Fri 24 Aug 2012
MURDER ON THE CAMPUS. Chesterfield Pictures, 1933. Shirley Grey, Charles Starrett, J. Farrell MacDonald, Ruth Hall, Dewey Robinson, Maurice Black, Edward Van Sloan, Richard Catlett. Based on the novel The Campanile Murders, by Whitman Chambers (Appleton, 1933). Director: Richard Thorpe.
Obviously a change in title from the book to the film was in order, since I’m sure that not one person in a thousand knows what a “campanile” is, then or now. Though you could look it up on your own, what it is, is a bell tower, such as commonly found on college and university campuses. And the significance of that is, is that is where the body of a student is found, shot to death in the temple with the wrong hand.
What makes this otherwise ho-hum of a mystery interesting is that he was the only one at the top of the building. He was playing the carillon when the music suddenly stopped, and a shot rang out. No one is seen leaving the tower. The only door at the base was watched by a throng of students. No one is found in the tower, either. The building is too high and too far out of range for a bullet to have killed him from outside. It is definitely murder, though. There is no gun in the building, and there are no powder marks on the body.
The detective in charge of the case, Police Captain Kyne (J. Farrell MacDonald), a grizzled veteran of the force who doesn’t seem to mind brash young reporter Bill Bartlett (Charles Starrett, boyishly handsome and long before he became the Durango Kid) tagging along as he randomly interrogates suspects and hunts for clues.
Bartlett has his own reasons for keeping an close eye on him. Besides getting the scoop for his paper, he’s in love with one of the chief suspects, Lillian Voyne (Shirley Grey). The latter is not only a student at the school (unnamed, unless I missed it) but she’s also a singer at a local night club. Strangely enough, she’s seen studying for a chem exam for all of two minutes in the movie and not singing once at all, not for an instant. I don’t know why, but I found myself disappointed.
The school does have a chem lab where professor C. Edson Hawley (Edward Van Sloan) hangs out, but as for classrooms, I don’t remember seeing a one, even though the students there have an awfully good feeling about themselves. The dead student, it seems, was not doing well in his course work, failed to meet expectations as a member of the track team he was recruited for, and according to head of the fraternity house where he lived, “he lacked the cultural background a college man should have.”
Which is an attitude beside the point, I suppose, or it is? But I have not forgotten about the locked room aspect of the murder, along with the mysterious fact that the gun that used to commit the crime was somewhere else at the time.
The gimmick, as I would readily agree to call it, is a good one, and it would be even better if the investigation conducted by both of the separate parties (police and reporter) made more sense.
What I really like to do is to read the book and say that the original author did a much better job with it. I have a strong feeling that he did, but the fact is I don’t own a copy, nor is there one offered for sale right now by anyone on the Internet.