NOTE: The book review that follows was first posted on this blog on 20 August 2015. The movie review that follows after that was written today. Also note that the first eight comments were left last year and refer to the book only.

  PHILIP MacDONALD – The Mystery of the Dead Police. Doubleday/Crime Club, US, hardcover, 1933. Pocket #70, paperback, 1940. Dell D-247, Great Mystery Library #19, paperback, 1958. Macfadden Books 60-205, paperback, 1965. Vintage, paperback, 1984. First published in the UK as X v. Rex by Collins Crime Club, hardcover, 1933, as by Martin Porlock. Films: MGM, 1934, as The Mystery of Mr. X; MGM, 1952, as The Hour of Thirteen.

   I don’t know where this book falls chronologically in terms of serial killer fiction, but it must have been one the first. (Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders was published in 1936, for example, but serial killers themselves (e.g. Jack the Ripper) had been around for a long time when this book was written.)

   The victims in this one, though, are all policemen. We know that the killer is a madman, for every so often we are given glimpses into his diary after each death, often in very inventive ways. There is an attempt by the author to throw suspicion on a gentleman adventurer named Nicholas Revel. He is, apparently, well-to-do, but no one, including Scotland Yard, knows how he has gained his fortune.

   The madman’s diary, I suspect, is of little interest to readers today — too many serial killers have come down the pike in the meantime, I’m afraid — but the mysterious activities of Mr Revel? This is what makes this tale go down a lot more easily than a lot of other detective fiction does that was written in 1933.

   Revel clears the former fiancé of Jane Frensham of being the killer, for example, but then he also seems to be romancing her a little as well. But since Miss Frensham’s father is the chief commissioner of the police, he finds himself helping to investigate the crimes, whether he wishes to or not.

   MacDonald is equally inventive in the way he tells the story, often in very short snippets from a multitude of viewpoints. The flaws in the telling, as I saw them, is that (as pointed out above) the madman is just that, mad, and that Revel’s place in the story is, alas, telegraphed long before I would have liked it to have been.

   But until the ending, I enjoyed the book very much. There is much about it that I will remember for some time. It has been considered a classic in many quarters over the years, but in today’s world of mystery fiction, I’m afraid it would be considered an old-fashioned and dated relic of its time, all for the reasons previously suggested or pointed out, nothing more, but nothing less, either.

THE HOUR OF 13. MGM, 1952. Peter Lawford (Nicholas Revel), Dawn Addams (Jane Frensham), Roland Culver, Derek Bond, Leslie Dwyer, Michael Hordern. Based on the novel The Mystery of the Dead Police, by Philip MacDonald. Director: Harold French.

   I have been told, but I do not know how true it may be, that this later film follows the earlier quite closely. If so, then even without seeing it, I can tell you that I’d be disappointed with the earlier one, too.

   Some of it has to do with Production Code. In the book [SPOILER WARNING] Revel gets away with his plan. In the movie, he is not so lucky. The final scene was the final straw, as far as I was concerned.

   Other changes: It is clear from the beginning of the movie what Revel’s plan is. It was revealed sooner in the book what he is up to than I would have liked, but for quite a while it causes quite a mystery if not a challenge to reader to figure it out on his or her own.

   The semi-romance between Revel and the police commissioner’s daughter (Dawn Addams) is nipped in the bud far from the end of the movie. Revel and the fiancé shake hands, and neither the latter nor the girl are mentioned again. In the movie, the killer is given a motive; in the book as I recall he was imply a madman. The time frame has been changed also, from the 1930s to Victorian England.

   But the biggest change, I think, was bigger than any of the above. In the book, a great amount of emphasis was placed on the serial killer, and the inability of Scotland Yard to capture him was such a sensational story that it threatened to bring the government down. In the movie, very little attention was placed on this. The byplay between Revel and the gentlemen at Scotland Yard is the complete story, somewhat amusing but much more trivial than what the larger impact the book intended to provide.

   Your opinions may vary on this. In terms of your enjoyment of the movie, it might be helpful if you have not read the book. It also might help if your opinion of Peter Lawford’s acting ability is greater than mine. He has a great speaking voice, but I have never found any depth in any of the characters I have ever seen him portray.