The Disembodied - 1957
The Disembodied - Released Aug 25, 1957. Directed by Walter Grauman
When a three-man troupe of documentary filmmakers with a wounded-comrade in tow come to a hidden jungle station where a doctor practices (or actually tries not to practice. He sends a servant with a gun to scare off the group so he won't be disturbed), the doctor's wife Tonda Metz (Allison Hayes) begins trying to lure the group's leader Joe (Robert Christopher) into her twin goals of killing her husband and getting out of the jungle.
Joe is very interested in the beautiful Tonda, but when she makes it even clearer concerning her plans and a lot more immediate by trying to hand him a knife so he can get busy with homicide immediately, he refuses. With this response, Tonda suddenly declares now that she wants to kill him, too. She then backs up and returns to pleading for his help, and getting nowhere, finally declaring coldly that Joe will come crawling back to her, all of which produces a pained, mixed-up look on Joe's face, which is a reasonably good response to a lot of The Disembodied.
Director Grauman keeps The Disembodied moving at a 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 the simple plot (or even to just go up and down stairs) as she tries to use voodoo and seduction to get someone to murder her husband (Dr. Metz is played by John Wengraf).
Hayes is not very demonstrative in The Disembodied, and this combined with a very low key acting style (she does a lot of steady walking through much of the story, the camera glued to her) that if the script (by Jack Townley) had suddenly revealed she had been a zombie this whole time, it would have helped this film to make more sense, particularly because her husband is sweating like a character from a Tennessee Williams' film, while Allison is always 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 sort of power over her. Or does he? It's not made clear. Eventually, a little further into the story and it is Dr. Metz who is trying to catch a ride out of the jungle to leave her behind, and so the obvious thing would be for the pair to teamup and exit together, but obvious logic has no place here.
Instead, we have Allison sneaking around trying to finagle help for her homicide plot and inbetween conducting Hollywood-style voodoo rituals which look like nightclub floor shows. Perhaps the movie should have simply been titled Dis' Body.
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. Even the dialogue is budget pinched, the 'natives' just say "bwana" a lot. 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, but wants to use murder to accomplish it, whatever it is.
Allison doesn't have a very large wardrobe for this film. She wears an oriental sarong at first, but in one scene she leaves her doctor husband for a moment, and then returns to him in a completely different outfit, and that unexplainable change mirrors the unexplainable actions of The Disembodied.
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Original page November 2017 - Updated October 15, 2021