23 user 13 critic

The Thirteenth Chair (1929)

Passed | | Drama, Mystery | 19 October 1929 (USA)
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 »


Tod Browning


Bayard Veiller (from the play by)




Cast overview, first billed only:
Conrad Nagel ... Richard Crosby
Leila Hyams ... Helen O'Neill
Margaret Wycherly ... Madame Rosalie La Grange
Helene Millard ... Mary Eastwood
Holmes Herbert ... Sir Roscoe Crosby
Mary Forbes ... Lady Crosby
Bela Lugosi ... Inspector Delzante
John Davidson ... Edward Wales
Charles Quatermaine Charles Quatermaine ... Dr. Philip Mason (as Charles Quartermaine)
Moon Carroll Moon Carroll ... Helen Trent
Cyril Chadwick ... Brandon Trent
Bertram Johns Bertram Johns ... Howard Standish
Gretchen Holland Gretchen Holland ... Grace Standish
Frank Leigh Frank Leigh ... Professor Feringeea
Clarence Geldart ... Commissioner Grimshaw (as Clarence Geldert)


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 <mvg@whidbey.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Try and Guess It! The thrilling mystery play that baffled and gripped Broadway for a solid year is here as a Talking picture with every chill and gasp intact! See more »


Drama | Mystery


Passed | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


Helene Millard was cast while finishing a run of the play 'The Streets of New York' with Edward Everett Horton at the Majestic Theatre; 'The Thirteenth Chair' was her first film role. See more »


There are several scenes where it appears the actors are waiting for their cues before they start talking; most notably when the Inspector calls them all into the room to recreate the seance. See more »


Inspector Delzante: [Interrogating Madame La Grange, consulting his notes] Perhaps this will refresh your memory.
See more »

Alternate Versions

MGM also released this movie in a silent version at 1628.55 m in length. See more »


Version of The Thirteenth Chair (1919) See more »

User Reviews

Don't believe the low rating
27 January 2016 | by AlsExGalSee all my reviews

This film is only a 5.x out of ten if you don't like the early sound films, in which case, what are you doing here? You get to see Bela Lugosi as a police inspector, two years before he becomes forever typecast in horror roles as a result of "Dracula", although his deep Hungarian accent in colonial India is unexplained. But that's alright, because there is also an mystic with a deep Irish accent who has somehow ended up in India and managed to raise a daughter without the same said accent. The mother and daughter have become estranged, but why and how are never explained.

Lugosi's character is investigating a murder - two actually. At the beginning of the film, Spencer Lee, described by his own best friend as a rotter, has already been murdered by person unknown. Apparently Lee was quite a lady's man and generally just a bad guy all around, so any number of people could have killed him. The best friend, Edward Wales, suggests a séance conducted by the previously named mystic. Meanwhile, the son of an aristocratic family (Conrad Nagel as Richard Crosby) is having trouble with his fiancée (Leila Hyams as Helen O'Neil) who says she has no right to marry him. Richard thinks it is because she is a secretary and he comes from a rich family, but there is obviously something else troubling Helen a great deal.

The séance is held in the Crosby home, and the participants see this mainly as an interesting diversion, but when the time comes for Wales to ask the spirit of his dead friend, Spencer Lee, who murdered him, there is a scream, and when the lights come on, Wales is dead with a knife in his back. Supposedly this was done by someone in the séance circle to prevent the spirit of Spencer Lee from answering his friend.

Several other reviewers note Bela Lugosi as the reason to watch this one, but I pick Margaret Wycherly as the psychic. She plays one of the oddest and most intriguing characters of any era of film. She acts more like a tour guide in her friendliness than a mystic, and then proceeds to show everybody all of her tricks when she is faking as a means of proving that this time she is not faking. She actually solves the crime with the help of Lugosi's character, who, upon hearing her idea to expose the murderer says "What you propose is too horrible to contemplate – but we will do it!" She gives such an odd but likable performance it is a wonder she wasn't nominated for best actress.

This early talkie is not too talkie - in that there may be quite a bit of conversation, but it is all for a purpose. It really is quite creative throughout and the plot twists will keep you guessing. I recommend it, just remember you are dealing with the limitations of very early sound film, which primarily was movement.

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Release Date:

19 October 1929 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The 13th Chair See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See full technical specs »

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