Saturday, October 03, 2015


The Duke de Mornay has died, apparently murdered by the notorious Prihec who kills in order to get his hands on rare books. Chief inspector Marotte shows up at the auction of the Duke's books—being run by M. Fos, a well known book dealer—hoping that the killer will also show up. Instead, Marotte runs into Julie Verlaine (Claire Dodd) as she's chatting with the Duke's nephew Paul (Clark Williams) who tells her he is trying to find a buyer for a Gutenberg Bible that belonged to his uncle. Julie is known as a thief who works with her live-in boyfriend Lucien (Jack La Rue); in fact, she has just been released from a short stint in jail, and Marotte lets her know that he's keeping an eye on her. Julie wants to leave behind her life of crime, even if that means leaving Lucien, though out of habit she steals a rare Moliere book at the auction. Paul, thinking Julie is a rare book expert, asks her to visit the chateau to verify the value of the Gutenberg, which is kept under lock and alarm along with a fake copy. At the chateau, there are troubled waters: Paul's aunt, Mme. Rombiere, argues that she owns half of the Bible and she wants a say in how it's disposed of; M. Bardou, the executor of the will, wants to donate it to a museum. Also at the chateau: Didi (Alice White), a frisky former lover of Paul's who wants some of the money he may come into; the butler Martin and his wife, the cook, both of whom have only been employed there for a few weeks; and Professor Racque, a book seller who claims to have been promised books from the Duke's collection. For various reasons, all stay the night in the chateau, and at midnight, the tower bell mysteriously rings out. Legend has it that whenever the bell rings, death will follow, and sure enough, later in the night, there's a scream, a gunshot, and the ringing of the bible's alarm bell, all simultaneously. The Bible is gone and Bardou is dead, though Marotte believes that the theft and the killing were done by two different people. How many more will die before Marotte gets to the bottom of the mystery?

Though originally sold to television in the 50s as part of Universal's famous Shock Theater package of horror films, this is not horror, nor does it really belong to the "old dark house" genre. It's just a traditional crime/mystery B-film, though an entertaining and well-paced one. The movie has a very light tone with a fair amount of comic relief which I thought worked well, though not all reviewers agree. George E. Stone does his usual comic sidekick role to good effect (in one scene, he tries to oil the hinges of a squeaking door with salad dressing), and Alice White brings a nice jolt of energy to the proceedings in all of her scenes. Dodd is fine; Williams may be a little low on passion as the romantic lead, but he's handsome and otherwise serviceable. Osgood Perkins, father of actor Anthony, is good as the suspicious butler, as is Ferdinand Gottschalk as the inspector. No earthshaker, and definitely not a pick for horror night, but a nice way for a fan of B-mysteries to pass an hour. [Above right are White and Stone; pictured at left are Dodd and Williams][YouTube]

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