Friday, May 02, 2003


Mongram Pictures makes hash of Wilkie Collins' great Victorian detective novel, which I read last year. The copy I saw of this film ran roughly ten minutes less than the recorded running time that's given in most film reference books, but even allowing for that, there are still loopholes and unexplained plot points galore. It's an early work from "Poverty Row" and everything about it reeks low-low budget: shoddy sets, weak writing, static cinematography, inconsistent acting. The plot centers around a stolen and cursed gem from India that winds up in England and puts a bunch of people in an old dark house in harm's way. David Manners, who was in a couple of Universal horror films in the 30's, plays possibly the most passive hero in movie history (partly due to the way the character was written in the novel); Phyllis Barry is OK as the heroine; Gustav von Seyffertitz, who I remember from THE BAT WHISPERS, is the over-the-top bad guy. Elspeth Dudgeon is fine as the housekeeper (who in the novel was a male). The element of "mysterious India" is greatly diminished from the book, distilled here into one red herring character, played by John Davidson (most assuredly NOT the well-known TV host). A considerable disappointment, and despite the bad shape of the print, probably not a film worth going through a lot of trouble to restore.

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