Monday, September 8, 2014


D: Frank O’Connor.  A fraudulent medium (is there any other kind?) and master of disguise known as The Great LaGagge (Robert Fiske) is milking rich women by conducting sham séances to contact their dead loved ones.  A young woman distraught over her mother’s death is awed by the swami’s occult skills and almost hustled out of some precious loot but for the heroic efforts of an ace reporter.  A romance  ensues and LaGagge’s sarcastic sidekick provides the comic relief and a dose of clever skepticism.

This is a much maligned but surprisingly tight,  moody, atmospheric bargain basement mystery with a few effective set pieces.  This poverty row potboiler is notable for the only screen appearance by Mrs. Harry, Houdini, credited here as Madame Houdini, and clearly playing herself.  Ms. Houdini, returns from another failed séance attempt to reach her dead escape artist spouse and concludes once and for all that spiritualism is bunk.  There’s also some disturbing stock footage of India’s faithful, fanatical masses washing their sins away in the river Ganges.  After LaGagge’s debunking, the print ends abruptly during the predictable happy ending with a final cameo by Bess Houdini.

This film was probably controversial for its time and possibly offensive to some today, for its strong criticism of the naive faithful and mysticism in general.  The film is still relevant and provides timeless commentary on con men and religious scams.  In that sense, the film continues in the tradition of Houdini’s life work.

Overall, this is a painless crime thriller that runs little over an hour (imdb lists 90 minutes but poverty row quickies rarely ever clocked in at those lengths!) .  The budget-priced Alpha disc is very murky from a dupey VHS source but watchable nonetheless.  It’s sure to please die hard b-movie and Houdini fanatics.  The film‘s suitably alternate title was RELIGIOUS RACKETEERS and can be viewed here with that title card at:

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