Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Heiress Gloria Stuart is turning 21 and her father (Lionel Atwill) has invited three of her admirers over for dinner: young William Janney, journalist Onslow Stevens, and older military man Paul Lukas. Janney mentions stories he's heard about the mysterious Blue Room, and Atwill tells its history: over a few years time, three people were found dead in the room, all under strange circumstances, with death occurring at exactly 1 a.m., and the room has been locked up ever since. Janney, trying to prove his courage to Stuart, announces his intention to stay the night in the room.  Stevens and Lukas immediately agree to do the same the next two nights. Next morning, Janney has vanished from the room, even though it remained locked from inside. Later that day, a strange figure startles Stuart, but disappears before anyone else sees him. The next night, Stevens goes up the room and is heard playing the piano until the stroke of 1, when the playing stops; he is found shot to death at the piano, the room once again still locked. This time, the police are called; inspector Edward Arnold arrives and tries to sort things out before Lukas takes his turn in the Blue Room.

This Universal film from the era of their classic horror films is more mystery than horror, though it has the requisite "old dark house" setting and events (strangers, secret passages)—and they use the same chunk of Tchaikovsk'’s Swan Lake over the credits that they used for Bela Lugosi's DRACULA. I have a bit of history with this film; the first time I saw it was on Halloween evening back in my early teens—I remember eating dinner on a TV tray with the movie playing and my parents attending to trick or treat. It spooked me back then, though now, it seems rather tame and static. The Blue Room itself is atmospheric, and Janney, Lukas, and Arnold give good performances. Stuart (pictured above with Janney), much as I love her, has little to do except look pretty and get scared. There are a ton of red herrings, and though I don't object to their presence, they sometimes give the movie a feeling that it's unfinished—for example, we never do get any explanation about the original Blue Room deaths, and the surprise about the dark figure that Stuart runs into seems to have been imported from a different movie. Still, I was pleased to see this one again on YouTube; it's never come out on DVD and for a time was considered a lost movie. It was remade twice, most notably in 1944 as MURDER IN THE BLUE ROOM, apparently with lots more comic relief. [YouTube]

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