There have been a spate of London police murders, the victims always killed by a long knife (which the police know is a sword cane), the murders always taking place in a deserted but ... See full summary »
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Arthur B. Woods,
There have been a spate of London police murders, the victims always killed by a long knife (which the police know is a sword cane), the murders always taking place in a deserted but successively different part of town, and the police always being notified by the murderer that he will strike beforehand. By his signed notes, the murderer has dubbed himself as X. The police have their first real lead when the latest murder occurs outside the home where the Drayton Diamond was stolen on the same night. The diamond thief is Nick Revel, a suave, confident career thief, and his two accomplices, an insurance clerk named 'Hutch' Hutchinson, and a taxi driver named Joe Palmer. Nick, however, is not Mr. X, but he and his accomplices know they can't pawn the diamond or return the diamond for its insurance money now until Mr. X is caught. When a well known and respected man named Sir Christopher Marche is arrested for the murders on circumstantial evidence, Nick knows the police have the wrong ... Written by
Philip MacDonald's novel was first published in London as "X v. Rex" using his pseudonym, Martin Porlock. It was published in America as "The Mystery of the Dead Police" under his real name. See more »
Robert Montgomery, always the class act, gets to do more here than MGM normally let him in the very early years of his career when they too often typecast him as a wealthy playboy. I always enjoyed him in those roles, but he was capable of so much more.
Someone is going about killing London policemen with a long sword in the absence of any other crime. Enter Robert Montgomery as the unlucky cracksman Nicholas Revel. He is unlucky because he steals a beautiful diamond at virtually the same time and place that one of the policemen is killed. The police unfortunately deduce that the cop killer, "Mr. X", is also the diamond thief and figure when they find the diamond and its thief they'll find Mr. X.
In yet another plot thread the daughter of police commissioner Fresham is engaged to a young man, Sir Christopher 'Chris' Marche, who is prone to nocturnal drunken adventures. During one of these benders he scuffles with a policeman minutes before Mr. X kills that policeman. With the young man's scarf clutched in the dead policeman's hands, Sir Christopher is instantly a suspect.
These threads intersect when Revel, a man with a profound conscience for a jewel thief and apparently better investigative instincts than the police, decides he cannot let Sir Christopher be blamed for a crime that he believes he did not commit. He has a theory on how to catch the real cop killer - and thus get himself off the hook too - but he needs to talk to police commissioner Fresham and tell him his theory. Knowing the commissioner will probably be at Sir Christopher's hearing, Revel concocts a plan to falsely vouch for Sir Christopher the night of the killing, and thus be able to simultaneously free Sir Christopher from suspicion and enter into conversation with the commissioner.
Some of this plan works out for Revel - and some of it doesn't. All in all it's a very interesting crime drama/romance from the 1930's. Lewis Stone as police superintendent Conner is also excellent here as usual, as he wages a passive-aggressive battle of wits with Revel. You see, Conner is on to Revel from the first time they meet and Revel realizes this. The film has a very satisfying precode ending, but not the kind you would normally think of when you mention precode.
Also, let me correct one common mistake. The leading lady here is Elizabeth Allan, a fine British film actress, not Elizabeth Allen the stage actress and wife of Robert Montgomery at the time this film was made.
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