One of the eerier chillers of its period -- and one of the best ever to come out of Paramount -- Stuart Heisler's Among the Living is a strange and compelling mix of social drama, horror film, and suspense thriller. The story opens with the funeral of Maxim Raden, the patriarch who was pretty much responsible for building up the town that bears the family name, and which has been dominated for decades by the now-idle mill that he owned. Present at the funeral is Dr. Ben Saunders (Harry Carey Sr.), Raden's oldest friend, and the surviving Raden son John (Albert Dekker), who has been away for most of the last 25 years and recently married Elaine (Frances Farmer), a beautiful young woman from New York. John was one of a pair of twin boys; the other, Paul, died in an accident a quarter century ago, just after John was sent away to school. But Saunders and Maxim Raden had a secret between them -- that Paul Raden didn't die, but went dangerously insane, and has kept been alive all of this time, in a hidden room in the decaying Raden mansion, tended to by the doctor and the faithful family servant Pompey (Ernest Whitman). Paul was a victim of abuse by his overbearing father, and suffered brain damage from a beating he received while trying to protect his mother. He has never stopped "hearing" his father's threats or his mother's weeping, and they leave him prone to violent, potentially murderous outbursts of rage. Worse still, the death of his father has agitated him into a state where he is able to escape the mansion. Once freed and relieved of his quarter century of isolation, Paul is at once confused by and delighted with the company of people; he heads to the town and rents a room at a seedy boarding house, where he immediately attracts the attention of the landlady's frisky (and avaricious) daughter Millie (Susan Hayward) with his large bankroll, free-spending habits, and lost-puppy-dog demeanor. Meanwhile, the doctor reveals the truth about Paul to John, who wants to notify the authorities that his brother is loose and potentially dangerous -- but the doctor won't hear of it, fearing that news of the insane son will tarnish the Raden name and the reputation of the clinic that Maxim founded and funded on the doctor's behalf, in return for his covering up the son's existence.
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The stakes get raised higher when the coroner reveals that a death the doctor tried to cover up was, in fact, a murder, and then a young woman is found strangled. While John is torn between sympathy for his brother, who never got the help or care he needed, and his feeling of responsibility to the town, the doctor tries to continue the cover-up by posting a 5,000-dollar reward for the capture of the killer. This sets off an orgy of assaults and destruction as the work-starved townspeople, led by Millie's ex-boyfriend Bill Oakley (Gordon Jones), begin rounding up anyone who looks even the least bit suspicious or out of place, trying to get the reward. Millie's greed is also brought to the fore and she persuades her new boyfriend, Paul, to go with her to the one place no one has searched yet -- the Raden mansion. Paul's veneer of calm unravels as he finds himself back in the location of his imprisonment, and in the course of the fight and the chase that ensues, John is caught and accused, by Millie and all of the other witnesses to Paul's outbursts, as the killer. Now it looks like a lynching is in the offing as hundreds of angry, drunken, greedy townspeople gather together to mete out justice -- and John must make them believe that he has a twin who is responsible for the murders. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi