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Featured Post - May is Mystery Movie Marathon month

I thought it was time that I kicked off another of my review marathons here at the site. I've been in the mood to check out some more ol...

Friday, May 26, 2023

While the Patient Slept (1935)

While poking around looking for movies to cover here at the site I stumbled upon the Sarah Keate series. This movie was based on a book series from Mignon G. Eberhart, who was referred to as the American Agatha Christie. I had never heard of the character or the author before, so I was intrigued. Then I found out that they made six movies based on Eberhart’s writing and of course I tracked them all down. Well four of the five so far. This is the first of them brought to the screen, so it seemed like a good place to start.

Things kick off with the always fun setting of an old mansion at night with a storm raging outside. We meet Grandfather, who isn’t feeling so well. This has brought his family to his side waiting for him to die. Well at least he thinks they are just there for his money and it gives us a lot of suspects for what is to come later. When he collapses after receiving a telegram a nurse is called to take care of him. That of course is our main character, Sarah Keate. She arrives and starts caring for him while the rest of the family beds down for the night. Though it is brief as before morning a shot rings out and one of the family, Adolphe, is found dead on the stairs.

The police are called and the head detective starts to interrogate and yell at the suspects. Lt. Lance, the cop, also is sweet on Keate and has some sort of history with her that the movie doesn’t explain. There are also some other detectives that mostly serve as comic relief as they try to figure out who the killer is and why. Though this doesn’t happen before another body is found, this time the family butler. I suppose the butler didn’t do it. In the end everything is explained and the murderer is exposed.

While the Patient Slept has a lot of good things going for it. The setting of the old mansion is familiar and well executed. From the characters creeping around in the shadows, to the storm rattling the windows it is fun. We also get hands reaching from behind curtains to menace folks, hidden passages, and secret doors. Just about all you would expect from the movie. There is also a big twist that if you are paying attention to the dialogue was shared with us before it is revealed. Oh, and the dialogue is snappy with the sort of rapid fire delivery that is common in a lot of these early “talkie” movies. They were heavily influenced by the presentation of theatrical plays and that can make for a good time.

I was also impressed with the performance of Aline MacMahon as Sarah Keate. Her performance is good as she brings a lighthearted sense of fun to the proceedings If you haven’t figured it out yet this movie does lean into the humor a bit. That seems to be an issue with fans of the books, which I believe must be much more serious. Though much like the Charlie Chan series, which was also based on some novels, the movie adaptation was influenced by the popular murder mystery mixed with romance and comedy trend that was happening in popular entertainment at the time. I will need to check out the books at some point which may change my opinion here but for now I’d say it was fine.

The only negative that I can say about this movie is that we never get the clue to solve it. I’ve said it again and again but part of the fun with a story like this is trying to figure out the mystery along with the characters. Here there is a big cheat where the detective had information that we never get until he exposes the character who was doing all the killing. That was annoying, but that alone isn’t enough to spoil the fun. While the Patient Slept is a good time and well worth checking out. I can’t wait to watch the rest of the movies in this series.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

Things open in a courtroom where the nefarious Professor Moriarty is on trial for murder, or at least he was. He has just been declared innocent, despite everyone knowing he was guilty. Sherlock Holmes shows up with the evidence that would have convicted him just as the case ends and is too late. The Professor declares to Holmes after the trial that he will commit the crime of the century under his nose proving once and for all that he is the greatest mind in all of England.

Not long after Holmes is visited by a young woman named Ann who is concerned for the well being of her brother Lloyd. He has received a strange letter in the mail one just like their father got before he was murdered. Despite being asked to keep an eye out on the transfer of the latest crown jewel, The Star of Delhi, Holmes spends his time helping her. When Lloyd is murdered this seems like a good choice. But is it? How does Ann’s problems tie in with Moriarty’s crime of the century? These questions are all answered in a great finale/chase at the Tower of London.

This is a very good movie so I’m trying to keep my synopsis as vague as possible to not spoil anything. There is a real mystery here that engages the audience and keeps them guessing from start to finish. There is a lot going on as Moriarty tosses clues, seemingly at random, at Holmes trying to confuse him and obfuscate his crimes. That said if you pay close attention the vital bits needed to sort things out are provided, which as I’ve said before is vital for a mystery story to work. I need to have a chance to figure it out for myself if you want me to enjoy what I’m watching. Here they do that very thing, and I was hooked.

The cast is great with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce returning as Holmes and Watson. This second entry is also the first time we get to see some of the comedic elements to Bruce’s portrayal as the good doctor. It isn’t slapstick, which wouldn’t have played with well with a story like this but is instead some good natured wordplay. It brings a levity that was a hallmark to later entries into the franchise. New to the cast are the legendary Ida Lupino as Ann and the great George Zucco as Moriarty. It shocks me that more genre fans don’t know Zucco by name, but if you have watched any classic horror from the thirties and forties you will recognize his face.

I believe that this is the last of the movies to take place in the late eighteen hundreds as they movie the action to “current” day of the forties as the franchise continued into the war years. I’ll speak more on that when we get to them. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a good time and well worth checking out. You can find this online streaming for free so there is no reason not to give it a chance. I highly recommend it.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

I don’t think that I’ve ever covered a Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movie ever. Not for this site nor for any other project that I’ve ever worked on. That sort of shocks me as I’ve always been a huge fan of these movies. Since I’m in the midst of my current mystery marathon I figured it was time to finally dive in. Unlike the Chan flicks I figured to do these in order so with that in mind lets look at the first cinematic adventure The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The movie opens with a man running thru the moors fleeting from some unseen terror. He collapses and dies, which we know since the next scene is the coroner’s inquest. They determine that it was natural causes, though his friend Dr. Mortimer insists he was murdered. I suppose I should also mention that the man was the current Sir Baskerville. This is important since Henry, the heir, has arrived in England to claim his inheritance. Dr. Mortimer is concerned for his safety and comes to see Holmes about it.

After some shenanigans in London Holmes sends Sir Henry off to his estate with Dr. Watson tagging along to keep an eye on him. He claims he needs to finish another case, but the truth is Sherlock wishes to sneak into the village to investigate without anyone knowing he is there. After we are introduced to some locals aka. suspects the mystery starts to take shape. What appears to be a spectral beast referenced in a family curse turns out to have a much more mundane origin. Someone is after Sir Henry, but it isn’t some spiritual entity or family curse. Nope this is all about good old human greed.

I’ve read this story many times and have seen this as well as all the other adaptations of it so there wasn’t much mystery involved for me. But even if I hadn’t gone into it with that knowledge, I would say that this isn’t your typical Holmes story. There is far less deduction and collection of clues in The Hound of the Baskervilles as it leans more into the action with them running around the moors chasing down the things that go bump or actually howl in the night. Not only do we have the mysterious beast mentioned in the title but there is also an escaped murdered/lunatic. And the latter doesn’t even have anything to do with the main story!

There is a lot going on. Ironically, this is also the story that doesn’t feature Holmes that much. He disappears for a large stretch as the action focuses on Sir Henry and Dr. Watson meeting the locals. There is a killer and their identity is eventually revealed but we don’t get a lot in the way of collecting clues and because of that you don’t get to play along with the characters trying to sort out the puzzle of who done it. The movie does make up for that with some excellent pacing clocking in at a tight eighty minutes there isn’t a wasted scene.

Oh and make sure that you are watching the version that is eighty minutes long. There are other cuts out there that were made for television as well as removing a particularly controversial line. For those not familiar with the classic stories of Conan Doyle he had his detective addicted to cocaine, which was the only way he could relax and allow his mind to go idle. The last line of the uncut movie reflects this. “Oh, Watson… the needle.” It doesn’t add anything to the movie but I always prefer the original vision of the filmmakers.

The cast is solid with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce appearing as Holmes and Watson respectively. They are great in this movie and have immediate chemistry. This is one of the main reasons that we ended up with another thirteen of these movies. That was despite of the mixed quality of the latter entries. There are also fun appearances from Lionel Atwill as Dr. Mortimer and John Carradine as Barryman the butler. Atwill would appear later in the series as Holmes’ nemesis Moriarty.

While not my favorite version of the character, that would be Jeremy Brett in the Granada television series, Rathbone was the first to really sink his teeth into the role. If you are new to the character this would be a nice place to start and is available to watch online for free. Of his movies this is probably the best. I highly recommend it.

One more thing before I go. The elaborate sets used for this movie were reused for the Charlie Chan flick Castle in the Desert which I’ve already covered here. It is always fun to find little connections like this while doing research on my reviews.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The House of Mystery (1934)

The movie opens in Asia where we see an archaeologist named Prendergast getting drunk in a bar and eventually getting tossed out. We next see him crashing a sacred ceremony and talking down at the priest. Angered they curse him with the vengeance of their god, Kali, and animate a stuffed gorilla to attack him. But there is a dancer who apparently loves him and she helps in his escape.

The action then moves to twenty years later when a lawyer reads a newspaper headline about some treasure being looted all those years ago. I guess that Prendergast made good on this plans and stole the temple’s loot. Though he disappeared until recently being spotted and now the investors in his expedition want their cut. To this end they hire a lawyer named Ellis who contacts Prendergast and they all plan to meet at his country home. When they arrive they find him crippled and in a wheelchair. He warns that with the treasure comes the terrible curse. They don’t believe him until the investors start to die one by one at the hands of a gorilla! The police are called and after some twists and turns the mystery is solved.

I’ve included The House of Mystery in my marathon here though it more likely fits in the horror category. Though there is a murder and a spooky old house full of suspects there isn’t really a detective collecting clues. The police inspector that shows up after the first killing is played more for laughs and in a running gag has no idea what the heck is going on. I will say that eventually we do find out that a proper detective from Scotland Yard has been on the case from the start, but he only shows up at the end to give the solution. There is zero chance at figuring out who the killer is because we don’t get any clues. So again, while there are some familiar elements this isn’t much of a mystery.

Nothing quite like a good old Gorilla suit
With that out of the way what is this movie? What we have here is an early entry into the old dark house subgenre of early horror. Named after the movie of the same name that means we get a healthy dose of the spooky stuff. The boxes checked here include a séance, a mysterious note (actually a couple of them), hints at mysticism, secret passages, and as is the case with many of the sillier entries a gorilla costume! After a bit of a slow start the pacing is solid with the last half hour filled with the characters running around finding bodies. This combined with some snappy dialogue and odd but effective attempts at humor this is a decent flick.

I suppose I need to warn folks new to these early movies that it can seem a bit talky at times. We get a lot of dialogue and exposition. The reason for that is most of these scripts were adapted from stage plays. Plays don’t have the option of cutting in scenes at different locations so they filled in the blanks with characters talking about what happened elsewhere. Also the camera is very static as if they were trying to recreate the experience of sitting in a theater watching the play. For viewers used to modern movie sensibilities this can be a bit off-putting. But once you get adjust it can be a fun ride.

If what I just mentioned above doesn’t scare you away then I think The House of Mystery might be something you want to check out. It comes in at around an hour and is available all over the internet as the movie has long since fallen into the public domain.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Black Camel (1931)

I’m jumping all over the place with these Charlie Chan movies. This is one of the earlier entries and is maybe the second oldest surviving one around. As I’ve mentioned before there are older movies that are considered lost with the only copies having burned in a fire. As always when covering one of these if you have any questions to my thoughts on the casting of a white actor in an Asian role, please check this out. Now onto the review.

A film crew has arrived in Honolulu including the leading lady Shelah. On the way to the islands she met and fell madly in love with a fellow passenger, but before they can marry she insists on consulting her psychic Tarneverro. Here is where Chan enters the story as he intercepts Tarneverro and warns him not to practice his art. Basically he calls him out on being a faker, though Tarneverro implies that he and Chan only report on the subtle things that they observe. I think he basically outed himself as being a phony.

Chan also mentions the death or rather murder of an actor back on the mainland a couple of years earlier. This is important as when Tarneverro meets with Shelah he also brings it up. This leads to her admitting she knows who the murderer is and that later will reveal that to him. Before that happens, she turns up dead and the police are called. Now Chan is on the case for her murder, which connects to the one he was already looking into. Suspects are plentiful as the story plays out until in the end all is revealed.

This is an excellent movie and the only surviving one based on one of the four Earl Der Biggs novels which I think helps the story and plot a great deal. The other three were adapted but are among the lost films. They mystery is solid with the movie taking the time to give us many suspects who had both the motive and means. Then one by one they are either removed by the evidence or killed off by the real culprit. There is a lot going on and you must pay attention. Without spoiling anything I will let you know that The Black Camel does a wonderful job dropping clues that do point to the identity of the killer or killers. That is my number one must have for a mystery movie. It was also fun that my guess was totally wrong, but still plausible. The scriptwriting here is top notch.

This might be the best Warner Oland performance as Chan that I’ve seen, and I’ve watched most of these movies. It makes me sad that the missing films are his as if this any indication we are missing out on some great stuff. Unlike the jovial above it all portrayals from later in the series here Chan gets angry and frustrated at those around him. When he gets socked in the face he basically comes right out and lets the person responsible they will regret doing that. There is also a blink and you’ll miss it supporting appearance from Robert Young (Father Knows Best, Marcus Welby, M.D.) and an uncredited bit part played by Dwight Frye (Dracula, Frankenstein). Speaking of classic Universal horror, the legendary Bela Lugosi gets a rather meaty role as the psychic Tarneverro. Not only do we have a great story but an awesome cast as well!

Not sure what else I can say about this one to convince you to watch it. It is one of the best mystery movies that I’ve seen from the thirties. If you ever wanted to just dip your toes in to see if this sort of thing is for you then here is a good place to start. Personally, I will be revisiting it sooner rather than later. I highly recommend The Black Camel.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, May 15, 2023

Charlie Chan in the Chinese Cat (1944)

note: As is the case with all these Chan, Mr. Wong, and Mr. Moto movies I’ll direct you to this link for my thoughts on casting a white actor in Asian roles.

The movie opens with a man in his study working out something on a chessboard when a black gloved hand reaches in holding a gun and shoots him dead! His family hears the shot but is unable to get to him due to a locked door. I was thinking that we were going to have the classic locked room murder mystery, but it is quickly shown that there is a secret door. His family calls the police.

Months later we see that suspicion has now fallen onto the victim’s wife with the publishing of a book accusing her as such. Charlie Chan is approached by the daughter asking that he solve the crime that the police couldn’t and prove her mother is innocent. He only has forty eight hours before leaving for Cleveland but promises to try. This leads to a couple more murders, some clues, attempts on Chan’s life, as well as some comedy from his number three son Tommy. Oh and Birmingham Brown, the legendary Mantan Mooreland, is in this one as well. Toss in some Jade statues and stolen jewels for an all-around good time.

The pacing of the movie is solid with the murder happening right away with Chan being pulled into investigate shortly afterwards. There are many suspects and whenever they do the smuggling thing I always get a kick out of it. It adds a seedy underworld vibe that the straight up murders don’t. Plus, with it being made during the war years the movie not having a spy subplot was a nice break. The story is more action with a few fist fights, some torture, and a bit of gunplay than it is mystery as we aren’t given that many clues to follow, but there are some cool bits that the audience may see before it is revealed in the end. All that and we get some secret compartments and stolen gems!

This is also one of the later movies in the franchise an as such follows a slightly different formula with comedic bits being mixed in with the mystery. The funny stuff comes from the character of Tommy and that of Birmingham Brown. In these later movies the son is played as a more bumbling hindrance that is tolerated by his father then he is an asset. That said Benson Fong, who replaced Keye Luke from the earlier movies, is still quite good. Mantan Mooreland is doing his act in this movie and his snappy dialogue where he is almost speaking directly to the audience adds a lot to the proceedings. I like silly slapstick and they do it well. Here they are running around a funhouse interacting with the exhibits, which itself was a cool set piece. While some fans are more about the serious entries I can’t pass up on the jokes.

Charlie Chan in The Chinese Cat is a less serious take on the characters and is one of the first that showed the changes in the franchise when it moved from a big studio to the poverty row Monogram Pictures. Funny with a hint of action and mystery makes this one a must see. I recommend it.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, May 12, 2023

Charlie Chan in Paris (1935)

I’m back with another Charlie Chan movie. If this is the first of these that you are reading, I shared my thoughts on the obvious issues casting a white actor in the role of an Asian character here. I don’t want to keep rehashing when I review another of these flicks, and there are many of them. Now onto the review.

The movie opens with Chan arriving via an airplane in France. At the airport we see a beggar asking him for some change, which he happily gives. Chan then goes to the payphone and makes a call to a woman we later find out is named Nardi. They make plans to meet later as she has some important information for him. Right away the mystery is afoot! After some other characters are introduced he makes his way to a club where Nardi is a featured dancer. In front of the crowd she is murdered, but with her dying breath tells Charlie where he can find the clues she had collected for him.

After some twists and turns including Charlie avoiding the police (whom he nearly always works with on his cases) we find out that he was hired by a bank in London to investigate the how and why behind some fake bonds that have been passed off to their customers by a bank in France. The big secrecy is due to them not wanting to cause a panic or run on the banks. That is why Charlie keeps telling everyone that he is on vacation and not a case. He does eventually bring the criminals to justice but not before his son Lee shows up, an innocent woman is accused of murder, and another body hits the floor.

I’ve watched the movies in this series many times but had forgotten how great this one is. The mystery is full of twists and turns with many locations being used to heighten the who done it. This includes a neat sequence in a sewer system that is decently creepy. I always forget that the early entries in the Chan franchise were larger budgeted studio movies (later they became staples of the Poverty Row studios). The production values here are noticeably better at least for a thirties movie. We get clues spread throughout the story so that you can guess at who the killer or killers are. This leads to a quickly paced and entertaining flick that clocks in at seventy two minutes but feels like it is over before it started.

This was the first time in the franchise that one of Chan’s children shows up. Here it is his son Lee, played by Keye Luke. Later in the franchise the number “x” son is part of the comic relief but in these early appearances the character is competent and helps to solve the case. Luke does a fine job as always and is a huge asset to the movie. Warner Oland is Charlie Chan and again does a good job in the role. You can almost see the wheels turning as he weighs clues and sorts things out long before anyone else in the room knows what is going on. He plays him as the smartest man there and you believe it.

Charlie Chan in Paris also has the only acknowledgement that I remember of the Pidgeon English aka. the overly polite and mangled accent that triggers many viewers in the series. Basically, there is a drunken creep that speaks to Charlie in an over the top and insulting imitation of him. Charlie basically calls him on his bullshit in the politest way possible, but it is acknowledged nonetheless. I thought that was interesting.

This may be one of the better if not the best entries in the entire franchise. It has been years since I sat down and watched them all so as I go thru this process for the site it is nice to get a refresher and talk about these flicks. If you are looking for a good mystery movie with a dash of international intrigue, then Charlie Chan in Paris is the movie for you. I highly recommend it.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer