LawrenceA

Recently Watched Mystery/Crime/Noir/Etc.

67 posts in this topic

The Mind Reader (1933) - Decent drama about the fake psychic racket, from First National and director Roy Del Ruth. Warren William stars as "Chandra", a phony carnival psychic who, along with partners Frank (Allen Jenkins) and Sam (Clarence Muse), uses various tricks to dupe unsuspecting customers. His new girlfriend Sylvia (Constance Cummings) disapproves when she learns the truth, but Chandra won't change his ways until real tragedy strikes. Also featuring Natalie Moorhead, Earle Foxe, Robert Barrat, Harry Beresford, Fred "Snowflake" Toones, and Mayo Methot.

William puts his commanding voice to good use here, and his visage, wearing a turban and lit from below, is effective. Methot has a small scene but it leaves an impact. This is fairly minor, and the ending doesn't ring true, but it's not bad.   (6/10)

Source: TCM.

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Night of Terror (1933) - Old-dark-house style mystery/horror movie from Columbia Pictures and director Benjamin Stoloff. A mad killer (Edwin Maxwell), his "face distorted by insanity", is on the loose. A scientist (George Meeker) has developed a solution that allows the imbiber to survive for up to 8 hours without breathing. He plans to demonstrate his miracle drug at his friend Richard Rhinehart's large mansion, coincidentally at the same time that the mad killer is seen roaming the grounds. Others in attendance include Degar (Bela Lugosi), a turban-wearing butler and psuedo-psychic; his equally psychic wife Sika (Mary Frey); Richard Rhinehart (Tully Marshall), the rich friend; John Rhinehart (Bryant Washburn), his son; Mary Rhinehart (Sally Blaine), his daughter who is engaged to the scientist; and Tom Hartley (Wallace Ford), a pushy newspaper reporter who loves Mary, and who is determined to get to the bottom of things. Also featuring Oscar Smith, Matt McHugh, Otto Hoffman, and Gertrude Michael.

This is a strange but very amusing mish-mash of standard 30's mystery elements, implied grisly horror, and science fiction weirdness. Lugosi has one of his biggest and best roles as the ambiguous Degar, who's naturally a suspect for much of the film. He looks good in his all-black outfit, and is actually physically imposing, something I don't normally ascribe to Bela. The ending is an unusual hoot, too.  (7/10)

Source: YouTube.

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I've been watching some 1930s mysteries set in Britain. Each time I watch these, I keep wishing that more Agatha Christie mysteries had been filmed back in the 30s.

Charlie Chan in London: a young man is about to be hanged for the murder of another man. This man's sister gets Charlie Chan to help find the real killer.

The Terror: two crooks help an anonymous boss steal a lot of money. The boss betrays them and they wind up in jail. Once they're out, they go to an isolated mansion where they're convinced the boss is hiding. The first part of this film is gangster-style, but soon it turns into an isolated country house whodunit when someone is murdered. The secret room and the noises which are probably coming from it are a nice touch, too. Alastair Sim steals the show here as one of the crooks.

The Shadow: all the elements of a typical 1930s British mystery here - a blackmailer needs to be caught, and this person is likely hiding in the isolated mansion where most of the film takes place. Some red herrings, too. A lot like Agatha Christie, though she came up with much more elaborate endings.

The Mystery of Mr. X: clever story about a serial cop killer on the loose. A diamond thief is at the wrong place at the wrong time (and therefore a suspect in the murders) and he has some work to do to get Scotland Yard off the trail of the stolen diamond (which he wants to cash in ASAP). Lots of VERY clever twists and turns in this gem.

The Ghost Camera: a fellow comes home and finds that a camera had been tossed into his car. He develops some of the pictures and he gets curious about the pics and the camera's owner. Meanwhile, the camera is stolen from his home. This fellow goes off in search of the camera's owner and later, he attempts to solve the mystery of other pictures which he developed.

The Ghost Camera is based on a story by an author who wrote a couple of novels which I've read. In one of these other novels, a man who lives alone locks up his house and goes on holidays. At a train station (or somewhere), he overhears someone asking the operator for HIS phone number...and he hears this person talking to someone at his own home! But no one is supposed to be at home! Interesting novel.

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Penthouse (1933) - Entertaining mystery/crime flick from MGM and director W.S. Van Dyke. Warner Baxter stars as Jackson Durant, a high-powered attorney who makes himself a pariah at both his firm and in his social circle when he successfully defends infamous gangster Tony Gazotti (Nat Pendleton). Jackson sees a shot at redemption when a society friend is accused of murder and Jackson sets out to find the real culprit. He gets ample help from gang moll Gertie (Myrna Loy). Also featuring Charles Butterworth, Mae Clarke, Phillips Holmes, C. Henry Gordon, Martha Sleeper, George E. Stone, Robert Emmett O'Connor, Raymond Hatton, and Theresa Harris.

I liked Baxter here more than in most other films that I've seen him in, and I always enjoy Loy. During this period she was transitioning from the dragon-lady and femme fatale roles that she started out with into the sophisticated woman persona that would serve her so well. The supporting cast is also good, with Butterworth and Pendleton the stand outs.   (7/10)

Source: TCM.

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The Phantom Broadcast (1933) - Short & cheap crime/mystery from Monogram and director Phil Rosen. Grant Murdock (Arnold Grey) is a handsome and famous singing star on the radio with adoring fans and people after him for his lucrative recording contracts. He's also a jerk, and he mistreats his manager/chief songwriter Norman Wilder (Ralph Forbes), a hunchbacked sad sack. Soon it looks as if both Murdock and Wilder have a target on their backs, but who is trying to rub them out? Also featuring Vivienne Osborne, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, Gail Patrick, Paul Page, Pauline Garon, Rockliffe Fellowes, Carl Miller, Mary MacLaren, and George "Gabby" Hayes.

Forbes is pretty good in this variation on Cyrano de Bergerac. I also liked Williams as Forbes' chauffeur and friend. Despite being just over an hour, I still found myself growing bored with it.   (5/10)

Source: YouTube.

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Private Detective 62 (1933) - Adequate, lightweight crime/mystery from Warner Brothers and director Michael Curtiz. William Powell stars as Donald Free, a former government secret agent who starts work as a private detective, partnering with the shady Dan Hogan (Arthur Hohl). Free helps turn the business into a rousing success, but when he's tasked with keeping an eye on a big-money gambler named Janet Reynolds (Margaret Lindsay), things get complicated for a number of reasons. Also featuring Gordon Westcott, Ruth Donnelly, Natalie Moorhead, James Bell, Hobart Cavanaugh, Irving Bacon, Theresa Harris, and Charles Lane.

This serves mainly as a showcase for Powell, and he gets to display his sophisticated charm with some minor tough-guy flourishes. Lindsay is also good as an unlikely pro gambler, and she and Powell have chemistry, which she rarely did with her leading men. I also enjoyed Hohl, and think he's one of the better weasels in movies of the period. I have no idea what the "62" in the title means.   (7/10)

Source: TCM.

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Some more from the 1920s and 1930s:

Before Dawn

Murder at Glen Athol

The Thirteenth Chair (1930s version)

The Thirteenth Guest

The Cat and the Canary (1920s and 1930s versions)

These films offer at least some of these features: isolated mansions, hidden treasures, seances, portraits with eyes that move, blackmailers, bizarre characters, secret passages.

Regarding The Cat and the Canary: normally I like the 20s version better than the 30s version. This time around, I found myself enjoying the 1930s film a lot more.

Before Dawn: a little "treat" awaits certain characters at the end of a hidden staircase....they really should watch where they walk!

The 13th Chair: Dame May Whitty really steals the show here.

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Crime Without Passion (1934) - Ahead-of-its-time psychological thriller from Paramount Pictures, written, produced and directed by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur. Claude Rains stars as Lee Gentry, a criminal defense attorney notorious for his courtroom theatrics and ability to get acquittals for even the most heinous of crooks. However, when he has problems with his showgirl lover Carmen (Margo), he decides to become a criminal himself. Also featuring Whitney Bourne, Stanley Ridges, Leslie Adams, Esther Dale, Greta Granstedt, and Marjorie Main.

This unusual feature begins with an incredible sequence depicting the Furies, three women in garish makeup and diaphanous gowns, screeching and cackling as they fly through the air, enticing men to commit crimes. Rains, with black hair and a pencil mustache, has his first real, visible lead role, and he's very good as the morally bankrupt Gentry. Margo was only 16, making her movie debut as the object of many men's affections. The great Lee Garmes was cinematographer here (and he claims to have directed most of the movie, as well), and the film has a visual maturity that would fit more with the psychologically complex films of the 1940's. I wondered why this wasn't better known, but being one of the many early Paramount films controlled by Universal explains it.   (7/10)

Source: YouTube.

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I took a bit of a break from whodunits to watch noirs and Christmas films (all of which I'm too lazy to review).

Tonight I want to watch the following whodunits (both of which I've seen many times):

The Verdict (1940s)....a very underrated Lorre-Greenstreet collaboration. A high-ranking officer of Scotland Yard realizes that he sent the wrong man to the gallows for the murder of an elderly lady. He's dismissed and he decides to watch with some enjoyment as a younger man takes over his job...and has the tough task of trying to solve the murder of the elderly lady's nephew. Lovely gothic locked-room mystery which also works as film noir. This movie really really needs to be better known! One of the best conclusions ever, in my opinion.

Green for Danger (1940s)....a couple of murders take place at a hospital in war-torn Britain, and it's up to Inspector Cockrill (the great Alastair Sim) to figure out whodunit and how it was done. I especially like the final 15 minutes of this film, and the final couple of lines as well.

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15 hours ago, kjrwe said:

Next up - The Spiral Staircase.

Who else is a fan?

I'm a fan of this 1946 psycho thriller.     Even George Brett gives a good performance in this one but the film belongs to Dorothy McGuire. 

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Dorothy McGuire also starred in the radio play The Spiral Staircase. Must have been tough playing a mute character on radio, but she did it. I think I mentioned this fact somewhere on this forum, but I forget where.

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I watched two 1930s mysteries tonight, both of which I've seen before.

The Crime Nobody Saw: three authors have been hired to write a murder mystery play, and they're out of ideas. Then, things start to happen with a couple of neighbors, events which might provide these three men with some ideas for their play. Very clever ending here!

The Murder Man: a big-shot financial-type guy is murdered and his partner is charged with the murder. This mystery is quite unusual because the stars are mostly big-name actors: Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, Virginia Bruce. Also starring is Robert Barrat, who always gave terrific performances in 1930s mysteries. Spencer Tracy's acting in particular is top-notch here, especially in the last 15 minutes of the movie. The only problem I have with this film is that it's too predictable. Still, it's a fine mystery-drama set in a newspaper office environment.

I recommend both films.

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I haven't been posting because I've been watching 1930s isolated mansion mysteries:

Midnight Mystery 1930

Murder at Midnight 1931

The Wayne Murder Case 1932

The Riverside Murder 1935

Night of Terror 1933

The Ghost Walks 1934

The Moonstone 1934

One Frightened Night 1935

The Rogues Tavern 1936

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On 11/29/2017 at 4:21 PM, LawrenceA said:

Crime Without Passion (1934) - Ahead-of-its-time psychological thriller from Paramount Pictures, written, produced and directed by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur. Claude Rains stars as Lee Gentry, a criminal defense attorney notorious for his courtroom theatrics and ability to get acquittals for even the most heinous of crooks. However, when he has problems with his showgirl lover Carmen (Margo), he decides to become a criminal himself. Also featuring Whitney Bourne, Stanley Ridges, Leslie Adams, Esther Dale, Greta Granstedt, and Marjorie Main.

This unusual feature begins with an incredible sequence depicting the Furies, three women in garish makeup and diaphanous gowns, screeching and cackling as they fly through the air, enticing men to commit crimes. Rains, with black hair and a pencil mustache, has his first real, visible lead role, and he's very good as the morally bankrupt Gentry. Margo was only 16, making her movie debut as the object of many men's affections. The great Lee Garmes was cinematographer here (and he claims to have directed most of the movie, as well), and the film has a visual maturity that would fit more with the psychologically complex films of the 1940's. I wondered why this wasn't better known, but being one of the many early Paramount films controlled by Universal explains it.   (7/10)

Source: YouTube.

I didn't enjoy Crime Without Passion much the first time that I saw it, but I did see it a second time and it was well worth it. I'm not sure that the Furies were meant to lure people into temptation as much as they were there to represent the consequences: all that falling glass was meant to cut and slash. Seeing this film, especially the opening sequence, on the big screen of the 1930s must have been amazing. And the plot twists were actually plausible. The last ten minutes or so of the film are also amazing.

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The Lady in the Lake (1947) contains some of the wittiest, snappiest, funniest dialogue you'll hear in film noir, all delivered courtesy of Robert Montgomery (in his directorial debut) as Philip Marlowe, and noir Hall of Famer Audrey Totter as his love interest/murder suspect.  Here's Marlowe explaining why people hire him: "Because I'm dumb, cheap, and keep my mouth shut." It doesn't take long to adjust to the inventive camera angle, which creates intimacy, as if we're walking in Montgomery's shoes, seeing only what he sees.  Montgomery talks like he's hard-boiled, but the few times we see him, when he stands in front of a mirror, or breaks the fourth wall, he looks like an affluent playboy.  The Lady in the Lake is light on classic noir trappings; the events depicted take place during Christmas season. But the film is a fun puzzle, with a satisfying ending, and at times seems to satirize the elaborateness of the milieu it inhabits.

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More 1930s mysteries:

Murder on the Campus

Murder With Pictures

The 13th Man

The King Murder

Murder by the Clock

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