Creaky with age but still fun!
It is surprising how many "old dark house" movies there were back in the early days of talking pictures. It seems like every independent, Poverty Row studio made their fair share. Some are actually quite good even after all these years. I am about to talk about one of them. Stop me if you've heard this one before: a rich, reclusive, eccentric man passes away and his relatives gather for the reading of the will. What? You've heard this one already? Stick with me, it gets good. The dead mans brother (Sheldon Lewis, the Clutching Hand himself in a surprisingly subdued performance) is confined to a wheelchair and the servants (Martha Mattox, best remembered from THE CAT AND THE CANARY, 1927 and Mischa Auer later to costar in CONDEMNED TO LIVE, 1935) are the creepiest characters you ever saw. The family attorney (Sidney Bracy) is acting mighty suspicious too. Along comes the dead man's daughter (Vera Reynolds) who seems to be the only likable member of the family. With her comes her fiancee (Rex Lease, taking a break from westerns) and his chauffeur (Sleep n' Eat who later went back to his real name, Willie Best). Also in the house is Yogi, a large chimp whom the doctor used for experiments. Everyone in the house gets a chance to say "His death was so sudden!" so right away we are ready for foul play to be mentioned. Like all houses in this genre there are lots of secret passageways but at least this time the killer does not skulk around in a cloak and black hood. It looks like the killer is Yogi the chimp. Ah, but things are not always what they seem to be! Before the 65 minute running time is over we learn about secret love affairs, children, murder plots, bribery and madness. Sadly the weakest point in the movie is the heroine herself. It hardly takes more than a clap of thunder or a shadow to start her screaming "Take me away from here!" to her fiancee. Willie Best steals many scenes with his on-the-money delivery of many great lines. When informed that his room is in the basement near Yogi's cage he responds "Well get me an umbrella and I'll sleep on the roof." Once we know there is a killer loose in the house Willie is asked if he left his gun in the glovebox of the car and he replies "No sir, it's right here!" and pulls it from his pocket. Mischa Auer is quite effective as a menacing presence but he later abandoned drama and became quite a successful comedian. Sheldon Lewis gets much more to do in this movie than he does in THE PHANTOM (1931) where he does a retread of his old Clutching Hand character. Okay so the movie is old and the plot is nothing we have not seen before; this is still a fun movie and worth catching if you are studying early talkies or if you just want something to enjoy.
- Jul 26, 2004
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