Monday, January 27, 2020

The Crime of Doctor Crespi (1935)

Golden age director Erich von Stroheim was certainly quite a character! A fancy German aristocrat who led to America in search of a better life, and made a name for garish and epic melodramas, that  He was quite a divisive figure, not only in the quality of his movies, but also in his very identity. Some people in Hollywood were convinced he was a fake, and didn't speak a word of German. Some felt he was merely a German commoner, and others not one at all. There were some Europeans who did think he was legit though, and he did sometimes sounds kinda like Peter Lorre, so perhaps there is truth in what they say.

As for the rumor of him being lower class in origin, if that is true, I certainly wouldn't denigrate him for it, as it shows that even a 'mere commoner' can rise to become a celebrated auteur and a Hollywood artist! Of course, he was still a prick for lying, and I think his movies are ridiculously self-indulgent and pretentious, but still! And of course, his greatest legacy is undoubtedly being the inspiration for the Gabbo episode of The Simpsons!...

Noted doctor Andre Crespi is running his wing of the hospital business as usual, taking whatever cases he sees fit, and rejecting many in equal measure. One day an old sweetheart comes back into his life, begging Crespi to operate on her husband. Dr. Steve Ross, an old friend, swept Estelle off her feet, and the two fell in love, which Crespi has never forgotten, unable/refusing to believe she didn't love him, and harbouring a deep hatred of Ross. Now that he's been given the perfect opportunity, Crespi plans on drugging Ross to appear dead, then bury him alive...

1935 picture The Crime of Doctor Crespi is an immediately alluring one, due to its promising title, and spooky premise. This promise is quickly squandered when the film begins. It starts off dull, and never picks up. It's a real slog to watch!

This joins the long line of films 'based'/supposedly based on Edgar Allan Poe's literary canon. This film purports to be a take on The Premature Burial, but takes nothing but the mere concept. Before watching the film I'd read summaries describing the lead character as a madman who buries his enemies alive, but that's being generous. He only does it to the one character. The title really is correct by not pluralising Crime. He only commits one in the whole movie!

The plot is very basic. It gets the job done, but is never successfully enthralling. One thing I will praise the story for is being a 1930s film that has a proper ending! Not abrupt at all, but a proper denouement.

There are a few silly moments here too, such as it being set in a hospital where apparently the staff are too lazy to notice a man being loudly strangled to death wile screaming MURDERER! Then there's how Dr. Crespi is found out by a colleague, and after strangling him, ties him up in a cupboard for a day...then lets him go free! He basically figures "Eh, you're probably gonna be alright now, so get lost".

The acting is tolerable at best. The nurses were pretty good, and cute. For such a dictatorial director, who'd scream his lungs out at actors for batting their eyelashes in the wrong order, Erich von Stroheim is hardly a good thespian himself. He's pretty rubbish here! He gets even worse in the climax, where he literally doesn't react to seeing Ross back from the dead, and even slurs some of his words like he was smashed on-set. Von Stroheim the director would hate von Stroheim the actor!

Dwight Frye fares better, though the film doesn't do him any favours. He's relegated to the background most of the time, and I forgot he was even here until halfway through. He does eventually rise in prominence...only to be immediately knocked out. It's a shame! We finally got to see the poor man act, and he's strangled! Forget von Stroheim, I wanna see Dwight Frye as Cr. Crespi! While I briefly thought he was killed, he does return, and plays a slight role in the climax, but nothing major.

Some movies work without much music. Others simply feel like they're missing something-Otherwise good, but incomplete. Crime of Doctor Crespi however is downright hurt for its lack of score! A dull movie is made all the more unbearable by the complete absence of music. A composer seems to have finally been hired 4 minutes before the end, it makes a world of difference. One scene becomes tense, and the ending becomes romantic.

The direction for the most part here is listless, with little done to bring life to the proceedings. There are a few interestingly staged shots here and there, which I've screenshotted for you to see. You can appreciate what little this movie gets right!

I don't recommend The Crime of Doctor Crespi at all. It's got very little of worth to it.

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