As we continue our retrospective into the career of Tod Slaughter, our next two films have very similar themes with slightly more horrific storylines. Both contain murder and deceit as well as torture and a maniacal madman.
Our first film is It’s Never Too Late to Mend (1937). Tod Slaughter heads up the cast as Squire John Meadows. He is the justice in the village as well as the local prison administrator. While most in the village believe him to be a trustworthy and upstanding citizen, those within the prison walls know him to be cruel and sadistic. Our story begins as people are leaving church and the Squire immediately makes his evil intentions known. He has eyes for the lovely Susan Merton (Marjorie Taylor) but she is interested in poor George Fielding. Her father sees no future for her in marrying George but also resists the Squire’s intentions upon his daughter. However, when the Squire saves Susan’s father from financial ruin, he becomes indebted to the Squire and forces Susan to marry him. However, George has left the village in search of fame and fortune. Upon returning, the Squire begins to show his true colors and turns to bribery and theft to ensure George is penniless, leaving Susan with the only choice but to marry the Squire.
The real horror in this film centers on the prison scenes. It is there that the Squire is in his real element. Addressing the inmates as his children, he relishes in their torture. He forces men into solitary confinement via a cell that is completely cut off from the outside world. A poor boy is encased in a cage and tortured, his only crime being the theft of some bread for his starving mother. Slaughter clearly has the “conniving rich man bribing the father of the young girl” role mastered. However, seeing him as the evil prison administrator was refreshing. One wonders if Boris Karloff was channeling Slaughter when he filmed Bedlam some nine years later. There are definite similarities at times. At a brisk 65 minutes, It’s Never Too Late to Mend is entertaining despite its obvious low budget and overall staged presentation. You’ll also have to get passed the somewhat heavy handed religious melodrama from the prison chaplain, but it’s worth sticking it out to the end.
In 1939, Slaughter starred in what is one of my personal favorite films of his that I’ve seen to date. In The Face at the Window, Slaughter stars as Chevalier Lucio de Gardo, a bank examiner who is investigating a robbery at a bank in Paris. There are some immediately recognizable themes as he shows interest in the lovely Cecile de Brisson (Marjorie Taylor). As usual, she loves another, this time being Lucien Cortier. Lucien works at the bank under her father. He is quickly framed for the robbery by Lucio de Gardo, who is actually behind the theft. The tale turns murderous as Cecile’s father is murdered by Lucio de Gardo, who has discovered that Lucien was framed. Meanwhile, a murderous wolf man is being seen through windows and a trail of death follows.
Slaughter isn’t quite as over-the-top here and I think this film stands out with better production values and a less conventional story. The horrific images of the wolf man are effective, if not a little low budget. The reveal comes quickly at the end of the film and offers up a surprising twist that is never even hinted at earlier in the story. Overall, I think this is one of Slaughter’s best efforts and is well worth a viewing, especially considering its brief running time and easy availability.
Both films are in the public domain, so are readily found in the usual places, such as YouTube and various Mill Creek sets. I recommend tracking down It’s Never Too Late to Mend and The Face at the Window. I’m not sure they’d make a good double feature considering the similar characters that Slaughter plays. But, they should entertain you on a rainy afternoon when you are looking for something new and quick.
Next time, we conclude our five part series on Tod Slaughter with two more films and the twilight of his career.