22 February 2014 | kevinolzak
Seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1975
1943's "Calling Dr. Death" began Universal's six film 'Inner Sanctum' series based on the thriving radio show, all but one included in the popular SHOCK! package of Universal classics issued to television in the late 50s. The first three definitely benefit from the ambitious direction of Viennese-born Reginald Le Borg, recently graduating to features after nearly 30 shorts in seven years. All six titles starred the studio's top horror icon Lon Chaney, who does look the part of neurologist Dr. Mark Steele, despite awkward dialogue and characterization. Playing his faithful nurse Stella is luminous Patricia Morison, in her element as cool femme fatales in such films as "Hitler's Madman," "Dressed to Kill," "Danger Woman," "Tarzan and the Huntress," and "Song of the Thin Man." Steele is married to the beautiful (and faithless) Maria (Ramsay Ames), who enjoys her wealth and stature, refusing to grant him a divorce. Naturally, he becomes the prime suspect when she's horribly murdered, struck dead by a fireplace poker, then her face destroyed by acid. The most striking element used by Le Borg comes when Steele arrives at the scene of the crime, the camera effectively 'becoming' the doctor as he slowly approaches the front door and meets Inspector Gregg (J. Carrol Naish). Alas, the mystery angle falls flat, the killer's identity fairly obvious, so it's up to Naish's tenacious investigator to maintain a faithful vigil on things, and his Columbo-like determination does not disappoint. There was a detective in all but one future Inner Sanctums, none of which enjoyed the stature held by Naish. Other notable roles are played by David Bruce ("The Mad Ghoul") and Fay Helm ("The Wolf Man," "Night Monster," "Captive Wild Woman"), while actor David Hoffman provided the same mysterio crystal ball introduction for all but the last entry, "Pillow of Death." Reginald Le Borg had made his feature debut with the still unreleased "The Mummy's Ghost" (also with Chaney and Ames), and did two more for this series (along with "Jungle Woman" and "Destiny") before moving over to PRC (later titles included "The Black Sleep," "Voodoo Island," "Diary of a Madman," and "So Evil My Sister"). "Calling Dr. Death" made four appearances on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater- May 24 1975 (in the middle of a rare triple bill, preceded by 1940's "Chamber of Horrors" and followed by 1933's "Secret of the Blue Room"), Aug 14 1976 (following 1965's "Monster Zero"), Sept 10 1977 (following 1941's "The Wolf Man"), and Feb 19 1983 (solo).