Wednesday, December 05, 2001


This seems to be something of a rarity; I'd certainly never heard of it before, although apparently the story has been adapted for the movies at least twice. It's a creaky mystery/thriller from very early in the sound era, directed by Tod Browning. Like most 1929 movies I've seen, the camerawork style is practically nonexistent; the camera stays in one place and the actors mill about in front of it. In one especially unintentionally funny scene, a roomful of people are all standing around stock still and deadly quiet, for several seconds. Someone off-camera must give the "action" sign and suddenly everyone is chattering and running around. Why Browning didn't just trim the first few seconds of the scene is beyond me.

Despite the creakiness and the underdeveloped plot and characters, the movie was kinda fun. It involves murder, two seances, and Bela Lugosi in a pre-Dracula role. I had heard that Lugosi's hamminess grew out of his post-Dracula roles, but he still overacts outrageously here. Of course, so do a few other folks. The best acting is from Margaret Wycherly as the medium (she's probably best known for playing James Cagney's mother in WHITE HEAT many years later). The second seance, with a dead body in the circle, actually does achieve some genuine creepiness. Not a real classic by any means, but it'll do for a Midnight snack movie.

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