Friday, December 19, 2008


This is the third movie version of this story, originally a play and filmed once as a silent in 1919 and once in the early sound days, in 1929, by Tod Browning (DRACULA). I reviewed the '29 version several years ago, but the primitiveness of the filming and the awkward direction distracted me from enjoying the narrative. This film, though obviously a B-enterprise, is a bit more enjoyable as it doesn't have the slack pacing and technical problems that marred the '29 version. In British-run Calcutta, an Englishman named Leith has been murdered and no one who knew the man is talking, so his friend (Henry Daniell) gets Scotland Yard involved. The visiting inspector (Lewis Stone) plots with Daniell to hold a seance, with the batty Madame LaGrange (Dame May Whitty) attempting to contact the dead man's spirit, in the hope that the killer will snap and confess. Among the participants, many of whom had grudges against Leith, are a Hindu professor (Lal Chand Mehra), the son of the local governor (Thomas Beck), his girlfriend (Madge Evans), a doctor (Charles Trowbridge), and a snotty young woman (Heather Thatcher) who may have had a special relationship with Leith. At the seance (shot in total blackness), Daniell is knifed to death, though no one can find the murder weapon. The participants are questioned, secrets are revealed, and a second seance is held, which leads to the killer's exposure. Old pros Whitty and Stone are fine, and the plot holds the attention. I especially liked getting some insight into Whitty's own self-consciousness about her mystical abilities--she seems to sincerely believe that she has some, but she also admits to resorting to theatrical trickery now and then. The scene in which she calls out desperately, alone in the room, for help from Laughing Eyes, her spirit contact, is nicely played. Also with Elissa Landi and Ralph Forbes. [TCM]

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