This overlooked gem arrived courtesy of PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) in February of 1945. The film stars The Maddest Doctor of Them All (Lionel Atwill) coupled with the formidable talent of The Man with Neon Eyes (George Zucco). At the very beginning of this film we also spot actor Ian Keith who was under strong consideration to portray the evil Count in Universal Pictures' landmark DRACULA of 1931; additionally the same studio was considering Keith to portray Count Dracula in their 1948 monsterfest ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN! Along with this actor appears Jerome Cohen, who had previously worked as Bogart's partner in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941). Veda Ann Borg and Jacqueline DeWit fill out the rest of the cast, looking fetching and keep the action going.
Alpha Video has surprised this reviewer with a DVD of some better quality, the only problem being the extremely contrasty shots and scenes here and there. When the film goes dark, the picture is nearly midnight which is unfortunate in that this product looks superior in every way to the VHS tape version issued by Liberty Home Video back in 1997. Certainly the folks at Alpha Video have access to an enormous amount of product and need the assurance that most of us would welcome better quality at a few dollars more. Once again their cover art is unsurpassed yet at the retail price of $7.95 most of us would rather go for quality over quantity.
FOG ISLAND is an enjoyable retelling of "And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie with a dash of Universal Pictures' HORROR ISLAND as a vehicle for the talents of Atwill and Zucco. These two appeared in two other pictures together: HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and another entitled THREE COMRADES (1938). An old dark house tale transposed to an island, the film is somewhat stage bound yet conveys a charm and innocence all its own. Of course the manor on the edge of the sea is equipped with sliding panels, secret passageways, skulls, suits of armor, an imposing organ and the requisite phony psychic dispensing astrological advice, actress DeWitt in a turban! This actress had specialized playing hard-boiled floozies and the like and she's very amusing here!
Zucco stars as Leo Grainger who has summoned a group of shady characters who had framed him years before. Of course he has arranged for the timely demise of each of the half-dozen or so victims-to-be in the appropriately spooky seaside manor. Atwill portrays Alec Ritchfield with his usual villainous style. A year after this film, the great Lionel passed away; no other actor in film history has come along to dethrone him nor does this reviewer believe one ever shall. Hollywood lost one of its great originals of all time.
The musical score by Karl Hajos is atmospheric and punctuates perfectly the nefarious activities throughout. The composer's output was phenomenally prolific but one should note and give credit to Hajos as he scored the immortal WEREWOLF OF LONDON for Universal in 1935!
Director Terry O. Morse was also responsible for helming the American version of GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1954), UNKNOWN WORLD (1951), SHADOWS OVER CHINATOWN (1946) and BRITISH INTELLIGENCE (1940). Morse wore a number of hats in the industry and acted as Editor on such memorable genre projects as ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964) and CURUCU, BEAST OF THE AMAZON (1955).
The DVD is in divine black and white, clocks in at 70 minutes and has six chapter stops. The sole extra is the Alpha Video catalogue in its entirety, fully showcasing the spectacular artwork of their product. Thumbs up on this one, Alpha Video! (Christopher Dietrich)
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