Phantoms, Inc. (1945)
Directed by Harold Young
Featuring Arthur Shields, Ann Shoemaker, Frank Reicher
What it is: Short in the "Crime Does Not Pay" series
A couple is bilked by a fake medium who claims to be in contact with their son, missing in the war.
This short was part of MGM's "Crime Does Not Pay" series, which illustrated the various types of criminal rackets and the way we can get caught up in them. Most of the shorts in the series probably do not fall within the genre limitations of this project, but this one, as it deals with spiritualism (albeit faked), does. It's the only one I've seen from the series, so I can't really compare it with the others. However, I will say this much; it's effective in making us understand how we can be suckered into the machinations of these con men, how they obtain the necessary information to make the con work, and in getting us to feel the tragedy of the innocent victims who get caught up in the schemes. It is less effective in convincing us that the phony spiritualists will be caught, at least partially because it points out that some of these rackets do operate within the bounds of the law; in order for the criminals to be caught in this one, we have a melodramatic series of events that forces the con man to commit murder, and it is for this act, and not the racket in question, that he is arrested. As for the fantastic elements, those drawn to the short for a full-blown seance will be somewhat disappointed, as the spiritualist does little more than tell the victims what they want to here; no fake voices, ghostly figures, crystal balls, or other paraphernalia come into play.