The Dark Tower (1943)

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The Dark Tower is an interesting British crime thriller about a strange drifter with a talent for hypnotism and an evil streak, who saves a little traveling circus from bankruptcy. The mysterious tramp Torg (Herbert Lom) is hired on with some reluctance, since he seems like such a misfit and comes seeking employment at a low time for the circus. Torg’s hypnosis turns out to be a great help to the trapeze and high-wire act, made up of Tom (David Farrar) and his love interest Mary (Anne Crawford). When Torg mesmerizes Mary into complete focus and fearlessness, she’s able to successfully attempt a new daring stunt. Suddenly, audiences flock to see Mary’s highwire walk-and-slide act. The box office thrills co-owner Phil (Ben Lyon),  and the other performers try to overlook Torg’s disturbing quirks, but his unpleasant personality bothers Tom and the show’s feisty sharpshooter Dora (Josephine Wilson), who openly calls Torg sinister and warns everyone they’ll rue the day they met him.

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Sure enough, the pushy, conceited Torg begins to remind them he’s too valuable to let go. He bullies Phil into signing over part ownership of the circus, then lords his new status over all the other performers. He professes his love for Mary, and when she politely rejects him, he uses hypnotism to isolate her from Tom and the others, and fully controls her will. He eventually commands poor Mary to drop poor Tom from the trapeze, and from that disaster, tensions escalate toward a spectacular showdown during a show.

As part of the circus show we get to see a number of acts, and there are several unique and entertaining characters caught up in their own little backstage dramas, like the “Colonel” and his wife, constantly bickering and never fixing that wobbly table, and the stuttering PR man who comes up with astoundingly unoriginal ideas. One great bit involves an automated laughing sailor whose guffaws are as creepy as they are contagious.

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The main attraction is a great villainous performance by Lom in one of his earliest English-speaking films. The egotistical, resentful, insecure Torg expects and demands respect but makes little effort to earn it through camaraderie or kindness, and why should he bother when he can you feel any way he wants? He’s weirdly attractive and magnetic, which combined with his powerful persuasive powers make him a fine and memorable Svengali in this three-ring thriller.

This is my contribution to the return of the At the Circus! Blogathon. Click here to enjoy all the other acts in this grand show.

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14 thoughts on “The Dark Tower (1943)”

    1. I have a recording from tcm and in the intro they say it was a premiere and rarely seen. Fun stuff with a neat cast, really enjoy Lom in a nasty role.

  1. I’m definitely going to check this one out! I love Herbert Lom, especially his early films. Earlier this year I saw him in two British noir movies, SNOWBOUND (1948) and APPOINTMENT WITH CRIME (1946), both worth a look.

  2. Young and hot Herbert Lom? This sounds marvelous! You really made me interested in watching it.
    Thanks for joining us at the grand finale!
    Kisses!
    Le

  3. Wow, this movie sounds like a terrific find, to be honest, I do not think I have ever seen Herbert Lom in anything outside of The Pink Panther Films! I look forward to this darker take on the Circus lifestyle, thank you for sharing this wonderful post, and thank you for participating in #AtTheCircus!

    1. Lom is good in so many movies! Thanks for hosting, it was a fun topic and glad it led me to this little gem plus others I read about in the blogathon.

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