Sunday, March 27, 2011

Among the Living (1941)

Among the Living is a mix between a Film Noir and a Horror. The story comes close to being both genres but stops just half way. The combination of genres creates an interesting story of good versus evil.
            John Raden’s father has just passed away. His father built the town in which they live. Upon his father’s death John learns that his twin brother Paul who he thought to have been dead for the past twenty-five years is still alive and kept like an animal in the old family house. The doctor who told John about his brother was paid off by the father to write a death certificate for Paul. The twin has not been mentally stable since he was a boy after his father beat the mother and he witnessed the beatings.
            Paul escapes his holdings and frightens an old hired hand to death. No one else knows that Paul is alive so no one can imagine who could have killed the hired hand. Paul walks around town in amazement he has never been around so many people and seen so many different things before in his life. He takes a room in a boarding house where a young woman named Millie lives with her mother. The two become friends and she takes a bit of an advantage with his naïveté.
            One night Paul kills a woman after she had been screaming and making fun of him. The town is now up in arms over the killing calling for the serial killer’s head (well that and a $5,000 reward does not hurt either). Only John and the doctor know it is Paul. Once Millie finds out as well some other towns people a mad chase begins. The end of the chase winds up with John the one being caught having been mistaken for Paul.
             What makes this half way to being a Noir is the family secret and a shameful past aspect. The father was most likely ashamed of Paul for being mentally disturbed and for making him that way so he had the doctor falsify a death certificate. John unwillingly falls into this family secret with its darkness. We are made to feel bad for him but also we feel bad for Paul who has been locked away in a decrepit old house in one room for God knows how many years. He gets frightened and does not want to be taken back to his old room. The horror aspect comes from the fear that Paul is a mad killer on the loose in a small town that most likely their biggest crime is someone stealing a piece of candy. The town does not know how to handle this situation and handles it in a mob almost like Frankenstein.
            Albert Dekker takes on the roles of the twins John and Paul. He does an excellent job playing the good guy with John and the unfortunate Paul. For John he is clean and proper looking; with Paul he is unshaven, his hair a mess, and slouched over in messy old clothes. Susan Hayward was very good. This is one of her early films (she was twenty-five years old). Millie was a bit of bitch she took advantage of Paul and in the end turned her back on him. Hayward played the part very well. It was funny to see her play this young seductive girl with a bit of a (real) Brooklyn accent. She had some risqué scenes going on too: she pulled her skirt up to store some money in her stocking and she changes into a new dress in front of Paul. At the end she flirts with a man by pulling her dress above her knee with her mother sitting right in the middle of them! Hayward is the whole reason I even wanted to see this film and like the story she does not disappoint.  

            Among the Living runs short at 66 minutes but its impact is felt. Films with a short running time I feel have more of an impact and are of course well with getting right to the point of the story. I felt terrible for Paul Raden he was abandoned by his family and taken advantage of my Millie. The film is very good and as I said at the beginning of the review the mix of Noir and Horror creates a very interesting story. I wish Among the Living was widely available. I had to download it in order to see it. I am very happy I was able to find it somehow. It is one of those rare films that you feel special to have and to have seen because not everyone has. The film is an excellent thriller and worth seeing if you can find a copy.

Among the Living (1941) directed by Stuart Heisler, starring Albert Dekker, Susan Hayward, Harry Carey, and Frances Farmer

Among the Living is currently available to view in full on youtube