1 February 2008 | Terrell-4
George Zucco, Lionel Atwill, thick fog and a murderous mansion star in this B-movie programmer
A pen for Emiline Bronson.
A small book of multiplication tables for John Kavanaugh.
A toy skull for Sylvia Jordan.
A chisel for Alec Richfield.
A knife for Jeff Kingsley.
And a key for Gail, whose last name we never learn.
These are party favors from Leo Grainger, a failed financier whose associates framed him with a fraud rap. He was sent to jail for five years. And someone murdered his rich wife. This night they are all gathered on Fog Island in Grainger's hulking mansion, amidst fog so thick you can lean against it. Grainger invited them with hints that from the money he was convicted of stealing, a fortune still remains buried somewhere in the mansion. However, Jeff Kingsley turns out to be the innocent son of one of the conspirators, a man who has died recently. And Gail is Leo Grainger's stepdaughter, a young woman who seems pouty and resentful, yet who appears to have respect for her stepfather. During this long night, Leo Grainger's party favors will lead to retribution and horrible death.
For fans of low-budget Forties' movies, especially those which feature mystery, death and strange animals, human and otherwise, roaming the moors, two names stand high in the pantheon of actors who deliver the goods: George Zucco and Lionel Atwill. They were born within a year of each other in England, Zucco in 1886 and Atwill in 1885. Both had distinguished stage careers. Zucco left Britain for Hollywood in 1935. Atwill arrived in America in 1915. Atwill was so confident and assured as an actor that it was easy to overlook how hammy he could be. Zucco's mad glare made it easy to overlook how good an actor he was, and how avuncular and reassuring he could be as a good guy. Both settled into strong character parts in the Thirties, often in A-level movies, and both, for different reasons, ended up in more and more low-budget mystery and horror programmers in the Forties...Zucco because as he got older he began to accept any roles offered to him; Atwill because he was involved in a scandal and could only find work in low-budget cheapies.
Fog Island is fun because it is one of the few films the two actors appear in together. Zucco is Leo Grainger, a man who will have his retribution. Atwill is Alec Richfield, one of the instigators of Leo's downfall and a prime suspect in the death of Leo's wife. The third major player, of course, is the glowering mansion set on this isolated island. We quickly learn, as Leo goes about setting his traps, that some of his guests are going to encounter the dank lower chambers carved in the living rock, rooms with hidden doors, pits covered with disguised lids and one water-tight room, deep in the bowels of the island, where horri...well, you need to see the movie.
The film features some barely adequate acting, gloomy and surprisingly rich-looking interiors, a lot of obviously one-take scenes, as well as a suspicious looking butler. And among the cast is that tall, blond specialist in dames you shouldn't trust, Veda Ann Borg. Those fans of low-budget programmers like me miss her.