Sunday, April 02, 2006


A movie in the short-lived genre of screwball mystery; it's nowhere near as good as THE THIN MAN, mostly because it lacks actors who can pull this sort of thing off effortlessly, but this lesser-known James Whale film is still worth seeing. Robert Young and Constance Cummings (both young, rich, and good-looking) are celebrating their 6-month wedding anniversary with a "progressive" party (or galloping party, as we called it in my youth) in which they go from mansion to mansion getting drunker and more debauched, smashing glasses and bowls, setting off a cannon, swimming after midnight, and at one point, dressing up in blackface masks. The next morning, not only do they all have hangovers, they also discover that one of their number (George Meeker) is dead. Even after Young calls in an old friend, detective Edward Arnold, to investigate, more murders (and a suicide) follow. Along the way, there are implications of romantic affairs and financial problems, and a hypnotist (Gustav von Seyffertitz) comes in to try to get people to recall helpful details from their alcoholic fogs. Ultimately, it was difficult for me to care much about the overly convoluted mystery, and the comedy elements are very scattershot--sometimes they work, sometimes they don't--so I was left with plenty of time to admire the elaborate sets and interesting camerawork. Young and Cummings come off as trying too hard, but Arnold is a delight especially when he gets a chance to do some deliberately over-the-top histrionics. I also quite liked Arthur Treacher as a butler who is constantly expressing outrage over the way these rich Americans behave and speak; some critics think his performance hurts the film, and it certainly is a one-note performance (in a one-note role), but I enjoyed him. Also in the cast: Sally Eliers as the dead man's wife, Robert Armstrong as the chauffeur who may be having an affair with Eilers, Monroe Owsley (who looks a bit like Paul Reubens) and Reginald Denny as other rich revelers, and Gregory Ratoff as someone named Faronea; I never did figure out what he had to do with the proceedings. E.E. Clive, Jack La Rue and Rafaela Ottiano have small but memorable bits. Watch for a couple of fun little references to "Dracula's Daughter" and Whale's own "Bride of Frankenstein." Thanks to Turner Classic Movies for rescuing this one from the deep but neglected Universal vaults. [TCM]

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