The Columbia ILAM Films

#2: "The Devil's Mask"

    Columbiaís two follow ups to "I Love A Mystery were "The Devilís Mask" and "The Unknown." Unfortunately, neither was based on any of Carlton E. Morseís stories, being de novo efforts by others, and Morseís storytelling ability is sorely missed.

    "The Devilís Mask" (1946) is the more palatable of the two sequels, and bears a great deal of its weird atmosphere due to elements similar in the first film, notably a matter of missing (and found!) heads. It also had the same director and producer as the first, Henry Levin and Wallace MacDonald, respectively

    A San Francisco airplane bound for South America crashes, and among the scorched debris is found a shrunken native human head, neatly packaged. The perplexed police contact a local anthropology museum about this unclaimed piece of grisly baggage, where they intersect with Jack and Doc, called there to meet a mysterious woman who had a case for them and wanted to meet in private.

    The handsome woman is Mrs. Mitchell, one of the benefactors of the museum, and a recent widow. Both she and her dead husband had populated much of the museumís curious and peculiar exhibits. Unfortunately, her husband disappeared on their last joint expedition to South America, and despite a prolonged search, was presumed dead. Making matters worse, her beautiful step-daughter, Janice, thinks she is to blame for his death!

The house-hold has been fractured by Janiceís wild speculations and terrible rows with her step mother. Mrs. Mitchell has found solace with her friend, the current director of the museum. The unstable Janice has now taken up with a shady gambler named Rex, and her only cordial relations in the family are with her Uncle Leon (a taxidermist, who keeps a live jungle cat named Diablo in his shop).

    When Jack asks how he and Doc can help her, Mrs. Mitchell tells them she is convinced that Janice wants to kill her! Janice keeps playing over and over records of her fatherís voice (preserved on record disks made to Janice earlier), and her accusations are becoming more and more hysterical. Worse, Janiceís gambler-boyfriend, Rex, has followed her into the museum. Could they take her case and protect her from threatened doom?

    They do take her case, and in the next 66 minutes, Jack and Doc run into South American blow-guns, wild-cats, shrunken heads that carry mysterious messages, and headless corpses! A wild and woolly adventure, though a somewhat scattered and stale in plot and character development.

[Note: in the still at the top of the page, Jim Bannon (playing Jack) and Barton Yarborough (playing Doc) flank Anita Louise (Janice).  Far left is Mona Barrie, playing Mrs. Mitchell].

In Jim Bannonís autobiography, "The Son that Rose in the West", he had this to say about the filming of "The Devilís Mask":

    "A couple of weeks ago we finished the second of the I Love A Mystery films. Iím not too sure if the script for this one was better than the first or not. One thing is for certain, it was a lot wilder story and, as far as Iím concerned, had a lot more action than the first one. Anita Louise had the female lead and I have rarely encountered a more delightful or more beautiful girl. She is completely charming and a dream to work with. The chief bad guy is Paul Burns, a find old character actor. Not chasing George Macready seemed a little strange but heíll probably show up the next time we shoot. He works at Columbia so often theyíd very likely save money if they put him under contract."

    "The title of this epic was "The Devilís Mask". It had to do with Burnís hobby of collecting various African and jungle artifacts, including a glass case full of shrunken heads. Boy! it was hard to believe what a great job the special effects department did in creating all those shriveled up little noggins. There were numerous references to the fact that this nutty old codger planned on adding Yarborough and me to his display. Even though it was a "Letís Pretend" situation Bart and I agreed it added up to a pretty grisly outlook. Another thing this character had was a fetish for was wild animals. The featured member of his menagerie was a black leopard and you can take my word for it, old Jim and jungle critters were not cut out to be bosom buddies.

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