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Joe E. Brown,
William Collier Jr.
Although his murdered friend was by all accounts a scoundrel a true "bounder" Edward Wales is determined to trap his killer by staging a seance using a famous medium. Many of the 13 seance participants had a reason and a means to kill, and one of them uses the cover of darkness to kill again. When someone close to the medium is suspected she turns detective, in the hope of uncovering the true murderer. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <email@example.com>
This film proves that in 1929 a lot of talking films were still primitive and although most of the cast seemed reasonably at ease with dialogue, John Davidson's perfect and slow pronunciation really stuck out. There is even a scene toward the end where people are grouped (obviously waiting to begin the scene) and after a few seconds they start talking and mingling. "Locked room" movies were all the rage in these early days - one set was all that was needed and the studios could then show off their sound skills. For MGM, who had already made "The Broadway Melody", "The Last of Mrs. Cheyney" and "Halelujah", this film was static and unimaginative. The magic that Tod Browning had weaved with Lon Chaney in the 20s seemed to evaporate when talking pictures appeared. Apart from "Dracula" and "Freaks", which harked back to his days as a director of shock and suspense, he spent the rest of his career in programmers and remakes of his silent hits.
It also feels like it has a few minutes missing from the start - or I'm a bit dense!! Everyone seems to know what's going on already - renowned womaniser Spencer Lee has been killed by a woman - but which woman??? Ned Wales (John Davidson) is the only person in the house who liked Lee (Spencer had saved him from drowning when they were children) and who is determined to find his killer. Even he acts suspiciously, trying to bribe the servants (again, the action obviously takes place in India but the audience is never told). There is an establishing shot of the two leads, Richard Crosby (Conrad Nagel) is trying to convince Helen O'Neill (Leila Hyams) to marry him. It's the old "you may be only my mother's secretary but you're good enough for me" routine. Nagel and Hyams may have been the leads but they are only required to stand around looking worried, fearful, determined etc.
The stage is set for the show down between the real stars - wonderful Margaret Wycherley as the medium Madame La Grange, an unassuming "nanny" type, who nevertheless, has a few secrets and menacing Bela Lugosi as Inspector Delzante and he still manages to act like Dracula. Even though that film role was 2 years in the future he had played it on Broadway on and off during the 20s. Just to hear him say "What you propose is too horrible to contemplate - but we will do it!!!
Margaret Wycherley was a character actress supreme. She really hit her stride in the 40s and even though you struggle to remember some of the movies, you definitely remember her ("Johnny Angel" - she played a domineering nanny). Of course she was Ma Jarrett in "White Heat" and Ma Forrester in "The Yearling" - "my boy, my poor crookedy boy". In "The Thirteenth Chair" she was a breath of fresh air and proved stage actors weren't always stiff. Her husband, Bayard Veiller wrote the original play "The Thirteenth Chair" that had a healthy run of 328 performances, back in 1916 and in which Margaret Wycherley played the same role of Rosalie La Grange.
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