Bury Me Dead (1947)

Bury Me Dead (1947) is a mystery noir with comic and fantasy elements, directed by Bernard Vorhaus and starring Cathy O'Donnell, Sonia Darrin, June Lockhart, Hugh Beaumont and Mark Daniels.

Made by Eagle-Lion films, this entertaining if slight and lightweight film noir is a straightforward whodunnit, with more of a who-tried-to-do-it feel, as the murder victim survives the attempt on her life, and must then sleuth out the would-be killer from the cast of friends and family.

When the remains of a woman's body are found after a fire consumes the stables on the estate of wealthy Barbara Carlin, it is assumed that the body is hers, especially since the body is found Barbara's diamond necklace. 

Classic noir mystery weirdness kicks off the action however, with the mourning victim on the way to her own funeral in a taxi — an event rich in an almost goofball flavour of black comedy.

After the funeral, Barbara — played by June Lockhart — secretly contacts Michael Dunn, the family lawyer and although he advises her to notify the police immediately, she suspects someone is trying to murder her and wants to investigate first.

This is the premise for mild comedy noir shocker Bury Me Dead (1947), which is a short (68 minutes) and low budget performance noir which methodically riffs through a series of flashbacks to tell its fantastical tale.

Cathy O'Donnell in Bury Me Dead (1947)

June Lockhart in Bury Me Dead (1947)

This series of flashbacks reveals the possible motives of several suspects. The prime suspect is Barbara's irresponsible, philandering, untrustworthy, inconstant and foresworn husband, Rod, played by Mark Daniels, whom she is reluctantly divorcing. Of course Rod might have masterminded the affair to get his hands on her wealth. 

But then there's Rusty, played by Cathy O' Donnell, a resentful young woman who had been raised to believe she was Barbara's younger sister. When Barbara's father died, his will revealed that Rusty was just an orphan he had raised, but not legally adopted. This has meant that Barbara has inherited everything, making her the further target of acerbity and noirish choler.

Barbara it appears was quite willing to share everything with her, but Rusty accepted only a small allowance — and Rusty, it also turns out, is in love with Rod and mistakenly believes he loves her. 

Then there is the question of the woman buried under Barbara's name, and her identity. As in many a low budget noir, the mystery treads water hard which creates a modicum of confusion which keeps things interesting, and does not allow much time for examination. For Bury Me Dead (1947) is not a movie rich in themes or commentary.

Scheming Sonia Darrin in Bury Me Dead (1947)

A further flashback reveals that Rusty, a minor, had taken up with a dim-witted boxer named George Mandley — played by Greg McLure.

And Rod has also become openly attracted to George's glorious and attractive friend and 'assistant' , Helen Lawrence, played by the amazing Sonia Darrin. The great thing about the flashbacks in this instance is that viewers may start to forget which parts of this whodunnit are in the past and which in the present, creating a confusing time continuum, favourable to noir conditions.

More revelations follow. Helen, George's scheming girlfriend, has persuaded George to date Barbara while she herself was seeing Rod. Under normal circumstances, this might be one love triangle too far, but Bury Me Dead (1947) tumbles on regardless. 

There are hints at murder, and as with every classic family mystery, everyone has a motive and an opportunity. The challenge for director Bernard Vorhaus is to get Bury Me Dead (1947) over the line before anyone starts to care about where this tale might unravel.

Helen hints to Rod that he should kill his wife and marry her. But as Rod loves Barbara, this leaves Helen to plot to extort money out of Barbara through George. Meanwhile, Rusty, still certain that Rod loves her, boasts to him that her schemes had driven him and Barbara apart.

With Barbara (June Lockhart) at the helm of the mystery and attempting to unravel things, there is perhaps a case to be made for the suggestion that Bury Me Dead (1947) is a riff on the commonplace everyday paranoid woman picture of the 1940s. Unlike virtually every other paranoid female protagonist of the 1940s, Barbara has full agency and is control, although she still lives in a house of mystery where it is certain that one or more people are out to get her.

Unlike other paranoid women in classic film noir, Barbara does not spend time cooped up and fearful in bed, with the covers up to her chin. And although her house has burned down at the start of the film, it is not an entirely fearful place, but is to most senses quite relatable and is certainly not balanced on the edge of a suicide-suggesting cliff.

To this end then, June Lockhart as Barbara Carlin is paranoid for sure, but knows with absolute certainty that someone is out to get her. Crucially though, she is not married to a mysterious man, but a transparently lousy husband who does seem to find her an inconvenience, when things are of course the other way round. 

A picture as good as The Amazing Mr. X (1948) would certainly make you ask if director Bernard Vorhaus and cinematographer John Alton worked together on anything else. They did, but the results are not quite the same, even despite Bury Me Dead (1947) being an earlier outing for the pair. The script is not your traditional film noir fayre and seems to relish gallows humour where it can, obliging Bury Me Dead to make constant left and right turns into comedic territory, from which it must always fast retreat.

There is still something quite staid about this minor wonder.  A morbid and ghoulish butler named Jeffers (Milton Parsons) moves robotically around as if in some proto-horror environment, and contributes the odd zany facial gesture, again pulling comedy out where there should perhaps be none.

There may well be other ways to tell a story like Bury Me Dead, but flashback is the tool of the day. It's a straightforward and mechanical use of the tool, which does not deliver any habitual noir flavour.

And perhaps Bury Me Dead (1947) would not even snake its way into the film noir canon where it not for the cinematography by John Alton.

Alton properly learned the mechanics of light on low budget, black-and-white film noirs like this one before graduating to full colour wonderworks like An American in Paris (1951)

John Alton did perfect a stark and inexpensive way of lighting that involved only a few bright lights, which resulted in the exact kind of contrast between blacks and whites that film noir favours. Certainly these effects create an attractive and compelling air of impendence and menace that stops Bury Me Dead from drifting away into a kind of screwball farce that seems to poke its head out from time to time, and seems to be the actors' main thrust at times.

Bury Me Dead (1947) at Wikipedia

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