sits down to copy out the details of Henry Stuart’s policy, but must ask for more ink, at which Orloff hurriedly intervenes. We assume that the first ink-pot was the one with which “Stuart” signed his policy. When the detectives have gone, Orloff orders his secretary to claim on Stuart’s policy at once, and then to get him Diana’s phone-number....
Meanwhile, the Lou-Express has reached its destination, and Jake pays a little visit upon Grogan, who unfortunately for him just happens to be taking a bath....
Hmm. I wonder what the odds were of Jake showing up just at that juncture? – Grogan not striking us as the cleanliness / godliness type. I also wonder what happened to that tail that was supposed to be on Grogan?
(I also also wonder who’s been looking after Grogan’s pot-plant while he was in America...?)
Holt and O’Reilly show up in the immediate wake of Jake’s departure, and after a moment’s silent wincing leave their luckless subordinate to a futile attempt at resuscitation, while O’Reilly demands plaintively, “Don’t they ever shoot anyone in this country?” Holt phones in Grogan’s death, and learns that, as per instructions, Diana has reported being contacted by a stranger, Orloff – but has accepted his invitation to his house anyway.
There, Diana is rather unwisely announcing her determination to hunt down her father’s killer. Orloff tells her that she shouldn’t dwell on the past, but look to the future, and offers to arrange for her a position as Dearborn’s secretary, which she gratefully accepts.
Downstairs, Diana climbs into a taxi and gives her address, but becomes alarmed when it takes another way. Not to worry: it’s Holt behind the wheel. He warns her sternly of danger, telling her of Grogan’s death; but she responds that Orloff has been kind enough to find her a job. Hearing that it’s at the home, Holt takes the plunge and recruits her, telling her to keep her eyes open, and in touch with him.
At the home, Dearborn shows Diana around downstairs and introduces her to the residents, before taking her up to the clinic where Lou is writhing on a bed with Jake in attendance. As everyone does, Diana stops dead in her tracks gawping at Jake, who doesn’t seem to notice. Back in the office, Dearborn and Diana find Holt and O’Reilly waiting for them, everyone playing dumb behind Dearborn’s back (so to speak). Holt asks Dearborn to try and read the message that was in Stuart’s pocket, but he can only decipher the first letter. Hearing where the message was found, Dearborn becomes distressed. The detectives withdraw – O’Reilly having an unwise nudge-nudge word with Diana on the way out. Dearborn gives Diana her instructions, including, should Orloff come, to send him up to Lou right away.
Unluckily for Lou, Orloff does show up – and he’s not happy. Getting rid of Jake by sending him to find Dearborn, Orloff prepares for an “experiment”, plugging what look like ear-phones into a generator. Then he straps Lou’s arms down, to restrict his movements....and then has a word with him about how, exactly, that Braille strip got in Henry Stuart’s pocket....
“The police have been here. They might come back and ask you questions,” comments Orloff. “You’re blind....and you can’t speak....but you can hear....and that will never do....”
And then Orloff comes at Lou with the ear-phones....
And now we reach the point of the film where everyone starts acting stupidly – a shame, but at least the stupidity is fairly evenly distributed. First of all, in the course of her duties, Diana finds Henry Stuart’s cheque for fifty pounds, a donation to the Dearborn Home, along with a note declaring his intention of visiting the home on the evening of his death. Because if you had just lured a man to his death, you would of course leave the evidence of it lying around where his daughter can find it.
Orloff walks in on her while she is staring at the documents in dawning horror, and she reacts by hardly responding to his greeting while she shoves all the papers she’s working on into a lock-box, placing the lock-box in a drawer, locking the drawer, depositing the key in another drawer, and hurrying out of the room....upon which Orloff retrieves the key, unlocks the drawer, opens the lock-box, and possesses himself of the documents.
Since Orloff has no business amongst the Home’s papers, and since she’s hurrying off to Holt to tell him all about it, we may well ask why she didn’t just take the letter with her. Sadly, this will only be the second dumbest thing Diana does. Or possibly the third.
At any rate, Diana doesn’t go to Scotland Yard, but to her apartment, and phones Holt from there; so she’s at home when Jake comes calling....
Meanwhile, Holt receives confirmation of the claim on Stuart’s policy, which for him is the last piece of the puzzle. We also hear in passing of the “megalomaniacal streak” that got Orloff kicked out of the medical profession, but alas, without elaboration. Diana’s call comes, and they are debating what to do when the lights go out.... Diana’s hysterical screaming down the line sends the detectives bolting for a car.
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Jake can see, just, but bright lights hurt his eyes, which when Diana realises it gives her a way of fighting back. She first dodges about the room, then makes a break for the bedroom, where she locks the door. (So – she has a key-lock on her bedroom, but doesn’t bother to lock her front door? Interesting....) Jake soon forces his way in, but his first action is not to grab Diana, but to turn out the lights. Diana, in turn, bolts to her bedside table and switches on the lamp, which she shoves in Jake’s face. It slows him down, but only a little. He crushes the bulb in his hand, roaring angrily, before seizing his prey---
---at which moment, Holt and O’Reilly arrive....and ring the doorbell....
Not surprisingly, no-one answers. So they knock. And when even that fails to attract the attention of the snarling homicidal maniac and his terrified victim, they finally get around to bursting it open. (Which, the way, implies that Jake stopped and locked it before attacking Diana – which he did not....)
Hearing, Jake calls the whole thing off and exits via the fire-escape. O’Reilly fires at him as he flees, but misses. (Feh! – some Chicago cop.) Diana identifies her attacker, and declares wildly that she can’t go back to the Home.
However, in an unusual bit of tough-mindedness, Holt insists that she must; that they don’t have enough proof against Orloff. With a squad for back-up, and O’Reilly all excited now that the time for action has arrived, they raid the Greenwich Insurance Company, where our heroes must once again force open a door. (And in fact, I’m pretty sure that the last section of this film features the highest door-bursting-per-minute ratio of any ever made.) However, Orloff is nowhere to be found. Holt initiates an official hue and cry, but Orloff seems to have vanished, in spite of all the spinning newspapers.
(And unless my eyes decieve me, one of them has a photo of a
much-younger wearing a cape....)
(And unless my eyes decieve me, one of them has a photo of a much-younger“Orloff”
wearing a cape....)
Dearborn is naturally very interested, and one of Diana’s duties becomes reading the press coverage to him. The detectives show up, and to their disgust Dearborn only wants to talk about how kind and generous Orloff always was. Holt demands to see the clinic, and Dearborn leads him to it. They find Jake (Holt’s ace up his sleeve) at the bedside of poor Lou, who does not respond when spoken to. Holt asks what the iron tank is for, but Dearborn replies apologetically that only Dr Orloff could tell him that.
When they have gone, a worried Jake speaks to Lou,
but he can’t get a response
from him either. Realising that Lou wasn t just foxing
to avoid police questioning, Jake grows increasingly agitated.
Realising that Lou wasn’
t just foxing to avoid police questioning, Jake grows increasingly agitated.
The persistent Holt gives Dearborn a list of questions to be transcribed into Braille, which he insists Lou can answer in writing. When the detectives have gone, Dearborn asks Diana to get one of the blind men to help her type out the questions. She is obediently fetching a Stainsby machine from the indicated cupboard when she happens to notice lying beside it half of a broken cufflink.
Because if you had just lured a man to his death, you would of course not only leave the evidence of it lying around where his daughter can find it, but point her in its direction.
And Diana--- Does she call Holt? Does she take the cufflink to him? She does not. Instead, she snatches it up and storms out – passing a table where, knowingly or unknowingly, the blind men are turning large piles of money into numerous tidy packages – running up the stairs and into the clinic, where she confronts Dearborn with it, who replies, “I can’t recall ever having seen it before.”
But, as it turns out, the fact that he can see is only one of Dearborn’s little secrets....
Wonderfully, this piece of camouflage seems to have taken a great many people by surprise at the time of the film’s release – and who knows? – perhaps even later. There is some clever misdirection about the supposed locations of the “two” men, with Orloff sending for Dearborn and so on, but in the end it’s the voice that does it – those gentle, inimitably British accents (supplied by O. B. Clarence) in place of the unique Lugosi patois. Though of course, in retrospect the fact that this terribly English voice is supposed to be issuing from Bela Lugosi is nothing short of hilarious.
But anyway, Diana isn’t finding it so funny. So shocked is she that she barely struggles while Orloff puts the straitjacket on her (or at least, that’s her story). We notice here that Orloff doesn’t seem to understand how a straitjacket actually works, as having used the arms simply as ties, he follows up by further binding Diana with rope, and tying her to the bedstead.
And with Diana incapacitated, Orloff stops to take care of the oblivious Lou, dumping him unceremoniously into the tank.
Having done so, however, Orloff obligingly stops to explain to Diana how the building used to be a warehouse, and how it overhangs the river – throwing open two large wooden doors as he speaks. He further explains that in her father’s case, because of uncooperative tides, Jake had to carry the body to the river – thus accounting for the discrepancy in timing noticed by Holt. And with all that out of the way, Orloff tosses what’s left of Lou out the doors and down onto the mudflats below, chortling merrily as he does so.
Then curiously, after revealing his plans for escaping on his yacht after disposing of the last (yuck, yuck) eye-witness, Orloff calls for Jake. What, suddenly squeamish?
Back at Scotland Yard, Holt gets a call from the river police about a boat near Dearborn’s, which once more sends him and O’Reilly to the scene.
Leaving Jake to do his dirty work, Orloff departs to oversee the last of the money-bundling. Jake undoes the rope and lifts Diana over his shoulder, carrying her effortlessly towards the tank in spite of her desperate pleas for mercy. She manages to delay her fate by getting the balls of her feet wedged against the edge of the tank, and then utters the words that will save her life:
“Jake, where’s Lou?”
Sure enough, Jake puts Diana down (rather than, say, dropping her into the tank) while he investigates this pressing question; and his howls of, “Lou, Lou!” are heard all over the house, bringing Orloff back up to see what the matter is. Jake, meanwhile, is on a rampage; and having wrecked the bed that undoubtedly no longer contains Lou, he turns his attention to a collection of test tubes, retorts, and flasks filled with Mysterious Coloured Fluids, which Orloff has because----
Okay, you’ll have to get back to me on that one. Aw, heck – does he really need a reason?
As Orloff enters, very cross that Diana isn’t dead yet, Jake stalks towards him grunting, “You killed Lou!”, and is promptly shot in the gut. Orloff then comments disgustedly that he will have to take care of Diana himself.
Downstairs, the cavalry finally arrives, and this time the situation is so desperate, O’Reilly gets to shoot the locked front door open instead of using his poor bruised shoulder on it.
At the sound of the shots, Orloff pushes Diana away and makes for the rest of his test tubes, retorts and flasks filled with Mysterious Coloured Fluids, where he prepares and carefully seals a smoking concoction. He then picks up two more sealed test tubes, and binds them all together.
As the police pour in (rather slowly), Orloff stops on the stairs and hurls his test tubes, which turn out to comprise nothing more dangerous than a smoke-bomb. He then starts shooting. O’Reilly returns fire, and wings him (which is either very good or very bad shooting for a Chicago cop, depending on how you look at it). Orloff is forced to retreat up the stairs, and locks himself into the clinic, meaning to make a run for it via the roof – only Jake isn’t quite as dead as he supposed.
Jake staggers across the room and throws open the doors. Orloff rushes up and tries to push him out, but Jake manages to regain his balance and then gets a death-grip on his former master, dragging him across the room and tossing him through the doors.
Orloff plunges into the mud, which engulfs him almost up to his chin – and screams in terror as it drags him inexorably down....
And where are Holt and O’Reilly all this time? Where else? – trying the burst the clinic door open. They finally manage it, just in time to see Jake collapse and die.
So to recapitulate, the serial killer terrorising London is stopped by a straitjacketed girl and a dying homicidal maniac, rather than by the combined efforts of the police forces of two countries.
Unfortunately, the film-makers just couldn’t bring themselves to leave well enough alone here; and instead of closing with the satisfyingly dark scene of Orloff’s gruesome death, they give us a final moment of a united Holt and Diana, and one last bit of schtick between O’Reilly and PC Griggs.
No, not odious. But awful close at times....
Footnote: A year after its premiere in Britain, The Dark Eyes Of London was released in America under the title, The Human Monster. Oddly, I have not been able to find a single piece of advertising that carries the original title - although some of the foreign alternatives are rather cute - and the art more imaginative, too: