D: Archie Mayo C: Paul Muni, Anne Baxter, Claude Rains
Paul Muni and Claude Rains shine in this terrible movie – the first half is really quite decent – Muni with his gangsterisms, and Rains with his priceless facial expressions. It begins in a much more close-up and convincing vision of hell than the Busby Berkeley version in DANTE’S INFERNO (1935) concentrating instead on the understandable bewilderment of the new arrivals, having probably forgot all about their Sunday School education and not expecting to meet Donald Duck at the pearly gates. Muni gets a second chance – well, sort of – possessing an uncompromisingly honest judge, whose reputation Old Nick wants to compromise. You see, the gangster is a dead (no pun intended) ringer for His Honor. I really don’t see why that should make a difference, since he’s possessing him and not replacing him, but that’s another matter. It turns out that everybody prefers the new version – including his girlfriend, leading to some unforeseen consequences, when the preacher about to marry them goes into a rant about severing people’s hands, plucking their eyes out and burning them alive. Realizing that the Christian God of Hate is much more to his liking than the affable Rains, Muni renounces the Devil and all his works, at the same time realizing that he doesn’t give a damn about his fiancée, returning her to her stuffy rival, and who can really blame him – Nefretiri she is not! PS: HOFFMAN’S GUIDE TO SF, HORROR AND FANTASY MOVIES has this to say about the movie: “A criminal unjustly condemned to death (Muni) is, after his execution, sent back to Earth by the devil. He tries with decent actions, to out smart (sic) Satan. A nice film that you could see and again.” In that case, perhaps the reviewer should consider seeing it at least once (Muni is shot by his old partner after serving a four-year sentence). All these movie guides copy each other – leading to some very strange results and you wasting your time and money on the wrong movie – I mean, who watches thousands of movies just to write a book? Well, I did, including those, which I had seen before. It just took me eighteen years.
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