Mystery Collection Disc 17

Love from a Stranger, 1937, b&w. Rowland V. Lee (dir.), Ann Harding, Basil Rathbone, Binnie Hale, Bruce Seton. 1:26.

A young woman whose fiancé is about to return from a three-year stretch of work in the Sudan wins the French lottery (for about 90,000£, or about $25 million in contemporary purchasing power) just as he’s returning, and wants to go see the world. Two things happen almost simultaneously: A suave man shows up in response to her ad to sublet the flat—and her fiancé returns, won’t give up his post on returning to England just to follow her around the continent, and gets in an argument with her, stalking off.

Next thing we know, the woman (and her friend and flatmate) is on the ship to Paris—as is the suave stranger, who of course makes a play for her. Then they’re in Paris, her ex shows up to apologize…and now she’s married to the stranger. Shortly thereafter, he borrows 5,000£ to buy a house in the country (a house which, his wife later discovers, was up for sale for half that amount—still, at around $700,000, a goodly sum)…and gets her to sign a form for the loan without reading it.

Then we get the husband acting very strangely and the suspicion that he might just be a serial wife-killer who gets his wives to sign (gasp) papers giving their husbands control over their money. There’s more to the plot than this, and the ending is…interesting. The whole thing seems wildly overwrought, but maybe that’s the intention. I’m torn on this one: Basil Rathbone seems to be chewing the scenery (as does Ann Harding) and the whole thing’s a bit implausible, but it has its merits. $1.25.

The Evil Mind (or The Clairvoyant), 1934, b&w. Maurice Elvey (dir.), Claude Rains, Jane Baxter, Athole Stewart. 1:21 [1:08].

Reviewed in the January 2009 Cites & Insights as part of 50 Movie Hollywood Legends. Here’s what I said at the time—and, once again, the “starring” line is for Fay Wray rather than the more deserving Claude Rains.

Maximus works as a stage clairvoyant, using his wife’s clues to say what she’s holding—until, in the presence of another woman, he suddenly makes a real and correct prediction. This happens a couple of times; he gets a big London stage engagement but the producer’s unhappy because he can’t do big predictions to order. Meanwhile, his wife’s becoming jealous of the young woman. This all leads up to his unwilling prediction of a tunneling catastrophe—one that, when it comes true, causes him to be put on trial on the basis that his prediction caused the catastrophe.

There’s little point in saying more about the plot. It’s not bad, actually, and there’s a nice twist involving why he only makes accurate predictions under certain circumstances. The print is jumpy at points, 13 minutes are missing and the soundtrack’s damaged at points as well, but not so much as to ruin the picture. It’s generally well-acted. While the sleeve lists Fay Wray (the wife) as the “legend,” I’d say Claude Rains’ faintly bizarre and very well played Maximus deserves more credit. The original title (“The Clairvoyant”) suits this better, as there’s nothing evil in Rains’ predictions. I’ll give it $1.00.

One Frightened Night, 1935, b&w. Christy Cabanne (dir.), Charles Grapewin, Lucien Littlefield, Mary Carlisle, Regis Toomey, Arthur Hohl, Fred Kelsey, Evalyn Knapp, Hedda Hopper. 1:06.

Another short mystery-comedy family-inheritance movie, and a good one. This time, instead of a dead Mean Old Man Who Nobody’s Sorry To See Go, we have a live MOMWNSTG, faced with a supposed midnight increase in inheritance taxes—so he’s about to distribute his funds, $5 million of them (call that $77 million in today’s dollars).

It all starts at dinner with his niece and her husband, a ne’er-do-well charming nephew, his female servant and his doctor—where, after baiting them generally for being what they are, he tells them, one by one, that each is about to receive $1 million. The fifth million? That goes to his attorney—but in all cases, it assumes that his long-lost granddaughter, who he hasn’t seen for 20 years, doesn’t show up (or she gets it all). Then, in comes the attorney…with his granddaughter.

Well now. As he’s talking to her upstairs, a young woman battles the storm (of course it’s a dark and stormy night) to get to the house, and announces herself as…his granddaughter. With her colleague in a vaudeville magic act showing up soon, once he gets the car parked. She just dropped by because her mother said she should. Unlike the first granddaughter (both with the same name), she doesn’t have corroborating letters…but also unlike the first one, within five minutes, she’s still alive.

That sets the scene. Add a police detective and sergeant, a couple of hidden passages, and a whole bunch of red herrings, and you have a thoroughly entertaining hour. (A note about the IMDB listing: A claimed “goof” is, to my eye, a deliberate plot point—the utility folks managed to repair a downed pole, restoring power to the house.) Unfortunately, the picture has problems during the last five minutes, but it’s still a lot of fun. $1.50

Prison Shadows, 1936, b&w. Robert F. Hill (dir.), Eddie Nugent, Lucille Lund, Joan Barclay, Forrest Taylor, Syd Saylor, Monte Blue. 1:06.

We open in a boxing ring with overhead shots and one guy winning in short order—and then cut to the reality: The boxing ring is in prison, and all the prisoners—including the fighters and their trainers—now head back to their cells. Ah, but as we soon find out (while the winner’s trainer is alternating between rubbing down the winner, his cellmate, and drinking the rubbing alcohol), the winner’s about to be paroled for his “crime”: Killing an opponent by hitting him with a late punch, with his lethal right hand (which he basically won’t use in fights).

The plot escalates from there—with a woman who clearly loves him but he regards as a friend, a woman who is playing him along, playing his promoter along (of course he goes back into the fight game as soon as he’s paroled) and either also playing a trainer/thug along or, maybe, actually involved with this one. Her bit is to win bets on the fights by killing off the opponents. She comes off as mean-spirited throughout, and it’s hard to see just what makes her so seductive. In any case, we have another two deaths (involving a methodology that’s basically—well, let’s just say improbable) and, eventually, a happy ending.

The plot’s not terrible, but I find the tone of the whole thing absurd. The guy who’s been in prison comes out and is relentlessly chipper (and hopelessly naïve), as though being an imprisoned felon was basically a vacation. Oh, except that he can’t get married during the seven years of parole (?). It just doesn’t work. That, and the generally lightweight acting (and missing frames here and there, just enough to be annoying) bring this down to a subpar $0.75.

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