25 January 2014 | kevinolzak
Valerie Hobson and Dwight Frye
1935's "The Great Impersonation" served as Valerie Hobson's farewell to Universal, with 11 features over a 12 month period, doing one more movie for Chesterfield ("August Week End") before abandoning Hollywood for England, retiring for good by 1954 (she died in 1998, age 81). Despite its inclusion in Universal's popular SHOCK! television package of the late 50s (not once appearing on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater), "The Great Impersonation" has understandably remained under the radar, being basically an espionage story with a dash of horror provided by the unbilled presence of Dwight Frye, definitely in Renfield mode, never clearly seen. Edmund Lowe, a frequent star at Universal ("Bombay Mail," "Gift of Gab," "The Witness Vanishes"), toplines in two roles- Baron Leopold von Ragastein and Sir Everard Dominey, incredibly finding each other in darkest Africa, after first meeting up at Oxford. Both men have escaped tragedy, and the Baron decides to impersonate his twin and take up residence at Dominey Hall, where plans are already underway for foreign powers to flood pre-WW1 England with munitions. The reason for Sir Everard's flight is that five years before he is supposed to have murdered Roger Unthank (Frye), perpetuated by Roger's mother (Esther Dale), casting aspersions against him in the company of his beautiful wife, Lady Eleanor (Hobson). Soon after the impersonator arrives, Mrs. Unthank informs him that the ghost of her dead son cannot rest, his cries echoing through the house during the night (he really does sound like Renfield!). This horrific touch is a direct lift from "The Hound of the Baskervilles," but was present in the original 1920 book, yet dropped from both the 1921 and 1942 screen versions. Still only 18, Valerie Hobson was hardly taxed by this rather small role, with competition from Wera Engels, whose brief career in Hollywood lasted three more films, retiring by 1937 (she died in 1988). Nearing the end of the Laemmle regime, we get another look at sets from "The Old Dark House" and "Frankenstein," and a brief but unmistakable appearance from Nan Grey (as a maid), soon to be immortalized as the tragic Lili in "Dracula's Daughter."