Wednesday, November 18, 2015


The robed and hooded members of the criminal group the Crooked Circle meet (at a round table with a skull in the middle) to decide who will take on a mission of revenge against the Sphinx Club, a gang of amateur criminologists who recently took down one of their members. Their verdict: death to Walters, the head of the Sphinx Club, who has just moved into an old mansion nicknamed Melody Manor—it's supposedly haunted by a ghost that plays a violin from an upper-story window, the very idea of which freaks out Walters' skittish housekeeper Nora (Zasu Pitts). Meanwhile, within the Sphinx Club, Brand Osborne (Ben Lyon) is retiring to marry his sweetie Thelma (Irene Purcell), and his replacement is an Indian swami named Yoganda (C. Henry Gordon). At a gathering at Melody Manor one night, strange things start happening and Walters winds up dead. We discover that Yoganda and Thelma are actually members of the Crooked Circle, but can they escape discovery once Detective Crimmer (James Gleason) arrives? And what about that violin playing we hear from upstairs?

Though this movie has its flaws, it is generically an almost perfect example of the "old dark house" thriller. There are secret passages, hidden nooks and crannies, an on-site family graveyard, a murder, a clock that strikes 13, rumors of a ghost, a chair that drops people down a slide into a basement, and even, in a forerunner to a famous scene in HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, a skeleton that goes skittering across a room. It's also a great deal of fun because it keeps you a little off-guard as to what's coming next—not least because not everyone is who or what they seem. James Gleason and Zasu Pitts are top-billed but they do not have the most screen time, and what time they do have is largely devoted to mild comic relief (Pitts in particular is an acquired taste whom I generally like, but here she comes close to being a bit too much). The real acting work is done by Purcell, Gordon and Lyon who are all fine. Familiar faces in support include Roscoe Karns and Tom Kennedy. The idea of the competing crime clubs is intriguing, but after it's introduced, not much is really done with it. A fun little movie only available in poor to fair public domain prints, but well worth seeing. [YouTube]

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