The Amazing Mr. X [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - The Film Detective
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (15th January 2022).
The Film

For the last two years, wealthy heiress Christine Faber (Tampico's Lynn Bari) has been mourning the death of her husband Paul (Spellbound'S Donald Curtis) in a fiery car crash. On the night she decides she will accept an expected marriage proposal from current suitor/family attorney Martin Abbott (Tormented'S Richard Carlson), she is tormented by her dead husband's beckoning voice on the beach where she runs into suave Alexis (The Mad Ghoul'S Turhan Bey). The suave psychic medium surprises her not only with his knowledge about her feelings of loss and his confirmation that Paul's spirit has visited her. When Christine is frightened by an apparition later that night, her concerned younger sister Janet (They Live by Night's Cathy O'Donnell) suggests that she see a therapist; instead, however, Christine visits Alexis.

As Christine comes to rely more and more on Alexis, becoming one of his psychic students probing the unknown, Janet confides in Martin. Martin hires a private investigator Hoffman (The Furies' Harry Mendoza) who recognizes Alexis as a magician who served a prison sentence for fraud. Janet visits Alexis in disguise hoping to expose him, but he recognizes her and convinces her of his abilities by both intuiting her real concerns and confessing his wrongs which he claims were in the scientific pursuit of truth. When Janet's infatuation becomes the stronger reason for her discouraging Christine's visitations, the pair confronts Alexis who conjures up Paul's presence while seemingly confined to spirit cabinet. Martin and Hoffman burst in on the scene and insist that Alexis prove his abilities; however, even Alexis is startled when Paul's voice and apparition show up beckoning Christine to join him in death.

Sometimes classified as a film noir due almost solely to the gorgeous chiaroscuro photography of John Alton (The Big Combo), The Amazing Mr. X is a surprisingly diverting thriller coming from actor/writer/later director Crane Wilbur whose previous genre work was the stage play "The Monster" (adapted into a film in 1925) and whose more prominent credits would include dusting off the screenplay of The Mystery of the Wax Museum for House of Wax and Mary Robert Rinehart's novel/stage play "The Bat" for the very dusty directorial effort The Bat with Vincent Prince and Agnes Moorehead. While Hollywood fandom was all agog with Bey's "exotic" sex appeal, the film highlights the levels of artifice in his character, with Alexis even explaining to Christine that the occult "atmosphere" of his house is a concession to the expectations of his audience which includes scoffers, the lonely, and true believers.

Furthermore, Bey's charisma here is intertwined with the character's ability to cold read his prey, simultaneously flattering Christine while undermining her relationship with Martin, and similarly pretending to see greater the maturity and sensibility that Janet believes she possesses over Christine (and her underlying resentment at being babied by everyone including her sister). Alexis is believably shaken when he hears Paul's voice, although even at that point we are as unsure as he whether it is a real ghost, or whether Paul is not really dead, or if Alexis' partner in crime (Psycho's Virginia Gregg) – who has been masquerading as Christine's Swedish housekeeper to procures information on the sisters for Alexis to exploit – has stepped in to save him. Once all the cards are on the table, however, what keeps the film compelling is the shift from Christine to Janet who proves to be stronger and braver than the villain anticipated. Bey obviously relishes playing a character who is neither an exotic villain or secondary romantic lead. Sadly it was one of his last films before an early retirement at the start of the fifties, only returning to film a couple in the nineties for Fred Olen Ray's bizarre erotic thriller Possessed by the Night and Andrew Stevens' Virtual Combat and The Skateboard Kid 2.


Falling into the public domain like several Poverty Row productions, The Amazing Mr. X received its first DVD release from Alpha Video in 2003 looking as poor as most of their product. Image Entertainment followed in 2006 utilizing archival elements from the Wade Williams Collection and looked quite decent. Much less satisfying was VCI's 2009 double feature disc with Reign of Terror that offered up an audio commentary by Jay Fenton but a soft and hazy image that made hash of deliberate soft focus decisions in the photography. Sony followed up in 2010 utilizing 35mm materials for the British release version "The Spiritualist", looking about on par with Image Entertainment's edition.

While still not a frame-by-frame restoration of problematic source material, The Film Detective's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.37:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfer is the truly the best of the lot, demonstrating what a 4K scan can do with material deemed less than satisfactory in the SD and HD telecine eras. Long shots still look less detailed than one would hope and some medium shots look a bit "dreamier" than they probably should since the heroine is not always present in them or seeing them, but the transfer captures the minutiae of Alton's lighting from encroaching shadows to rays of light in smoke that could get lost in the highlights of SD transfers. One would have hoped the film would have been considered important enough for UCLA Film and Television Archive-level restoration, but this Blu-ray will do for now.


The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack's digital cleanup is more consistently noiseless, better allowing one to distinguish "ghostly" voices and more overt trickery. Optional English SDH subtitles have some transcription errors that are disappointing (Janet's command that Christine "explain yourself" becomes "you were playing yourself").


The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by film historian Jason Ney who draws on Alton's book "Painting with Light", director Bernard Vorhaus's autobiography "Saved from Oblivion", Tom Weaver's interviews with Bey, as well as a treasure trove of Hollywood press and puff pieces that showed how actors like Bari and Bey were used by the larger studio before ending up on Poverty Row (Bari when her Fox contract ended and Bey when Universal suspended him over a disagreement and sold his contract to The Amazing Dr. X studio Eagle Lion). These bits are interspersed with what might be termed a scene-specific commentary if only because Ney is so enamored of Alton's gorgeous lighting and framing choices, his more conventional noir works, and how he too never got the opportunity to break into A pictures in spite of how revered his work has become upon reflection. Ney also disproves the commonly-reprinted trivia that Carole Landis (I Wake Up Screaming) was intended to play Christine but committed suicide before the film went into production, noting that her death was only three weeks before the film premiered in Hollywood.

The disc also includes the Ballyhoo Pictures documentary "Mysteries Exposed: Inside the Cinematic World of Spiritualism" (20:27) with filmmaker C. Courtney Joyner (Trancers III) and Lisa Morton, author of "Calling the Spirits: A History of Séances". As expected, Joyner provides an overview of spiritualism in early cinema that encompasses works like Supernatural, the comedy You'll Find Out, and two of the Inner Sanctum film vehicles of Lon Chaney Jr. Morton, in discussing the history of spiritualism from the Victorian practitioners and their methods, as well as their famous debunkers, also discusses the manners in which The Amazing Mr. X does adhere to the tools and methods of the con from Alexis' cold reading, the visual and aural trickery, and even the spirit cabinet (although far more elaborate in the film than the real thing).


Packaged with the disc is a ten-page booklet with an essay by Don Stradley that focuses mainly on Bey, his press following, his relationships, and his becoming "prematurely washed up" with an additional section on the reception of the film by spiritualists who felt their profession was being smeared.


With one foot in Hollywood's golden age "real or hoax" supernatural genre and another in film noir, The Amazing Mr. X is a diverting suspenser well-served by The Film Detective's Blu-ray special edition.


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