The Disembodied - 1957

The Disembodied - Released Aug 25, 1957. Directed by Walter Grauman

Director Grauman keeps The Disembodied moving at a very slow pace, perhaps to copy the similar hypnotic pace of older voodoo films like White Zombie, but the effect is not the same. Star Allison Hayes gets the lion's share of camera attention, and Grauman is content for us to watch her steadily go through the motions of a simplistic plot (or even just go up or down stairs) to use voodoo and seduction to get someone to murder her husband (Dr. Carl Metz, played by John Wengraf) for her (it will prove to be too tough of a job for anyone).

Hayes is not very demonstrative and this combined with a very low key acting style (she does a lot of steady walking through much of the story, camera glued to her) that if the script (by Jack Townley) had suddenly revealed she was in fact a zombie, it would have made more sense (particularly because her husband is sweating like a character from a Tennessee Williams' story in the jungle heat, Allison is perfectly coiffured and powdered.)

We don't ever find out why she wants her husband dead ("He's evil. He has no right to live" she says) or why he has some kind of power over her (or does he? It's not really clear. If anything, she's constantly manipulating him while he suffers his jealousy helplessly. Eventually he's trying to catch a ride out of the jungle to leave her behind, the very thing she was trying to do to him, which makes Allison furious).

Most of our script consists of Allison sneaking around trying to finagle help for her homicide plot and conducting a few Hollywood-style voodoo rituals which look like nightclub floor shows.

When a three-man troupe of documentary filmmakers with a wounded-comrade in tow come to the hidden station where the doctor practices (or actually tries not to practice, he sends a servant with a gun to scare them off so he won't be disturbed), Allison's character of Tonda Metz begins trying to lure their leader Joe (Robert Christopher) into her goal to kill her husband and take her away. He's very interested in the beautiful Tonda, but when she makes it clear by handing him a knife what she wants him to do, he refuses. She declares now that she wants to kill him, too, but then she backs up and returns to pleading for his help, and then declaring he'll come crawling back to her, which produces a pained, mixed-up look on his face, which is a reasonably good response to a lot of The Disembodied.

Cinematography (by Harry Neumann ) is usually good. The art direction doesn't have a lot to work with, the few sets of huts and a station house look suitable for any low budget jungle movie of the 1950s (the 'natives' say "bwana" frequently). The voodoo scenes have sacrificial chickens and the 'natives' painted, and a great deal of drumming, but really the story is less about a voodoo queen terrorizing the area than it is about a frustrated woman who can't make up her mind about what she wants (I guess that is courtesy of scripter Townley).

Allison doesn't have a very large wardrobe for this film, but then not a lot is really happening to require it. She wears an oriental sarong at first, but in one scene she leaves her doctor husband, and then returns to him in a completely different outfit, and that unexplainable change mirrors the unexplainable actions of The Disembodied's main character.

The Disembodied is currently streaming via Warner Archives online service.


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