Mystery movies


THE OCTOBER MAN. General Films, UK, 1947. Eagle Lion, US, 1948. John Mills, Joan Greenwood, Edward Chapman, Kay Walsh, Joyce Carey, Catherine Lacey, Frederick Piper. Producer-Screenwriter: Eric Ambler. Director: Roy Ward Baker.

   This modestly budgeted but sharply produced British thriller from the late 40s shows, I think, what a good directer and an excellent cast can do with a so-so story, which is to say, one that keeps the viewer watching with considerable interest, if not out-and-out edge of the seat suspense, from beginning to end.

   John Mills plays a man haunted by a bus accident in which he survived, albeit with a serious head injury, while the little girl who was accompanying him was killed. Trying to put his life as a chemist (not a British pharmacist) back together, he finds a place to live in a middle class boarding house, in which the residents essentially live together, knowing each other’s secrets, or they think the do, and when they don’t, they make up their own.

   When a young girl in the room next door whom Mills briefly befriended is murdered, the gossipers go hard to work, and the police, learning quickly of his previous head injury, even more quickly believe they have their man. Luckily Mills has found a girl friend (Joan Green wood) who still believes in him, even when it appears that all hope is lost.

   Photographed stylishly in stark shades of black and white, this is a movie that may have been made quite independently of the noir movement in the US, but all the ingredients are there. A solid piece of film-making.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


THE CLAY PIGEON. RKO Radio Pictures, 1949. Bill Williams, Barbara Hale, Richard Quine, Richard Loo, Frank Fenton. Director: Richard Fleischer.

   Sandwiched between Bodyguard (1948) that I reviewed here and Armored Car Robbery (1950) that I reviewed here is another film noir programmer directed by Richard Fleischer, The Clay Pigeon, from 1949. Much like the other two films, it takes place in postwar boomtown Los Angeles.

   Bill Williams portrays Jim Fletcher, a World War II Navy veteran who wakes up from a coma. The back of his head still hurts and he’s not sure what happened to him. He had been in a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines. Surely that has something to do with his condition. Not too long after waking up, he overhears his doctor and a nurse discuss the fact that he’s been accused of treason and is awaiting a court martial. Fletcher absconds from the hospital and heads to San Diego. Surely, his friend, fellow prisoner of war Mark Gregory will be able to help. It doesn’t take long for Fletcher to learn that Gregory is dead and that he’s been accused of his friend’s murder!

   Suffice it to say, there are plot twists and unanswered questions. Did Fletcher really commit the murder? What is his amnesia preventing him from remembering? Eventually, Fletcher ends up teaming up with Gregory’s widow (Barbara Hale) to solve the myriad mysteries.

   Overall The Clay Pigeon does a good job in keeping you on your toes. But here’s the thing about certain movie plots stemming from a leading character’s amnesia. Neither you, nor the protagonist in question, really know exactly what’s going on. The screenwriter thus has to walk a tightrope so as to keep the viewer engaged, all the while not revealing too much pertinent information too quickly. On the other hand, the screenwriter must find a way to make sure that the “big reveal,” so to speak, flows naturally from what has come before and doesn’t come too late in the movie.

   Indeed, after murder and mayhem, it’s tempting to wrap things up with a tidy bow and an “ah-ha” moment and end the movie immediately after. Unfortunately, that is exactly what The Clay Pigeon ends up doing. The ending feels so tacked on, so forced that it actually ends up making the film far less memorable than it could have been.

   Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed watching this movie and admire Fleischer’s work in the film noir genre. It’s just that, compared to Bodyguard and Armored Car Robbery, The Clay Pigeon ends up feeling like an overly ambitious project that strives for a payoff that it’s not capable of delivering.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


BODYGUARD. RKO Radio Pictures, 1948. Lawrence Tierney, Priscilla Lane, Phillip Reed, June Clayworth, Elisabeth Risdon, Steve Brodie, Frank Fenton. Director: Richard Fleischer.

   Bodyguard, a zippy gem of a crime film based on a story co-written by Robert Altman in his first screen credit and starring the always rugged Lawrence Tierney, opens with a sequence of on location shots of iconic landmarks in Los Angeles: City Hall, Union Station, and the Downtown Theater District. This sets the tone for what is to come: a thoroughly enjoyable film noir set against the sun baked, palm tree lined streets of Southern California.

   With some great on-location photography, the sixty-two minute film transports the viewer through the world of police officialdom, the rich elite of Pasadena, then off to Hollywood and spots in between. Much like Armored Car Robbery, another gem also directed by Richard Fleischer (which I reviewed here back in 2014), Bodyguard makes the most of its urban setting, allowing it to be as much a presence in the movie as the one and only Lawrence Tierney.

   The plot, one based on a framework that film noir aficionados will surely recognize, has enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes. After Mike Carter (Tierney), a rough around the edges Los Angeles police detective working homicide, is terminated for insubordination, he turns to his two true loves: his fiancée, Doris (Priscilla Lane) and baseball.

   For it’s at the ballpark that a man, clearly seeking him out, offers him an opportunity to serve as the bodyguard for the executive of a meatpacking empire. After initially refusing, Carter takes up the offer. The cash is good and it doesn’t seem like such a difficult task. Little does he know that the first night on the job he will wake up in his car next to the body of his former supervisor — the guy who fired him, no less!

   But who framed him? And what’s the relationship between his former boss and the meatpacking empire magnate? That’s what Carter and Doris attempt to find out.

   In nearly every way, Bodyguard is successful in what it aspires to: namely, a compelling, if not particularly philosophically rich story, with a coterie of suspects and questionable motivations. It may not be the best-known RKO crime film, but it’s a very good one nonetheless. Truth be told, I enjoyed this one more than some “classic” films noir that I thought never quite lived up to their reputations. Recommended.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:


CHARLIE CHAN IN THE CHINESE CAT. Monogram Pictures, 1944. Sidney Toler, Joan Woodbury, Mantan Moreland, Benson Fong, Ian Keith, Sam Flint, Cy Kendall. Based on charcaters created by Earl Derr Biggers. Director: Phil Rosen.

   When it comes to James Bond, Roger Moore is by far my favorite actor to portray 007. When it comes to super-sleuth Charlie Chan, Swedish-born actor Warner Oland is the actor who I most associate with the role. That’s not to say that other actors haven’t portrayed Bond or Chan with conviction and skill. It’s just that when asked to develop a mental picture of either fictional character, Moore or Oland immediately come to mind.

   That being said, I am far from close-minded when it comes to different actors portraying the playboy spy or the Chinese aphorism-wielding police detective. Although I can’t claim that Sidney Toler is my top Chan, I still consider Charlie Chan and the Wax Museum (1940) (reviewed here), a film in which Toler gave a solid performance, to be a highly worthwhile, if still deeply flawed, crime film.

   The same can’t be said for The Chinese Cat. Directed by Phil Rosen, this installment in the Charlie Chan series is a real disappointment. Although the movie begins on a somewhat promising note with a locked room mystery in which a businessman is shot to death alone in his study.

   But the movie soon descends into an inchoate mess in which various crime film elements are employed, all without any coherent effect. There’s a love affair between a detective and the dead man’s daughter; a criminologist who has written a book about the aforementioned murder; a gang of jewel thieves; twin brothers; and various attempts on Chan’s life.

   Adding to the disappointment is the clumsy inclusion of the character of Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland), an African-American cabbie who chauffeurs Charlie and Number Three Son (Benson Fong) around town as they race against the clock to solve not one, but three murders.

   By the time it all wraps up, it takes a great deal of energy to care about the identity of the murderers, let alone about the reasons why everything went down the way it did.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


THE LADY IN THE CAR WITH GLASSES AND A GUN. France, 2015. French title: La Dame Dans L’Auto avec des Lunettes et un Fusil. Freya Mayor, Benjamin Biolay, Elio Germano, Stacy Martin. Screenplay by Gilles Marchand and Patrick Godeau, based on the novel by Sèbastian Japrisot. Directed by Joann Sfar.

         “I’ve never seen the sea.”

   In any good suspense story, one key element is how fate intervenes. A small misdeed can be blown out of all proportion, a moments misstep can derail a life, adventure is a single step away, but so is danger. For Dany Doremous (Freya Mayor), in Sebastian Japrisot’s novel, and this 2015 French production adapting it, the only crime she ever commits in her life both saves it, and plunges her into jeopardy and doubt of her own sanity.

   Neurotic nearsighted Dany Doremous is a secretary in Paris circa the late sixties or early seventies for Michel Caravelle (Benjamin Biolay) whom she has a crush on. When he asks her to come to his home, just before a bank holiday begins, to finish some paperwork for the ad agency she works at, she wants to say no, but can’t. There she is reunited with Anita (Stacy Martin), Michel’s wife, a rather bitchy girlfriend she started in the secretarial pool with eight years before.

   Staying overnight to finish the papers, she is asked by Michel to drop his family off at the airport for a flight out and drive their Thunderbird back to their house, but on the way back from the airport Dany doesn’t take the turn toward Paris, she takes the turn South, toward Cannes and the South of France. She has never seen the sea.

   Almost immediately things spiral out of control. People keep mistaking her for someone else, a woman who passed the night before and earlier that morning in the same car. At a gas station she is attacked in the ladies room and her hand is viciously injured, so she has to have it bandaged, but no one believes her and all believe she was there the night before when she was sleeping at her employers.

   That night she picks up a man, Georges (Elio Germano), they make love, and the next day she drives him south, but as soon as he can he steals her car. With the help of a friendly truck driver she finds the car — and in it the dead body of a man, and when Georges shows up he swears she killed the man. They try to dispose of the body, argue, and he knocks Dany out, but when she comes to, Georges is dead too, murdered.

   Desperate, Dany calls her boss for help, only to find she is in even more danger.

   The film has a noirish dream-like quality, handsomely shot on location and very much a star turner for Mayor, whose long legs, large eyes, and flame red hair and freckles behind large glasses give Dany a vulnerable almost otherworldly quality. Stylish and beautiful to look at, the film is not hard-hitting suspense as much as a modern noir fable about a young woman coming into her own, a kind of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty awakened from the dull dream her existence has been up to now, through terror, madness, and in blood.

   That fairy tale reference is no accident. One of Japrisot’s early novels was A Trap for Cinderella.

   The book this film is based on was a bestseller, and came to the screen before in 1970, the last work of director Anatole Litvak, with a screenplay by Japrisot himself, and starring Samantha Eggar and Oliver Reed. That version was a gorgeous eye-popping tour of gorgeous locations, Christian Dior fashions, pop art colors, and twisty plot. I’ve always found it a much better film than critics of the day did, though the Hitchcockian elements of the plot are perhaps lost in the eye-popping look of the film. I’m not sure it has ever been on DVD, though a rather mediocre print was available on YouTube. The French version is available both on DVD and currently on Netflix.

   Don’t mistake this later version for nerve-jangling suspense in the American style. Nothing leaps off the screen at you or says boo. It is very much a dreamy mood piece, but a truly attractive adaptation of a bestseller of the past by a French master of the suspense novel, with a truly puzzling plot that is actually neatly and logically resolved.

THE 13th MAN. Monogram Pictures, 1937. Weldon Heyburn, Inez Courtney, Selmer Jackson, Matty Fain, Milburn Stone, Grace Durkin, Robert Homans, Eadie Adams. Director: William Nigh.

   When it comes to the movie The 13th Man, there seems to be a large disconnect between me and the rest of the IMDb film-watching universe. The latter has given this rather turgid mystery melodrama an accumulated 5.9 stars, and I would be hard pressed to give it two.

   The basic premise is not bad. The current District Attorney, with a highly contested election coming up, reminds his radio audience that he has put 12 major crime figures behind bards so far, and on the next day he will be starting indictment proceeding on a 13th major underworld figure in the city. Which well-deserved individual will it be? This is the kind of city where there are any number of candidates.

   But will the D.A. survive till the next morning? You can answer that at once. He dies at ringside that same evening with a curare dart found in his neck. Investigating the case one step ahead of the police are radio reporter Swifty Taylor (Weldon Heyburn) and his secretary (who is secretly in love with him), Julie Walters (Inez Courtney). Swifty, it seems, is not all that swift.

   But from this point on, the story and the no-name cast go absolutely nowhere. It is one of those movies that make your eyeballs ache just watching it, but sometimes an investment of 20 minutes into a movie makes you want to keep watching it, just in case something interesting happens.

   There is one twist that I probably should have seen coming, but I didn’t. I can’t tell you what it is, just in case you decide to ignore these comments of mine. Perhaps the no-name cast has more of a name than I realize, but the only two actors who show any enthusiasm for being in this movie are Milburn Stone (then a mere 33 years old), playing Swifty’s assistant, and considerably more elderly Robert Homans, who often had small roles as policemen in his movie-making career, and so he was once again in this one.

   The real culprit is intended as a surprise, but not quite picking a name from a hat, he (or she) was exactly who I suspected all along.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


SO DARK THE NIGHT. Columbia Pictures, 1946. Steven Geray, Micheline Cheirel, Eugene Borden, Ann Cordee, Helen Freeman, Gregory Gaye, Jean de Val, Paul Marlon, Theodore Gottlieb (Brother Theodore). Screenplay by Martin Berkeley and Dwight Babcock. Story by Aubrey Wisberg. Directed by Joseph H. Lewis.

   Is there a darkness in all of us? That question haunts film noir, as essential to the genre as the black and white screen and the clever camera angles. So Dark the Night is the most unlikely of film noir despite being from the directorial hand of Joseph H. “Wagon wheel” Lewis, who here lives up to both his reputation and his nickname with many shots framed through windows and metal bed frames.

   Henri Cassin (Steven Geray), the finest detective of the Sûreté, is being sent on a much postponed vacation by his friend and superior Commissar Grande (Gregory Gaye) and the Bureau’s doctor, Dr. Monet (Jean de Val), to the quiet village of San Margot. Cassin is a humble quiet man, exhausted by his many important cases and his absolute devotion to duty. As his superior says, he would “… turn in his own grandmother if he was convinced of her guilt.”

   Arriving at the inn in San Margot, Cassin is immediately charmed by Nanette (Micheline Cheirel), the daughter of the Innkeeper Pierre (Eugene Borden) and his wife Madame Michaud (Ann Cordee). Pierre is delighted to have the famous man for his guest, as is barmaid and housekeeper Widow Birdelle (Helen Freeman), but he sees no good in his beautiful but scheming daughter and wife setting their caps for the detective, especially when Nanette is already engaged to the poor farmer Leon (Paul Marlon).

   Despite Pierre’s best efforts, and Leon’s threats, Nanette and Mama proceed with their plans, and soon the quiet and unassuming Cassin asks Nanette to marry him. On the night of their betrothal Pierre warns Cassin that the marriage cannot be, and sure enough Leon arrives and then storms out followed by Nanette.

   Cassin is heartbroken, and all assume the young couple have eloped, but a week later, as Pierre and Mama have grown concerned, the hunchback Georges (Theodore Gottlieb, performance artist Brother Theodore) arrives with the news Nanette has been found in the river, dead.

   Her death is no drowning though. She has been strangled. Suspecting the jealous Leon murdered her and placed her in the river, Cassin, the police, Georges, and Pierre walk to his farm, but there they find him murdered too, with only a single clue, a footprint hidden under Leon’s body.

Cassin now has a double murderer on his hands and nowhere to turn. There is no motive, and the devilish killer has erased every clue. Then a note is delivered to Cassin by Widow Birdelle, another will die, and sure enough the killer strikes again.

   That is as far as I can go without giving away too much of this clever and dark exercise in film noir that benefits greatly from a lesser known cast, expert direction by Lewis, and an intelligent script. In addition to being a fine example of film noir this one is unusually a mostly fair play detective story, with Cassin showing his skills as a detective and a solution you should arrive at before the sleuth, but may not.

   Geray, a capable character actor, who seldom got to shine in a starring role is perfectly cast as the quiet unassuming sleuth who has spent all his life dedicated to his job and suddenly at a “certain age” finds the promise of youth and love, only to lose it. Eugene Borden is also good as Pierre, who loves his wife and daughter but knows their scheming can only come to no good.

   So Dark the Night is a B picture, a Columbia programmer at most, but one that is better than most A films. It is handsomely shot by Lewis with imaginative, but never intrusive, camera angles, and proceeds with the nightmare logic of the best noir while staying at the same time low key and realistic almost to the end.

   That ending is the only real melodrama in the film, and the one-time drama outweighs logic, but it is highly satisfying if you just go with it, as is this handsome intense little film.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


THE NIGHT OF JANUARY 16th. Paramount Pictures, 1941. Robert Preston, Ellen Drew, Nils Asther, Clarence Kolb, Willard Robertson, Cecil Kellaway. Screenplay by Delmer Daves, Robert Pirosh and Eve Green, based on the play by Ayn Rand. Directed by William Clemens.

   Luckily for everyone involved, the people who made this film saw it was impossible to make a film out of Ayn Rand’s famous gimmick trial play where the audience became the jury and determined the outcome by their verdict. So, stripped of the play’s gimmick and of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy of selfishness, what was left was a fairly decent mystery to wrap a bright comedy mystery around.

   Stir up a good fast-paced script by a team of top talent like soon-to-be director Delmer Daves, Robert Pirosh, and Eve Green, with capable direction by William Clemens and attractive leads in Robert Preston and Ellen Drew, plus a good cast including Nils Asther and Cecil Kellaway, and the result was a bright little B film that played much better than many A efforts, almost as refreshing as the orange Daquiri that plays a role in the film’s finale.

   Drew is Kit Lane, private secretary to Bjorn Faulkner (Nis Asther), who has his board of directors hot on his neck because of a $20 million dollar corporate shortfall. She’s worried about her boss, even flying back from her vacation, and that night, the January 16th of the title (prompting the famous “Where were you on the night of January 16th?” gag of a thousand stale jokes), she rushes to Faulkner’s penthouse only to see him thrown from his balcony to his death by a shadowy figure, having had his head bashed in first by a metal trophy of Atlas Shrugged beneath the globe (explaining where that book title came from).

   Steve Van Ruyle is the newest member of the board, the nephew, fresh out of the Navy, of a late member who isn’t happy the $3 million he just inherited is part of the $20 million missing from the company funds. He convinces the chairman of the board, Tilton (Clarence Kolb), to let him bail Lane out when she is arrested by Inspector Donegan (Willard Robertson) as a suspect in Faulkner’s death expecting she will lead him to the money.

   Of course the two fall in love, complicating things that get even worse when Kit is charged and put on trial. (Justice moved fast in those days, apparently.) Steve hopes to spring her so he can find the money and because he is attracted to her, and does. With a diary Faulkner left behind in code and the murder weapon, studded with jewels that represent new locations the company has interests, they stumble onto the mysterious Anton Haraba, whose name is an anagram of South American locations they hope will lead to the $20 million and the killer.

   Eluding the police with the help and hindrance of a very drunk Cecil Kellaway, in a nice bit, the two charter a plane to Havana to find Haraba, and find more trouble than they expected with police and a killer after them.

   Preston and Drew keep the proceedings moving at a nice pace with bits and pieces from the play thrown in the trial scenes and the plot largely skimmed from the play (some characters, including the one played on Broadway by Walter Pidgeon, are written out completely). Quite a bit is left out, but frankly it doesn’t really matter, because I have read and seen the play and this film is much more entertaining and much less heavy-handed and melodramatic, and having audiences vote for the ending of the film was the kind of thing better suited to William Castle hucksterism than a good B comedy mystery.

   The play was done at least three times on television here and in England, live a few times, and if you want to see it, your best bet would be if you can find an Kinescope of one of them, the last in 1960 for ITV Theater. Unless you just want to see a famous play or you are a Randian completist, though, I suggest this is by far the most entertaining version of the play possible, an old fashioned swift-paced comedy mystery, nicely acted and timed.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


HOUSE OF SECRETS. Chesterfield, 1936. Leslie Fenton, Muriel Evans, Noel Madison, Sidney Blackmer, Morgan Wallace, Holmes Herbert, Ian MacLaren. Screenplay by John Krafft, based on the novel and play by Sydney Horler. Directed by Roland B. Reed.

   “Horler for Excitement” the ads read, and they might have added Horler for melodrama, jingoism, sexism, racism, rampant coincidence, thorough going general nastiness, and wide spread swipes from H. C. ‘Sapper’ McNeile, E. Philips Oppenheim, Bram Stoker, and especially Edgar Wallace, whose self-styled successor Sydney Horler imagined himself to be. By all accounts, and from the testimony of his own works, Sydney Horler was a nasty little man of the first order. Luckily none of that mars this fairly crisp second feature based on one of his most popular plays and novels.

   With the nastiness expunged, the elements ‘borrowed’ from Sapper and others, the melodrama, and the coincidence, all make for a fairly entertaining fast -paced film that has the sense to play lightly and none to seriously with the material at hand. While not a comedy mystery in the Bob Hope sense, this is light-hearted fare along the lines of a low budget take of the better Bulldog Drummond films.

   Barry Wilding (Leslie Fenton) is a footloose American globetrotter who rescues beautiful Muriel Evans from a masher on board ship. She begs off sharing her name, and Barry continues onto London where he runs into his old friend American detective Tom Starr (Sidney Blackmer), who is in England to catch a killer, just before a letter arrives at his hotel from a solicitor. Barry dutifully goes to the solicitor’s office where he learns his uncle has left him an estate, Hawk’s Nest, and a neat sum of money.

   But when he goes to claim Hawk’s Nest, he is met with a gun and dogs and thrown off the property. Then when he goes to his solicitor, he is warned to sell the property, even though he signed a contract that he would not under any circumstance, and a mysterious buyer offers him more than the property is worth.

   His head still spinning from that, the mysterious young woman from the ship shows up, introducing herself as Julie Kenmore, a fellow American, and informing him that she is living with her father (the man with the gun, Morgan Wallace) at Hawk’s Nest and it is vital that he leave them there and not see her for a month.

   No hero of any mystery worth its weight in ink is going to accept that set of circumstances, and Barry sails forth only to encounter one enigma after another, including why the Home Secretary (Holmes Herbert) is involved, why a screaming madman is being held on the property, the value of a torn piece of parchment in Olde English, three American gangsters who mug him, pressure from all sides to leave well enough alone, and the increasingly puzzling Julie. There are at least three major coincidences in the film that would get most books thrown across the room violently by all but the most tolerant readers, but here it is all in the playing, which is good, and the screenplay, which is bright.

   Leslie Fenton makes an attractive enough lead once you get over his rather prominent front teeth and the vague facial and vocal resemblance to Bing Crosby, and Muriel Evans is genuinely attractive and can act. I won’t say the acting is uniformly good, but it is uniformly not too bad, and the film even manages a bit of tattered but genuine atmosphere once in a while and a relatively rousing ending.

   Being based on a play and a book, it also has a bit more shape than so many original mystery screenplays of this kind. It may be filled with coincidence and unlikely as hell, and one or two points are never explained (like how the American gangster played by Noel Madison got his half of the parchment), but it is a much more entertaining film than many such mystery outings with better known casts in the lead roles, and the sprightly dialogue is just that for once.

   Horler was nothing if not a kitchen sink writer, so this has everything, including a dying man on death row whose importance to the plot is not explained until the last minute, poison gas, not one but two mad scientists (one technically insane), secret panels, pirate treasure, gangsters, international intrigue, a beautiful mystery girl in danger who won’t say why, tsk-tsking policeman, a conspiracy against the hero, and political careers on the line — all for the finest motives, they are English and it is Horler after all.

   On that last bit, and in regard to the poison gas, it would not hurt if you understood going in what the idea of poison gas meant to those who still remembered WWI. It features prominently in adventures of Bulldog Drummond and the Saint in this time period, and within that historical framework, the somewhat high handed doings behind the scenes makes more sense than it might to modern viewers. There was no need to explain to audiences then, especially to British audiences who had lost a generation of young men to such horrors.

   Should this lead you to read Horler, something I have done but can’t really recommend, this book, The Curse of Doone (which resembles this a good deal), Chipstead of the Secret Service (featuring rough tough ‘Bunny’ Chipstead), The Vampire (which borrows heavily from Dracula), and one or two of the Paul Vivanti books are readable for all his flaws as a writer and human being. By all means avoid his obnoxious masked avenger the Nighthawk though, and his rather heavy-handed wanna be Bulldog Drummond style gentleman adventurer bully Tiger Standish, as they really do contain the absolute worst of Horler as a human being and a writer.

   This film, though, while far from great, proves to be a good mid-thirties style comedy mystery thriller that is diverting for an hour (well, forty five or fifty minutes, it drags a bit at the halfway point) of non-critical fun, and as harmless a way to say you are acquainted with Sydney Horler as I can imagine. I frankly could not have imagined they would get this good a film from a book and play by Horler. If you have read him, you likely know what I mean.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:


THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR. Universal, 1933. Nancy Carroll, Frank Morgan, Paul Lukas, Gloria Stuart, Jean Dixon, Donald Cook, Charles Grapewin, Walter Pidgeon. Director: James Whale. Shown at Cinevent 16, Columbus OH, May 1984.

   The special treat of the weekend was a showing of James Whale’s The Kiss Before the Mirror, with one of those fine performances Frank Morgan gave consistently before he was typecast by MGM, acting with an intelligence and intensity that would undoubtedly surprise the fans of his 40s films.

   Here he is a lawyer defending his best friend on a murder charge, accused of killing his wife at a lovers’ tryst. Morgan has discovered that his own wife has a lover, and his defense of his friend (Paul Lukas) mirrors his own dilemma and the defense that might be mounted for him as he feels himself drawn toward a similar crime. The courtroom sequence is brilliantly directed, and it has the most unsettling movie climax I’ve witnessed since Carrie rose suddenly out of her grave in Brian DePalma’s contemporary shocker.

   And in the first 10 minutes of the film there is one of those stylized Whale landscapes that have haunted me from my first contact with with his Bride of Frankenstein in a movie trailer in the thirties.

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