Wed 15 Feb 2017
BOMBAY MAIL. Universal Pictures, 1934. Edmond Lowe, Ralph Forbes, Sally Grey, Hedda Hopper, Onslow Stevens, Jameson Thomas, Ferdinand Gottshalk, Brandon Hurst, John Davidson, Walter Armitridge, John Wray, Georges Renavent. Screenplay: Tom Reed, based on the novel by Lawrence G. Blochman. Director: Edwin L. Marin.
It’s hard to imagine what Hollywood would have done for detectives in the 1930’s without William Powell and Edmond Lowe. There is little doubt movie-goers would have been worse off.
Here Lowe is Inspector Dyke (Pryke in the novel, and the change still doesn’t avoid some juvenile innuendo) of the Indian Police who has his hands full when Sir Anthony Daniels (Ferdinand Gottshalk), Governor of Bengal, is murdered with cyanide on the Bombay Express en-route to retirement. He can’t hold up the Express so he determines to investigate during the remaining journey to Bombay.
And he has his hands full, with a train load of red herrings, many with motives to kill the late governor, including Lady Daniels (Hedda Hopper) who argued with her husband about his flirtation with a Russian opera singer and happens to collect butterflies and worse seems to have misplaced the cyanide used to euthanize them; Beatrice Jones of Canada (Sally Grey), who people keep mistaking for Sonia Smeganoff, the White Russian opera singer who apparently was a prostitute in Calcutta; John Halliday (Onslow Stevens) an American miner who desperately wanted to see the Governor and is carrying valuable sapphires about in his tobacco pouch.
And there are more: R. Xavier (John Davidson) a mysterious Eurasian who will do anything to steal the jewels from his former partner, Halliday, and who, hired a mysterious Italian, Martini (John Wray) to steal them; Dr. Maurice Renoir (Georges Renavent) a French expert in toxins who is unusually protective of his medical bag.
Still more: the Maharajah of Zungara (Walter Armitridge) traveling with Daniels to plead to remain in control of his little kingdom; Pundit Garnath Chundra (Brandon Hurst) a Ghandi like revolutionary with no love of the British; the Governors military advisor Captain Gerald Worthing (Jameson Thomas) facing charges for being seen in the company of a certain Russian opera singer; and the Governor’s secretary Captain William Luke-Paton, who has a thing for fast, and slow, horses.
There are bodies hidden in lavatories, screams in the night, an assassination and frameup, a pesky cobra, lies within lies, and a straight forward gathering of the suspects as the train nears Bombay and time runs out to identify the murderer.
Dated as it is, this is an entertaining murder on a train film with an outstanding cast, and fortunately closer than most to the fine book (first in the Inspector Pryke series) it is based on. Lowe is ideal as the tough leering no nonsense sleuth, and both Stevens and Grey have some fun as people thrown together by the sheer amount of lies they are telling and mutual attraction. There is a harrowing crossing of the rooftops of the speeding train, some clever escapes, and a tense confrontation with a King cobra in a small railway suite.
All and all it is just about a perfect example of what it is, a fast-paced Hollywood murder mystery from the classic era.