Friday, February 23, 2007


The set-up of this early sound Poverty Row thriller seemed very familiar to me, and I realized later it's because the same story was adapted several years later for another Poverty Row film featuring Boris Karloff as Chinese sleuth Mr. Wong (THE MYSTERY OF MR. WONG). In the atmospheric opening, we see a butler enter a darkened room and turn a clock's hands ahead to midnight. Next, we see a man arrive to have a rendezvous with a married woman (Aileen Pringle), but the wronged husband (Kenneth Thompson) discovers them and shoots the intruder dead. Then the camera pans back and we see that the entire thing has been an elaborate charade performed at a party. However, it turns out that the gun had real bullets, and the "intruder" is dead. A noted criminologist (Hale Hamilton, who looks a bit like Robert Benchley) is present, which helps sooth nervous Aunt Julia (Clara Blandick) and when police inspector Robert Elliott arrives, there's quite a large suspect pool, not to mention a second murder victim, the husband. Among the characters: a lawyer who reveals that Thompson had written a new will in which he disinherited his wife, a snoopy maid (Alice White) who surely knows more than she lets on, the widow, her brother (Leslie Fenton) who lives off an allowance from her, and of course, the omnipresent butler. The rewritten will and an important letter go missing and several more people wind up dead, some by way of a rigged telephone which jabs the caller in the base of the neck with a poisoned needle. The identity of the killer came as a surprise to me, and the conclusion, in which the police inspector allows the killer to commit suicide, is effective (and, I think, right out of a Philo Vance novel, "The Bishop Murder Case"). As is par for the course at the time, most of the shots are long static ones, but there are some nice creative set-ups, including one shot looking up from the floor near a body and another showing a murder from the killer's point of view. Not bad B-movie entertainment for a stormy (or snowy) night. [DVD]

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