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Featured Post - Mystery Movie Marathon

I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

The House of Secrets (1936)

We meet a woman named Julie returning to England via ship from a trip to Paris. She is being bothered by another passenger when a man named Barry comes to her rescue. He is smitten with her, but she refuses to give him her name or even talk to him much beyond thanking him for getting rid of the other man. Frustrated he respects her wishes and when we next see him Barry is in his hotel room in London. A couple of things happen here. One his friend from America, Tom Starr, stops by to say hello. He is a detective on the trail of a murderer. The other is a call from a solicitor who asks he stop to see him the following day.

The remainder of the movie is Barry finding out that he has inherited a large estate from a previously unknown relative. That place, The Hawk’s Nest, is inhabited by some mysterious folks who keep driving him off. The authorities don’t seem to be in any hurry to help him make his claim. One of the people living in the house happens to be Julie, who also is smitten with him, but keeps trying to make him leave. There is a gang of hoodlums trying to sneak into the Hawk’s Nest looking for treasure. One of them happens to be the murderer that Barry was looking for. See how it all connects? There is a big reveal and by the end of the movie everyone is happy, the treasure if found, Barry is wealthy, and love is in the air.

I thought I’d dig deep into these mystery flicks by covering The House of Secrets. This isn’t one of the franchise movies like Sherlock Holmes or Charlie Chan. Instead it is based off a popular stage play which was a common occurrence in the early days of movies. This makes for a decently paced movie with rapid fire dialogue and many twists. These plays leaned heavily into the dialogue to tell the story and that translates to the screen as the script and in some cases the actors remained the same. All the boxes for a movie like this are checked with hidden passages, secret doors, and a random cackling lunatic/murderer.

The clue... that we don't get to see
The story is decent, though I was a little disappointed that instead of giving the audience the clues as to what is going on we eventually have it explained to us after many strange things have happened. The House of Secrets leans more into the skulking around being spooky stuff then it does the mystery that needs to be solved. Though at times it does seem to tease us with the mystery, and they do have secrets in the title. Part of the fun with a movie like this is trying to collect the clues and making your own guesses, which we aren’t given a chance to do.

I tried to find the best copy of the movie that I could for this review. I wasn’t terribly successful as what I tracked down was a very dark and beat up print. This makes many of the skulking around scenes hard to follow as the actors are almost completely swallowed up. Being an early movie, it also suffers from a lot of static camerawork with long shots of the characters delivering their dialogue. That said I’ve seen much worse and there are some attempts at closeups when they are seated or otherwise stationary. When folks watch an old movie like this, they always seem to say it was boring not realizing that much of what they are noticing is a lack of visual stimulation due to the stationary camera. This comes from filmmakers trying to recreate the feel of sitting in an audience watching a play before realizing what they could do differently with film.

This isn’t a great movie and there are far better contemporary examples of the genre. But I enjoyed this one well enough to give it a halfhearted recommendation. It is only seventy minutes long and is available online if you go looking.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

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