The Bridge of Sighs, 1936, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Onslow Stevens, Dorothy Tree, Jack La Rue, Mary Doran, Walter Byron, Oscar Apdel, John Kelly, Paul Fix. 1:06.
We open on an astonishing trial scene, set high in a courtroom building—a courtroom that apparently emulates Venice, being connected by a bridge to the jail—thus, the Bridge of Sighs. “Commit perjury and it takes 10 seconds to walk over…and 10 years to walk back!” This as the prosecutor hectors the poor young woman mercilessly…except that it’s all an act, as she’s his girlfriend (who keeps rejecting his marriage proposal).
They go off to dinner. She sees someone she recognizes, but who has no time for her. The other man starts to sit down with three others (two men and a woman)—but they’re about to leave, and he goes with them. The next thing we know, there’s a shot, one of the group that just left is dead, the man she’d attempted to talk to runs away—and is captured by a cop responding to the gunfire.
With four eyewitnesses offering the same story, it’s a fairly cut-and-dried murder case—during which the prosecutor (the boyfriend) conceals evidence from the defense, which I guess was considered fair practice in 1936. The jury brings back a guilty plea and the man’s sentenced to death, albeit at the expense of the woman among the foursome going to jail as an accessory (she hid the gun, claiming it was thrust at her).
The first woman’s convinced he’s innocent and sets about proving it—by getting herself convicted on phony check-kiting charges and being sent to the same women’s prison, where she gets the second woman as a roommate. They wind up escaping thanks to the actual killer. Add lots of suspense, an “electric ear” used to bug a hideout, a three-way car chase and a just-in-time happy ending. Lots of action, pretty good dialogue, and a fairly satisfactory early procedural/mystery. Some implausible points—such as a prosecuting attorney immediately taking over a crime scene because he happens to be nearby, and the road from sentencing to actual execution being no more than a couple of months—but never mind. Unfortunately, the sound and picture are both wavery at times, reducing the score to $1.25.
Circumstantial Evidence, 1935, b&w. Charles Lamont (dir.), Chick Chandler, Shirley Grey, Arthur Vinton, Claude King, Dorothy Revier, Lee Moran, Carl Stockdale. 1:07.
A newspaper reporter covering a murder trial along with his girlfriend, the newspaper’s sketch artist, is outraged because the defendant can be put to death based solely on circumstantial evidence. So, after proposing to the woman (which she accepts, then tells him that the newspaper’s gossip columnist had proposed the night before and been turned down), he decides to prove his point…by staging a mock murder with lots of circumstantial evidence pointing to him, getting arrested, tried and convicted, then showing how absurd the situation is.
Right off the bat, that’s more than a little hard to take. A whole lot harder: He chooses the rejected suitor—who is an “old friend” but also has some fairly odd tastes—as the “victim.” Sure, because the other guy couldn’t possibly double-cross him or anything… At this point, I’m convinced that the reporter needs a long vacation and some therapy. But he does his thing, with various staged stuff culminating in the “friend” setting an old skeleton he has lying around into the room of his newly-purchased country home and covering it with lots of furniture. At this point, the agreement is that the friend will add kerosene-soaked rags and burn the place down, then go off to San Francisco under an assumed name until recalled to show up the situation. Except, except: The friend has a passport under another name and a ticket on a cruise ship to France. Except, except: As he starts the fire (and shoots the reporter’s gun into the skeleton to improve the frame), somebody shoots him. Dead.
The rest of the movie runs on from there. We have an over-the-top DA denouncing a signed document admitting the situation as being a probable forgery since the handwriting expert was paid by the defense. We have various shenanigans and, of course, a sort-of happy ending. And I found the whole thing so implausible that it was hard to take seriously as a mystery. There’s also an issue with the sound: For about 15 minutes in the second half of the film, it’s as though it was being recorded from an LP with a bad scratch and loads of surface noise. Still, the acting’s amusing; if you don’t mind the implausibility, this one might be worth $1.
Convicted, 1931, b&w. Christy Cabanne (dir.), Aileen Pringle, Jameson Thomas, Dorothy Christy, Richard Tucker, Harry Myers, Nike Welch. 1:03 [0:57]
There’s something special about mysteries that involve transport—all those great train-based mysteries, some airplane-based mysteries, and a few cruise ship mysteries. Like this one—except that the mystery only seems to occupy about half of an already-short movie and then moves too fast and erratically to be satisfying.
As far as I can figure out, we have a slick type in First Class on a cruise ship (the kind where everybody’s formally dressed all day and all night, which I suppose could have been true in 1931) who makes a point of greeting a young woman who wants nothing to do with him. He’s then approached by another young woman who he wants nothing to do with—but who clearly has some unfinished business with him. We also meet an investigative reporter, a drunk and his cabin mate and a few others. As things progress, the reporter encounters the man refusing to let the first woman go and Has Stern Words. There’s dancing. The man, the drunk and cabin-mate, some other random passenger and a ship’s officer wind up playing poker (the first man losing badly to one person and refusing to pay his losses to another, who he knows was at one point convicted as a cardsharp)—and a couple of hours later, the man’s dead: Hit over the head with a blunt instrument but killed by stabbing.
Somehow, the investigative reporter winds up heading up the case and interviewing all those who might have been involved. Suspicion falls on the first young woman—and she later admits to coshing him over the head (but that wasn’t what killed him). The captain finds out that the ship had been wired (a wire that never reached its destination) that the man had embezzled $100,000 from his company and was to be arrested—and, oh look, there’s some money in the young woman’s closet. Oh, by the way, there’s another murder, one the woman could not plausibly have been involved in. In any case, the way it plays out means nobody could plausibly have guessed what’s going on. And after the mystery’s solved, there’s another five or ten minutes as the ship docks and we learn that the reporter and the young woman are, he believes, engaged.
All bizarrely staged: They keep reminding us that it’s a cruise by having wholly irrelevant scenes on the bridge, about positioning via sextant and calling out headings. There’s very little background to understand why or how either woman is or would be involved with the man; in fact, no motivation appears for any character in the movie. Additionally, there’s so much background noise on the print that the sound is unpleasant through much of the movie. The movie’s title doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything. Maybe the missing six minutes explain everything—but as it is, there’s so much idle footage in this flick, that’s a little hard to believe. (Looking at the IMDB reviews, I rather like the one that assumes this is actually a documentary on cruise ship life, interrupted annoyingly with a silly murder plot. I might be more charitably inclined if that was true.) All in all, and most of the rating only for the early shipboard scenes, I can’t go above $0.75.
The Devil Diamond, 1937, b&w. Lesslie Goodwins (dir.), Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, June Gale, Rosita Butler, Robert Fiske. 1:01 [1:00]
I’m not sure whether I could take another Frankie Darro, All-American Kid, but in any case this movie—about a cursed diamond that a bunch of jewelers want a retired cutter to split into smaller, presumably uncursed stones, and one or two groups planning to steal the jewels—had so many missing syllables and words that I gave up partway through: The quality of the print made it tiresome to try to follow the dialog. I wonder about the IMDB timing—I’d say there was at least a minute’s worth of missing footage during the 15 minutes I watched. Unrated.