A product of the Broadway and vaudeville stages, the distinguished Cecil Cunningham was a character actress who, for decades, supported such cinema queens as Hedy LaMarr, Greta Garbo, Mary Astor, Carole Lombard (pictured below) and Barbara Stanwyck. Of course, smart cinema enthusiasts know that she was a presence in her own right, making a strong impression in smaller roles that often weren’t even credited onscreen.
Thankfully for horror fans, Cunningham was given one of her most prestigious undertakings in the fun Warner Brothers’ genre fest The Hidden Hand. Released in 1942, this gem found this regal celluloid queen in fine form as Lorinda Channing, the head of a family of greedy, mentally unbalanced socialites. Pretending to be near her death, Channing invites her nearest and dearest to her estate. Surmising that they all want her cold for her cash, this devious diva enlists the help of her brother, a deranged killer who has just escaped an asylum, to assist her in her plotting against her avaricious kinfolk.
Filled with weird humor and old dark house theatrics, this project also gave Cunningham plenty of room to utilize many of her acting tools. She brings a proud and strange presence to Channing, reveling in a role that would have normally been filled by a Boris Karloff or Laird Cregar type. Her work here is definitely the precursor to contemporary artists like Deanna Dunagan and Lin Shaye, fine actresses, who have embellished and empowered such films as The Visit and Insidious with their distinguished essences.
Cunningham, who also appeared in 1934’s hard to find Return of The Terror and Ladies They Talk About, an early WIP effort, died at the age of 70 in 1959. Sixty years later, her filmography (and her genre credits, in particular) seems truly ripe for rediscovery.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!