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Eight strangers are invited to spend the night in a penthouse apartment. After being wined and dined, a voice on the radio informs them that they will be murdered unless they manage to outwit the ninth guest: Death.
Roy William Neill
Author Anthony Abbot (real name Charles Fulton Oursler), no doubt inspired by the success of S. S. Van Dine's Philo Vance, created the fictional detective Thatcher Colt, New York City Police Commissioner, first appearing in 1930's "About the Murder of Geraldine Foster," finishing with a total of 14 stories in all. Novel number 3, 1931's "About the Murder of the Night Club Lady," served as the inspiration for this attempt at a series from Columbia, casting the debonair and dapper Adolphe Menjou as the sophisticated Police Commissioner, adeptly demonstrating his multilingual lip reading abilities, with screen newcomer Ruthelma Stevens as his faithful assistant Miss Kelly. The lady in question is Lola Carewe (Mayo Methot), whose plans to celebrate New Years Eve are upset by harrowing death threats. Determined to go out anyway, it's Thatcher Colt who learns of her plight by reading her lips across the room, gathering a police force around her in her own apartment. Unfortunately, her appointed midnight date with death really happens, right in the middle of her living room, surrounded by Colt's men. It's a genuine puzzler, greatly benefiting from its pre-code frankness, with Skeets Gallagher and Nat Pendleton providing light comedy relief. Mayo Methot is best remembered, not for her ten year Hollywood career that ended by 1940, but by her tempestuous 7 year marriage to Humphrey Bogart, who gave up on her violent drunkenness for happiness with Lauren Bacall (Mayo had already divorced twice before). While this was Mayo Methot's second film, it was the first for virtual unknown Ruthelma Stevens, whose future career was surprisingly undistinguished, only twelve featured roles out of 29 credits, the last in 1951. Her Miss Kelly is quite a sexy, smart, and savvy presence, perhaps closer to Thatcher Colt than Della Street to Perry Mason. Their best scene has him asking her to lie down on the couch, her priceless, quizzical, and slightly shocked look not precluding her following orders, only for him to demonstrate the murder victim's recumbent position, his ear at her bosom ("well, looks like I'm making progress, eh Kelly?"). The excellent supporting cast includes underrated Teru Shimada, who once passed himself off as Mr. Moto in 1938's "Mr. Moto's Last Warning," but may be more familiar to viewers for his ubiquitous presence on television in the 60s, plus his villainous turn as Osato in the James Bond thriller "You Only Live Twice." A direct sequel followed a year later, "The Circus Queen Murder," then a one-shot at PRC in 1942, "The Panther's Claw."
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