Friday, March 31, 2017


A well-dressed woman strolls up to a duded-up stranger on the street, kisses him on the mouth and walks away, saying she just couldn't resist. But it turns out that the kiss was a signal to a thug in a car who shoots the man dead. Then the camera pulls back and we see that we've been watching a movie scene being shot. But when they go to restage it for another take, the corpse doesn't get up. In fact, the actor, Myles Brent, has actually been shot dead. All the guns on the set are examined and contain blanks, so it appears he was shot by someone in hiding. The cops are called but studio writer Franklyn Drew (David Manners), who really wants to write detective novels, shows up and decides to compete with the police, with some sidekick help from Gully, the security guard. Among the suspects: the actress Marcia Lane—the one who bestowed the 'death kiss' on Brent, who was Brent's ex-wife and who might be in line for a big insurance payoff; studio manager Steiner (Bela Lugosi) who, with his thick European accent and slicked-back hair just seems a little sinister in general; Grossmith, the head of the studio; the director (Edward Van Sloan); and Chalmers, a former gaffer who was fired for showing up to work drunk but who was given a job on set out of pity by Lane. Soon another studio worker is found dead at his home after drinking poison; the cops assume it's suicide (since there is a suicide note) but Drew and Gully notice clues that indicate it's murder. Will the killer strike again?

This pre-Code B-mystery was marketed as a horror film to take advantage of Bela Lugosi's presence, but he actually has a fairly small role—though it’s fun to see him in a straight role for a change. It's also fun to see Lugosi reunited with his DRACULA co-stars Manners and Van Sloan (both of whom are pictured at right). I'm a fan of Manners so I enjoyed seeing him get a lead role for a change—though he is technically the leading man in movies like DRACULA, THE MUMMY and THE BLACK CAT, he is overshadowed in those by the villains and/or, as in DRACULA, by the leading lady. He gives his character enough personality that I'm sorry there weren't more Franklyn Drew mysteries. Ames is a bit of a sleepwalker here, and Van Sloan, like Lugosi, vanishes for long stretches, but there a number of good supporting performances from Alexander Carr (Grossmith), Harold Minjir (his flamingly gay assistant), Vince Barnett (Gully) and Al Hill (an assistant director). I'm not sure why this was put on Blu-Ray; the audio commentary by Richard Harland Smith is very good but the film itself hasn't been given much of a restoration. It does, however, have a handful of scenes featuring hand-tinting, including a startling moment when a film being projected catches fire and a burst of yellow-orange suddenly appears. Flashlights and guns also glow yellow in a couple of scenes. [Blu-Ray]

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