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 ... See full summary »
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Directed by Tod Browning, The Thirteenth Chair is a well-written and acted murder mystery from a time (1929) when, due to primitive sound recording techniques, the camera had to remain in one place during a scene. The result is that the movie, while well-designed, is rather static visually. It more than makes up for this by having an exciting, if at times rather hard to follow plot, and an ingenious script with enough twists and turns in the plot to satisfy most mystery fans. For claustrophiles the movie is a delight: no one goes ANYWHERE in this film. There are some interesting visual and spatial peculiarities in the movie, such as very high ceilings on the sets, and more obviously fake than usual exteriors just outside the windows. People have a way of assembling in rooms rather than just sitting there or milling around, which gives the movie an offbeat, ritualistic feeling; probably typical enough in the theater of the time, but unusual in a film.
The actors, notably Margaret Wycherly, are quite good, with Bela Lugosi giving an energetic reading of a shrewd police detective in a quite different key from his later work. One can't help but wonder what sort of screen actor Lugosi might have become had he not been typecast in horror roles. Leila Hyams is radiant as one of the chief suspects, and it's remarkable that she didn't become a bigger star, on looks alone. There is no pace to speak of in the film, as the story proceeds by dialog, and by people entering and exiting rooms on cue. Nor are there any of the typical Browning flourishes, as the movie seems anonymously directed. But the script is very tight, and there are some surprises along the way, and moments of unexpected warmth and feeling that make this a watchable and satisfying antique.
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