10 August 2011 | oldblackandwhite
And The Murderer Is ---- The Last One Left Alive!
Pillow Of Death is the last of Universial's well-made, entertaining Inner Sactum series of second feature thrillers, all utilizing the often wasted talent of Lon Chaney, Jr., off-beat stories, a rather spooky, Gothic atmosphere, a battalion of fine character actors, and a covey of beautiful "B" leading ladies, and second female leads as the love interests of the unglamorous Chaney. All get the job done in under seventy minutes, Pillow being the longest by a bit at an hour and six minutes. It is also the only picture of the series not to use the spooky, distorted talking head in a crystal ball as a prologue, a device apparently inherited from the popular radio show which inspired the movie series. It wasn't really missed. Neither the worst nor the best of the series, Pillow has arguably the best production values with most of the action set in a lavish Victorian mansion.
Chaney's secretary the beautiful Brenda Joyce, also his love interest in Strange Confession (see my review), lives in the "old dark house" with a set of eccentric, querulous relatives. Chaney, an attorney, leaves her there in the opening scene, then drives home and "have it out with" his wife. You see, he wants to marry said pretty secretary, who has apparently been sitting on big, strong bossy-wossy's lap while taking dictation. But he finds that his wife has been murdered by suffocation (with the title pillow no doubt). He becomes suspect numero uno of course and for the rest of the movie is subjected to investigation and harassment by the police and a goofy, fat spiritualist (J. Edward Bromberg). Seances and bodies pile up.
This well done "old dark house" mystery has you suspecting everyone, including Chaney and Joyce, before it is over. The suspects, as is traditional in one of these, are eliminated by becoming victims -- except for the resident ghost of course, which turns out to be a raccoon in the attic. I'm not so sure I didn't suspect that pest, too. The identity of the killer did in fact come as a surprise! Big hint: it wasn't the butler. The clever drawing room mystery style was what kept this rather confused entry in the Inner Sanctum cycle interesting. Well-acted by all. Chaney was always fascinating, and Brenda Joyce deserved better than swinging through the jungle on a vine with Tarzan.
Not as good as some of the others in the series, but mild entertainment for 66 minutes with the a/c going full blast on a hot August evening.