Thursday, September 06, 2012


John Gilbert is a famous magician whom we first see being challenged by police inspector Lewis Stone to get his way out of a water tank while chained and handcuffed.  He does, embarrassing Stone but impressing rich girl Leila Hyams. We find out that Hyams' father (C. Aubrey Smith) put Stone up to it hoping to make Gilbert look foolish, but instead Hyams, who is theoretically engaged to Ian Keith, becomes even more enamored of Gilbert. At a party, Keith shows his real colors in front of Smith—he's named in Smith's will and is only interested in Hyams' money—who immediately moves to take Keith out of his will. Keith kills Smith but circumstances make it look like Gilbert was at fault. As Gilbert awaits execution, he fakes a suicide, escapes from jail, and lives in hiding with his manager (Jean Hersholt). Hyams marries Keith, some time passes (it's unclear how much), and soon Keith is on his deathbed. Gilbert sneaks in the house and gets Keith to admit his guilt, but Keith dies before Gilbert can call in a witness. The solution: Gilbert takes Keith's body, makes it look like a kidnapping, then after some more time (again unclear) surfaces looking like Keith and claiming that Gilbert has killed himself.  He successfully passes as Keith, learning that he and Hyams had a loveless marriage and that Keith has a mistress who was an accomplice in the murder of Smith. Gilbert's last hope is to get the mistress to tell all to the police before he is found out.

Whew! That plot summary is a bit more convoluted than most of that era. Things actually play out fairly clearly except for the odd ellipses in time I mentioned above. It's a little odd that the magician aspect of Gilbert's character is more or less forgotten after the first half. Some interesting atmosphere is built up early on that also mostly vanishes. We're left with a twisty story of revenge with some decent acting—Gilbert is good, though Hyams is rather bland—and a few too many improbable plot points. A dated relic worth watching for Gilbert fans.  [TCM]

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