Here’s a very interesting modern-day adaptation of Hamlet, although William Shakespeare gets absolutely no credit whatsoever for his input into the project. Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer for a pittance at PRC Studios in 1945, Strange Illusion was one of the studio’s prestige efforts, starring Jimmy Lydon, Sally Eilers, and most importantly, Warren William, as the nefarious Claude Barrington, an unscrupulous criminal, who masquerades as Brett Curtis, a wealthy man about town, who in reality is in inpatient at the asylum of Professor Muhlbach (Charles Arnt).
As Barry Meyer summarizes the film’s plot, “Paul Cartwright (Jimmy Lydon), a sensitive young man still shaken by his father’s death a couple years previously, has a dream in which he witnesses the violent car crash that took his father’s life, not as an accident, but as murder. In the dream, he also sees his mother (Sally Eilers) and sister Dorothy (Jayne Hazard) being seduced by a shadowy stranger, who Paul fears may be his father’s murderer. After returning to school, Paul still cannot shake the awful dream, and when Brett Curtis (Warren William) comes to court his mother, Paul realizes that the occurrences in his dream are beginning to come true. He enlists his friends and the family doctor to help him uncover the secrets hidden in his nightmares before his mother gets tangled in the web of deceit spun by Curtis.”
An interesting and perceptive essay on the film is Stephen Buhler’s “The Psychology of Teen Hamlets: Edgar G. Ulmer’s Strange Illusion,” in Quarterly Review of Film and Video 28.4 (2011), which sharply deconstructs this transgressive film’s unique approach to the source material. Ulmer was always able to make something out of nearly nothing; here, with a solid cast and an excellent script, the results are quite remarkable.