13 August 2019

Strange Impersonation

I was looking for a movie to watch and Strange Impersonation, directed by Anthony Mann, sounded interesting, so I put it on.

And since I’m going to use this movie to make a larger point I’m going to give away various plot elements. I could use other, better-known movies, but as this is less-known and will work just as well illustrating the point, I figure it’s better to give the store away here. I’m using this movie to make a point about most, if not all, movies that do this.


Here’s the basic plot as told by Bruce Eder on All Movie: “Nora Goodrich (Brenda Marshall) is a dedicated research scientist who is very close to a breakthrough in her field of anesthetics. She allows herself to be used as the subject of an experiment, and becomes the victim of sabotage by her jealous assistant (Hillary Brooke), who is her rival for the affections of the same man (William Gargan). Nora is scarred by the accident, but fate takes a hand when a vicious blackmailer (Ruth Ford), part of an extortion scam that was being worked on her, breaks in to her apartment. In the ensuing struggle, the lady grifter is killed and then mistaken for Nora, while the real Nora goes into hiding. Taking the identity of the dead woman, she realizes how she has been betrayed and maimed and plots an elaborate revenge, undergoing reconstructive surgery that changes her whole appearance. She then reintroduces herself into the lives of her former associates, in her new guise, and begins her revenge. Before her plans can be concluded, however, her masquerade backfires on her, when she finds herself accused by the police -- of the murder of Nora Goodrich” (https://www.allmovie.com/movie/strange-impersonation-v111934#ASyuCJD6Q4IVUJxw.99)

Okay, it sounds pretty convoluted, but just go with it, ’cause that’s not the point of this post.

It started going along pretty well. Nothing great, but I didn’t turn it off either.

So, after the ‘accident,’ and after the blackmailer dies and is mistaken for the scientist, the scientist leaves her fiancé and her life behind. She heads out west. Has plastic surgery to look like the woman who was blackmailing her. She then returns to the city as that person and begins on a course of revenge against her former assistant. She insinuates herself back into her former fiancé’s life, trying to steal him back from his new lover, her former assistant. Before she can pull it all together, everything backfires on her and she finds herself accused of murder—the murder of herself (though really, as we know, the blackmailer).

Okay, still convoluted, but interesting.


…that all of the revenge part of the plot turns out to be a dream. Everything after the explosion/‘accident’ didn’t really happen. It was all a dream in the scientist’s head after the accident. So all the emotion and excitement and concern that we invested in the character/s was for nothing. Because none of it was real. There were no real consequences. The assistant didn’t really make an explosive compound that disfigured the scientist. The scientist didn’t really get plastic surgery, return to exact her revenge, which was thwarted before should could finish it and she wasn’t really arrested for the murder of…………herself.

None of it happened. Because it was a dream.

And because it was a dream it’s a cheat. And it makes me angry and it makes me feel like I wasted 68 minutes of my life. I don’t like movies where major plot elements turn out to be dreams. I’ve invested myself, I’ve given over my suspension of disbelief. And then none of it matters.

I won’t name other movies or TV shows where things have turned out to be dreams, because I don’t want to give them away for those who haven’t seen them (with a couple exceptions below). But I can’t think of one that I like once I learn the events that took place were just a dream and didn’t really happen. There are, however, a couple of exceptions: one film noir that I like fairly well where much of it turns out to be a dream, but even that one which, if there is an exception to the rule is it, disappoints me in the end because again, there was no real jeopardy. There were no real consequences. So what did it all amount to? Nothing. The other exception is The Wizard of Oz, but that whole story is a fantasy. We’re not supposed to buy it as a real story as we are with other movies.

(Just as a side note here: I’m not talking about movies like Spellbound, where dreams are used to analyze a character and figure them out. That’s fine. I’m talking about movies where we learn that much of the action was a dream and thus didn’t really take place within the context of the story.)

Freud might have loved dreams and found them useful in psychoanalyzing people. But in my opinion, in a movie they’re nothing but a cheap cheat.

What do you think? Do you find movies based on dreams a cheat? Do you feel deceived after you’ve seen them? Let us know.


And now for the usual BSP:

My story Past is Prologue is out in the July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Available now at bookstores and newstands as well as online at: https://www.alfredhitchcockmysterymagazine.com/. Hope you'll check it out.

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  1. I don't generally have the same irate response as you, but I don't love the dream stuff. It reminds me of when Patrick Duffy returned to Dallas after a year off, and they made the entire prior season a dream. When you are dealing with a serialized drama, asking the audience to disregard a whole year of plot is asking a lot.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Barb. I thought about the Dallas dream season, too, which I know about even though I didn't watch the show. As you say, asking the audience to disregard a whole year of episodes and plot is, I think, asking way too much. And I'm sure if I had been watching the show I would have felt extremely cheated by it.

  3. Paul,

    I agree and think declaring everything that happened was only a dream is a cheat, a cheap way to deal with painting oneself into a corner. Obviously, the writers were too lazy to go to the effort of creating a clever twist for the ending of the film. I think we short story and novel writers do much better than using such cliches.

  4. Count me amongst the irate clan. I don't mind a dream as insight into a character's mind and quickly revealed, but don't let me vest in traipsing down a dead-end garden path.

    Paul, the main problem is that dreams violate the rule that each element must move the plot (or characterization or perhaps setting) forward. Fake action dreams disrupt the entire story-telling structure.

    You saved me from watching a dud, Paul!

  5. Jacqueline, you make a good point about the writers not being able to come up with a clever twist. And I hope you’re right about story and novel writers  . Thanks for your comment.

  6. I couldn’t agree with everything you say more, Leigh. And we can for a club: The Irate Clan.

  7. Paul, if the character is shown going to sleep and then fuzzing off into a dream which reveals something about the character, then maybe. Other than that, I end up groaning and dislike that movie or TV episode.

  8. Dreams can be great tools - for instance, they're used in Hitchcock's Spellbound to help figure out who Gregory Peck's character really is - but turning the whole movie into a dream? I'm with you. I think it's a cheat, and I get ticked.

  9. I agree Paul. “It was all a dream” dreams are lazy cheats. Unless the whole film is a dream, like a Maya Deren short. Or it’s just a “regular” dream, like your Spellbound example. Horror movie dreams, like the one at the end of Carrie, can really be an effective jolt.

  10. I agree, R.T. If they show the character going to sleep, fine. Then they’re not cheating. But if we aren’t cued in on that…

  11. Thanks for your comment, Eve. I mentioned Spellbound in my piece as a way to use drams legitimately. But if the whole movie is a dream and we don’t know it from the start, that’s when I feel cheated.

  12. Larry, I’ve seen Carrie but I don’t remember the dream aspect of it. I’ve only seen the original and probably when it came out. Sometimes I wonder if this whole life is but a dream…

  13. I wholehearetedly agree that plots revolving around dreams are usually cheats, whether in movies or written literature.

  14. I agree about dreams. When I have one in a novel or short story, I let the reader know right away it's a dream. I'm not saying I'm right to do that. I just do it.

  15. Thanks, Fran. Looks like we're on the same page. Hope you're feeling better.

  16. Thanks, O’Neil. I think it’s good to do that so the reader won’t feel cheated. I don’t even mind a short dream that we’re not sure is a dream right away, but when the whole action, or almost whole action, of the story is a dream and we don’t know it that’s when I get a little nuts.

  17. No no no about The Wizard of Oz. Blame 1930s Hollywood for monkeying with a perfectly good fantasy story, ie Frank Baum's book. That's the canon. Sure, you can't help loving Judy Garland and Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow and Margaret Hamilton as the Witch—but that frame story of the dream and the farmhands is not the canon, it's Hollywood add-on. I was also really annoyed by the ending of Inception.

  18. Thanks, Liz. And I agree with you about The Wizard of Oz. And, if I remember correctly, I didn't like anything about Inception.


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