THE SPHINX. Monogram Pictures, 1933. Lionel Atwill, Sheila Terry, Theodore Newton, Paul Hurst, Luis Alberni, Robert Ellis. Director: Phil Rosen.

   If you’re a fan of Lionel Atwill, you’re sure to enjoy his sly and almost creepy performance as the deaf and dumb mastermind killer known as “The Sphinx” in this early, low budget crime film. If not, you may end up scratching your head when it’s over and asking yourself what on earth were they thinking?

   The gimmick is that after killing his latest stockbroker victim, the latest in a series of stockbroker victims, he walks up to the night watchman, asks him for a match and then what time it is. When the case goes to trial, an unimpeachable medical witness verifies that the accused killer can indeed neither speak nor hear, and he is obviously and immediately acquitted.

   Not believing the medical evidence for a minute is reporter Jack Burton (Theodore Newton), while his would-be girl friend Jerry Crane (Sheila Terry), the society and/or special features writer for the same paper, thinks Atwill is being unfairly persecuted. Well, one thing we know is that she will be in danger in way or another before the movie is over, and that in spite of their minor tiffs, the two lovers will be in each other’s arms when it is.

   That much is a given, and it’s about as much fun to wait and watch for both of these eventualities to occur as it always is, no snark intended. But the Sphinx’s modus operandi makes little sense, and he deserves to be caught as easily as he is, which you should also take as a given.

   But Lionel Atwood’s performance is worth a watch. Even if he has no dialogue for most of the movie, his body language, eye movement and the muscles in his face are so finally tuned they deserve an award in themselves, even if there’s category they would fit into.

NOTE: For a re-evaluation of the story line on my part, be sure to read Comment #3.