|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Index||17 reviews in total|
The "old dark house" sub-genre that dominated the early talkies rarely
fails to disappoint when we re-view the oldies to-day. Here is one that
provides so very many suspicious characters you have to wonder how they
will be able to tie up all the loose ends in the 6 reel running time.
The Crooked Circle is a gang of counterfeiters and thieves who have decided to take revenge on Col. Walters (Berton Churchill) who has sent one of their ranks to prison. They decide he must die that very night. Meanwhile the Colonel's own group, The Sphinx Club, is determined to protect him at all costs. This does not sit well with Thelma (Irene Purcell) fiancée of club member Brand Osborne (Ben Lyon, late of the mega-budgeted HELL'S ANGELS (1930)) who wants him to quit the club and stop endangering his own life. Brand promises to resign after saving the colonel's life. Everyone heads off to Walters newly purchased mansion on Long Island to await the assassin.
The Colonel might be the new owner of Melody Manor but it's an old dark house complete with eccentric neighbours (like Raymond Hatton as a local hermit) and maybe even a ghost. Top billed Zasu Pitts is Nora, the housekeeper who expects to see a spirit around every corner. Throw in a cop (James Gleason) who is certain Brand is a criminal and we have a picture which is packed with action and surprises.
You will notice right away that the script writer was at a loss to come up with too much dialog because a lot of characters repeat the same lines over and over. Yoganda (C. Henry Gordon) a Hindu mystic (which movies of that time were loaded with) says "Evil is on the way." many times and I lost count of how often Ms. Pitts says "Something always happens to somebody!". There are many suspects and two characters (Mr. Gleason as the stereotype dumb cop and Roscoe Karns as Mr. Lyon's pal) who serve as comedy relief. The house itself is appropriately spooky looking (in fact I think the same set was used in THE PHANTOM (1931)) with lots of secret passages and violin music coming out of empty rooms but somehow you never really get a feeling of danger. Maybe it's because no one in the movie, and I do mean no one!, is entirely what they seem to be. It all comes out right in the end though; but to go into any more detail would spoil it for you.
Watch carefully for Robert Frazer (from WHITE ZOMBIE) and Frank Reicher (best remembered as Capt. Engelhorn from KING KONG) to pop up among the suspects.
THE CROOKED CIRCLE is a fun film. Some aspects of the plot are predictable and then again several others are not. I suspect you will enjoy it.
Bruce `Lucky' Humberstone's THE CROOKED CIRCLE begins with that eponymous quintet of `counterfeiters and thieves deluxe' pledging their dark allegiance (`To do for each other, to avenge any brother, a fight to the knife and a knife to the hilt!'), drawing lots from a hinged skull for the honor of bringing to ground Colonel Wolters, leader of an affluent band of amateur criminologists known as The Sphinx Club. In its second half, the film adheres faithfully to the established spookhouse syllabus (sliding panels, trap doors, and an attic stuffed with skeletons, sarcophaguses and Oriental objets d'art), with director Humberstone maximizing the felonious, comic and preternatural possibilities, all nicely complemented by the amusing dialogue of playwright Ralph Spence (THE GORILLA) and Tim Whelan. Rounding out the roster of red herrings, henchmen and gawkers are WHITE ZOMBIE's Robert Frazer, the ever-quivery Zasu Pitts (`There's a ghost in this house and when he plays the violin, something always happens to somebody!'), James Gleason as a malaprop-prone New Yawk flatfoot, KING KONG's Frank Reicher, and `queer-acting hunchback' Raymond Hatton (later the sour Farmer Larkin of INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN). It's corny and creaky and good old fashioned fun for those hip to the charms of Poverty Row whodunits. See for yourself!
1930's comedy mystery about "The Crooked Circle" a band of hooded crooks who set about plotting the murder of some one who swore to oppose them. Enjoyable but really unremarkable little film, the movie works simply because the cast headed by Zazu Pitts and James Gleason (both of whom would later appear together in a couple of Hildegarde Withers films after Edna Mae Oliver dropped out of that series) and supported by a great cast of actors and actresses you know but may not know the name of (I don't hence the lack naming). A breezy hour long romp, the movie doesn't make a great deal of sense with mistaken identity, secret passages, ghostly music and people not being who they seem. Its the perfect thing for a dark and stormy night or a late night viewing when one is nostalgic for the late late show.
By 1930, film was already a living, breathing organism that was
manipulating artists and audiences in its quest to survive and grow.
From 1932 to 1938, that organism tried a number of potential branches
of evolution before settling on one main one. But during that period,
many experiments can be viewed, experiments that did not blossom and
quickly became extinct.
Sadly, this exemplifies one of them and it is such a perfect example, such a pure specimen, it really must be seen if only for history. I'm increasingly convinced that we cannot be fully in the film experience until we have shared in some of its failed attempts.
What characterizes this is extreme abstraction. The basis is the detective story, a basis that is so strong in narrative appeal it survives today as the root of most film. But this experiment abstracts it extremely.
The bad guys are not just bad, but have a club. The good guys are not just good and smart, but they have a club too. The two clubs are at war, mostly it seems because that's what two groups do: define the other as the enemy and adopt roles accordingly.
The setting is abstract too: a "haunted" mansion with trap doors, secret passages, resident hunchback, disembodied music, skeletons (that predictably catch on the girl's dress) and blackouts. There's a very, very clever twist in the story too, one you know is there but you just can't pin down until it happens.
Zazu Pitts does a spooked housekeeper whose voice would be appropriated for Olive Oyl who would make her first appearance the following year.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
If you've never experienced the thing that is Zasu Pitts, here is a Zasu zinger! In 1933 Mae Questel caricatured Pitt's voice for the character Olive Oyl for the Fleischer Studios animated cartoon version of the comic strip Popeye. Zasu (pronounced Zay-Sue) does her best "Olive Oyl" impersonation walking around whining and ringing her hands or attaching herself to the policeman's laynard. I kept waiting for her to say "ohhh myyyy", but instead it's "something always happens to somebody." The first time I saw this film I loved Zasu and found her character really funny. I've since seen her in other films where she does this same whining, uptight, fragile-flower routine. So, upon watching this film again I started getting a little annoyed with the constant whining and near hysteria over a piece of dust. But, there are some funny comedy bits here, and it's also a mystery movie as well. It's an interesting mix of mystery and comedy that actually works. The mystery plot holds together well through the camp of Zasu Pitts and James Gleason who plays Arthur Crimmer the policeman. The haunted House is fun with many a secret passage and even a skeleton in the attic! Well worth the watch. Read more public domain movie reviews at: http://pdmoviereview.blogspot.com/
The Crooked Circle is a crime organization that meets in a dark room.
All the members wear hoods. The group has one female member. They do
not like the Sphinx Club, which is a local amateur crime fighting
organization that is adding one new member because of the retirement of
another. --Okay, if that makes sense so far then the rest of the film
Over in the old dark house, Zasu Pitts is spooked from the first moment we see her, and that's before the real action of The Crooked Circle has even started. Soon police officer James Gleason arrives, and Zasu spends the remainder of the picture clinging to various pieces of his uniform, much to his annoyance. They make a cute couple.
Other club memberswho all end up assembled at the house, of courseinclude Berton Churchill as a jovial host who thinks it's amusing that the Circle has vowed to kill him; Rosco Karns, who manages a few wisecracks; and C. Henry Gordon as "Yoganda," a mystic of sorts who has just joined the group, claims to have insight to future events, and may or may not be an infiltrator from the other side. Ben Lyon and Irene Purcell are the obligatory handsome young couple who are bothin different waysdeeply involved in the case.
It's totally silly, but plenty of fun.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
James Gleason and Zasu Pitts, first introduced in "Oh Yeah" (1929),
were reunited for "The Crooked Circle". Tough no nonsense Gleason and
fluttering, daffy Pitts - completely opposite in temperament but
together they work wonders. This little movie also boasts a superlative
cast with Ben Lyon (equally at home in As and programmers) and Irene
Purcell, who had just been the leading lady in Paramount's "Million
Dollar Legs" (everyone was a winner in that movie)!! Combining a
mixture of gags, frights and plenty of action (director H. Bruce
Humberstone had tried it before in his directorial debut, "Strangers of
the Evening" and found it worked) this is about the goings on of a
criminal secret society called "The Crooked Circle", who meet at an old
mansion called "Melody Manor"!!
Brand Osbourne (Ben Lyon) is resigning from the Sphinx Club at the urging of his new love, Thelma (Irene Purcell). The Sphinx Club is an amateur band of crime fighters whose aim is to try to expose The Crooked Circle members. Colonel Wolters (Berton Churchill) has just received a death threat and Yoganda (C. Henry Gordon), a new member, suggests they all spend the night guarding him.
The film really picks up the pace when the Sphinx members arrive at Melody Manor - clocks strike 13, tables move, pianos play ghostly music, - even weird old men come knocking at the door in the middle of the night with gifts of tomatoes!!!! It also gives Zasu Pitts, as Nora, the frightened housekeeper, a chance to bring out her bag of tricks - fluttering hands, whiney voice. James Gleason plays Crimmer, a cranky, bumbling motorcycle cop who is called to the "old dark house" to investigate Wolter's murder (it looks as though he wasn't guarded enough)!!!! Brand also has to contend with a stranger breaking into his apartment and his butler taking the stranger's side when the police are called. He meets the stranger (Robert Frazer) again at Melody Manor and also has suspicions about Yoganda and Thelma!!!
Apart from Robert Frazer, who was such a success in "White Zombie" there were a few stars of the silent screen with roles in this movie. Ethel Clayton was a Lubin star from 1912 until the company folded in 1916 but she never stopped working - even if it was only in roles like Yvonne. Paul Panzer, who had terrorized Pearl White in "The Perils of Pauline" - was a member of the Circle.
The Crooked Circle is a film that has a lot more potential than it
fully realizes. It starts with an intriguing scene with a group of
black hooded individuals in an underground room. These shady characters
are the Crooked Circle and they are planning revenge on a group of
amateur sleuths called the Sphinx Club. Now this set-up makes it sound
like the movie could go in an interesting direction with both these
groups fighting against each other. Unfortunately, the focus is
subsequently too often on comedy, rather than suspense.
The film takes the form of the old dark house format which was hugely popular in the 1930's. The house itself is full of the usual array of secret passageways, trap-doors and hidden rooms that was part and parcel in these movies. The mystery isn't ultimately too compelling, although there is a reasonable twist near the end. It's as creaky as you would expect but not without some charm.
"The Sphinx Club is a group of amateur detectives who are the bitter
rivals of The Crooked Circle, a collection of hooded villains. After
The Sphinx Club aids the authorities in catching and imprisoning a
member of The Crooked Circle, the evil gang swears revenge by targeting
Colonel Walters, a well-known member of The Sphinx Club. Will the
Sphinx Club be able to protect Colonel Walters or will The Crooked
Circle succeed in their quest to kill him?" asks the DVD sleeve.
The threatened Sphinx Club member, Berton Churchill (as Theodore Walters) is pretty good - but, he is not the focus of this comedy-mystery. Instead, we get zany Zasu Pitts (as Nora Rafferty) complaining to Christian Rub (as Old Dan) about living in spooky "Melody Manor". Ms. Pitts does her best "Olive Oyl" (from "Popeye") dress and voice. And, as a bonus, Mr. Rub responds with his "Gepetto" (from "Pinocchio"). You won't see "Olive Oyl" and "Gepetto" in too many movies!
Meanwhile, Ben Lyon (as Brand Osborne) is preparing to resign from the Sphinx Club. His replacement is foreboding Indian C. Henry Gordon (as Yoganda), who warns, "Evil is on the way." When Gordon arrives at "Melody Manor", Pitts looks at his turban and says: "I'm sorry you got a headache sir, shall I get you a Bromo-Seltzer?" Others in the funny cast: cop James Gleason ("Here Comes Mr. Jordan"), hermit Raymond Hatton ("The Whispering Chorus"), and gay Roscoe Karns ("It Happened One Night").
****** The Crooked Circle (9/25/32) Bruce Humberstone ~ Ben Lyon, Zasu Pitts, C. Henry Gordon, Christian Rub
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you like the "old-dark-house" mysteries of the type they just don't make anymore, "The Crooked Circle" should be added to your collection. It has many of the trappings of the genre, but what sets it apart are some plot twists that are both clever and progressive for 1932. At times the film seems to surrender itself to surreal chaos, but just about everything is well-explained by the end. Zasu Pitts and James Gleason are a comedy match made in heaven: she thinks that a myth is a "female moth", and he thinks that "it's OK to be in a hurry, as long as you take your time about it". My DVD print is in pretty poor shape (it could use some re-mastering), but still watchable, and the sound is fairly clear despite some background hiss. **1/2 out of 4.
|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Ratings||External reviews||Plot keywords|
|Main details||Your user reviews||Your vote history|