K Mary Roberts Rinehart

K — THE UNKNOWN.   Universal, 1924. Virginia Valli, Percy Marmont, Margarita Fisher, John Roche, Maurice Ryan, Francis Feeny. Screenplay by Louis D. Lighton and Hope Loring, from the novel “K” by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Director: Harry A. Pollard. Shown at Cinecon 40, Hollywood CA, September 2004.

   The credit for Mary Roberts Rinehart took fellow attendee John Apostolou and me by surprise, since neither of us had ever heard of the source novel. The St. James reference guide includes the 1915 publication not with Rinehart’s crime novels, but with her “Other Publications,” although if the screen version is at all faithful to the original novel it is, like much of Rinehart’s work, a romantic suspense drama.

   It draws on Rinehart’s early career as a nurse and her skill at dealing with small-town settings (with no use of “rube” humor as claimed in tile program notes) into which she injects a generous dollop of melodrama that centers around a mysterious stranger (Marmont) who is in love with Sidney (Valli), his landlady’s niece, also the object of affection of two adolescents and a famous doctor, the pride of the local hospital.

K Mary Roberts Rinehart

   Both the stranger and the doctor have secrets, as does the doctor’s chief assistant (Margarita Fisher), and at least one of them is capable of murder.

   This entertaining film succeeds thanks to its good cast and intelligent direction, and some fine photography that the American Film Index credits attribute to Charles Stumar.

   Stumar would remain at Universal into the 1930s when he would be principal photographer on The Werewolf of London, The Mummy, and The Raven (1935 version).

   Both John and I thought this was a genuine “sleeper.”

Editorial Comment: For what it’s worth, the novel “K” is not included in the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, not even with a dash. Is this an error? I shall ask and find out.