Monday, January 09, 2017


Jim (Ricardo Cortez, pictured) arrives at the Hotel Navarre on a windswept coast in France. The Lovscheims, the hotelkeepers, seem like they're trying to talk him out of staying as they warn him about the wind, the chilly weather, and a pet white cockatoo that keeps flying about, but he's expecting to meet a friend there in a few days so he stays. Another guest is Sue Talley (Jean Muir), also waiting for someone: her brother, whom she has not seen since childhood, so she can prove her claim to part of the family fortune by presenting her half of a bible page that was split between the children years ago. Also arriving at the hotel: the stand-offish Dr. Roberts and a lawyer named Lorn who represents Sue's brother. On Jim's first night there, Sue is menaced by a mysterious Russian who is found dead, apparently killed with a small dagger from Jim's room. Jim is detained by the police but released when it is found the dead man was actually killed by poison. The next victim is Marcel, the bellboy, who is killed just as he is about to reveal the name of the person he suspects of murder. Then Sue's brother Frank (John Eldredge) shows up, things get pilfered from rooms, a mysterious figure is seen through a window in a room that has been unoccupied for years, and the police won't let anyone leave the hotel. Soon it's clear than almost no one is quite what they seem, except maybe Jim who tries to help Sue (if she really is Sue) claim her inheritance and find the killer.

This really is a little gem of a mystery. It's a B-movie from Warner Brothers (which means it's two or three notches above other B-films) and the acting is all over the map, but it's worth watching for the tricky plot and the wonderful feel of the settings. The hotel lobby and rooms are nicely atmospheric, and the constant blowing of the winds gives a nice added touch of unease. Cortez, one of my favorite 30s actors, is very good, though few others here match him. Muir in particular is a bland heroine and I didn't really care about her predicament. Minna Gommbel as Mrs. Lovscheim and Ruth Donnelly as another American guest are both fine. The fairly light tone throughout is similar to that of an old-dark-house film, though this hotel is rarely dark. Fun and thrilling in the classic era style. [TCM]

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