Monday, July 24, 2023

Lon Chaney, Jr. Makes a Strange Confession

Chaney Jr. and the black bag.
The most incongruent entry in Universal's six-film Inner Sanctum series is also one of the best. Whereas its brethren are psychological suspense tales, Strange Confession (1945) is a straight drama with a subtly gruesome conclusion.

Series regular Lon Chaney, Jr. stars as Jeff Carter, a chemist who wants to make a difference for humanity. As he often says, Jeff doesn't care about money nor glory. His attitude and work ethic are exploited by his employer (J. Carrol Naish), the unscrupulous head of a pharmaceutical company. When Jeff refuses to rush a new drug to market, his boss promptly fires him and prevents him from working at any other lab.

J. Carrol Naish as the villain.
Jeff is content to work at a drugstore and conduct his experiments in his spare time. However, his wife Mary (Brenda Joyce) understandably wants a better life for their young son and for herself. When Jeff has an opportunity to return to his old job, Mary convinces him to take it. That decision results in personal tragedy as well as affecting the lives of hundreds of others.

Told in flashback, Strange Confession makes it clear from the opening scenes that it will not have a happy ending. Prior to relating his tale in an old college friend, now a prominent attorney, Jeff reveals the contents of a small black bag he has been carrying. The audience doesn't get to see the contents, but the attorney's reaction (and the size of the bag) make it pretty obvious. It's a chilling--but highly effective--way to capture one's attention!

Brenda Joyce as Mary.
While Chaney's do-gooder and Naish's villain are pretty much black-and-white characters, Brenda Joyce gets one of her best roles as Mary Carter. She loves her husband for his noble ideas, but she also realizes that good intentions don't provide a better life for her family. Her motives in regard to Jeff's boss are more complex. When he ships Jeff off to South America and starts paying her attention, it's hard to imagine that Mary is totally blind to his intentions.

It's nice to see Brenda Joyce in a part so different from her most famous one: Jane in the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller and Lex Barker. Her transition from a full-time mother living in a small apartment to a well-dressed suburban resident with a full-time housekeeper is a credit to the actress...and costume designer Vera West. West dresses the actress modestly in the early scenes before shifting to more luxurious outfits following the family's rise in financial status.

If the plot to Strange Confession sounds vaguely familiar, then you may have seen The Man Who Reclaimed His Head (1934) with Claude Rains. Both films were based on the same 1932 stage play by Jean Bart. While the plot is different in Strange Confession, it retains the central premise and Chaney's character even notes that Naish's villain has stolen his ideas and he needs to "reclaim his head."

The Inner Sanctum film series is a cut above other "B" pictures produced by Universal in the 1940s. While not a typical entry, Strange Confession is an engrossing one that will hold your attention from the start to finish. It's also an opportunity to see future TV stars in supporting roles: Lloyd Bridges (shown on right) plays Lon's co-worker and Milburn Stone is Naish's de facto henchman.


  1. This sounds interesting, Rick -- although the Inner Sanctum (like Night Gallery) is one of those shows I never watched because they were too scary! Is Inner Sanctum streaming somewhere?

    1. This movie and the other Inner Sanctum mysteries are currently streaming on a Rumble channel:

  2. Great review of one of these interesting little features, Rick! I bought a DVD set of these Inner Sanctum mysteries some years ago, but STRANGE CONFESSION is one I haven't gotten around to watching yet. Clearly I need to remedy that. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Thanks for the tip re: the Inner Sanctum DVD set. I'll be looking for it!

  3. Naish should have had Lon Chaney Jr. sign an NDA before hiring him (one guess what the D stands for...) 😉 I love these little films, and at one point I had the collection on VHS. Unsurprisingly, my favorite is Weird Woman, the adaptation of Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife with Anne Gwynne and Evelyn Ankers. And who doesn't love the floating head that introduces the films?