Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Joan Woodbury and A Walking Nightmare

"A Walking Nightmare" (AKA "The Living Ghost") is a 1942 Monogram Pictures production, starring B-movie headliner, Joan Woodbury. I've been having fun uncovering movies by this under-appreciated actress and have always been rewarded with a good viewing experience.

Woodbury had real screen presence, and "A Walking Nightmare" is perhaps the best I've seen her (so far). The plot involves a murder mystery, but not really much of one.

Prominent banker Walter Craig disappears and eventually returns with his mind temporarily fried (there's some bafflegab psychology, but it's one of those medical conditions devised solely to serve the plot). 

Who could have done such of thing? And why? There's plenty of suspects in the banker's mansion, including his wife, his friend, business partner, secretary, daughter, daughter's fiancee, etc.

But the mystery isn't really the point of the film. It merely provides the backdrop to the real story, which is mordantly tart banker's secretary Billie Hilton (Joan Woodbury) caustically observing the investigation by detective Nick Trayne (James Dunn). During the course of said investigation, (of course) they fall in love. Actually, Trayne falls first. It takes Hilton a lot longer (the rest of the film) to figure it out. 

Woodbury and Dunn have a real chemistry, and a both have a flair for comic timing, which makes this light-weight film so entertaining. Hilton and Craig's friend Ed Moline (Paul McVey) come to Trayne's office to persuade him to take the case.

Since Trayne has quite being a detective, Moline suggests to Hilton that doubting his talent will get his friend to take the case out of wounded pride. Hilton gives as good as she gets -- and then some. 

Woodbury wasn't Bettie Davis or Katherine Hepburn by any means, but in this movie, she more than rises to the occasion. "Walking Nightmare" runs a little over an hour, and originally was meant to be sort of the warm-up picture to the feature presentation at a Saturday matinee.

It's light, breezy fun with Woodbury and Dunn keeping things humming along. And there's even a short bit by double-talk artist Danny Beck. Double-talk was a form of humor that flourished very briefly in the 1940's. The art was to string together nonsense syllables that almost sounded like words.

For an hour's entertainment, I recommend "Walking Nightmare" over a third viewing of "Law and Order" any day.

 - Ralph

Day 16 of the WJMA Podwatch.

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