Friday, August 03, 2012


John Jasper is a middle-aged choirmaster who has a passion for the young and lovely Eva Bud, who lives at Miss Twinkleton's School for Girls, but she has already been promised to Jasper's handsome nephew Edwin Drood. Meanwhile, Neville Landless and his sister Helena arrive, and Neville, who has a bit of a temper, falls for Eva. She, not really being in love with Edwin, falls for him. Neville and Edwin argue, with Neville pulling a knife—and the story of the fight gets exaggerated by the village gossips—but eventually Eva and Edwin realize they're not really in love and he frees her from her arranged obligation. On a wild and stormy Christmas Eve, Jasper has Neville and Edwin over for a reconciliation dinner, but the next morning, Edwin is missing and Neville falls under suspicion. But what’s with Jasper’s drug paraphernalia? Neville, who insists that he and Edwin were no longer enemies, vanishes and returns in disguise as an old man, discovering Jasper is a secret opium addict. Could Jasper be a killer as well as a dope fiend? This melodrama is based on an unfinished novel by Charles Dickens, and the mystery is given a satisfying if unsurprising ending; the movie as a whole, however, fails to thrill in the way that it promises to. The Gothic atmosphere is first-rate, and the film plays out more like a horror movie than a traditional Dickens adaptation, but the screenplay and acting are only adequate. Claude Rains, usually a reliably excellent actor, seems stymied by the merely serviceable script and weak direction. Douglass Montgomery is fine as Neville. David Manners (above, standing over Rains) and Heather Angel are lackluster as Edwin and Rosa, though there is some fun to be had with some of the supporting actors (Francis L. Sullivan as the Rev. Crisparkle, Zeffie Tilbury as the "Opium Woman," and Ethel Griffes as Miss Twinkleton). Maybe I felt let down by this one because the atmosphere builds it up to be something it isn't (creepy Gothic horror), but there just isn't much energy on display. [TCM]

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