Murder by Invitation, 1941, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Wallace Ford, Marian Marsh, Sarah Padden, Gavin Gordon, George Guhl, Wallis Clark, Minerva Urecal, J. Arthur Young. 1:07 [1:05.]
In some ways this is a murder-mystery cliché: Aged wealthy person sends a command invitation to the relatives to go to his/her estate or be stricken from the will—and said relatives start to disappear.
But this one has considerable pizazz. The aged wealthy person starts out as defendant in a court hearing in which her nephew the attorney and other relatives want to have her declared mentally incompetent and sent to an institution—so they can take care of her $3 million. That goes nowhere, as she’s mildly eccentric but clearly not incompetent. Then she sends The Invitation. Along the way, a columnist and his Girl Friday get involved, first at the competency hearing and then with the murders.
It’s nicely done for this kind of fast-moving B mystery, with a couple of twists toward the end that I certainly didn’t see coming. Funny, surprising, fast-moving. Nothing great here, but even as a B flick an easy $1.25.
The Murder in the Museum, 1934, b&w. Melville Shyer (dir.), Henry B. Walthall, John Harron, Phyllis Barrington, Tom O’Brien, Joseph W. Girard. 1:05.
The museum, in this case, is a sideshow—a set of carny attractions whose owner also runs a drug-running operation out of the back room. Based on a series of tips, a city councilman shows up, with the police commissioner along—but there’s also the commissioner’s beautiful niece and a young reporter, both of them arriving independently.
The councilman winds up shot. The commissioner was clearly an enemy (both were running for mayor) and becomes a natural suspect because he was one of few who could have smuggled a gun out. The reporter (who’s already a hot item with the niece) sets out to clear his name by discovering the truth.
There’s more, to be sure, including a happy ending of sorts, but it’s all somehow slow-moving and languid in an odd way, with some actors seeming to be reading their lines. The best parts may be the sideshow and the sad set of people involved—including a cohort of Pancho Villa turned knife-thrower and a philosophy professor turned magician. It’s not terrible, but it’s a long way from being top-notch even for a B murder mystery. Charitably, $0.75.
I Cover the Waterfront, 1933, b&w. James Cruze (dir.), Ben Lyon, Claudette Colbert, Ernest Torrence, Hobart Cavanaugh, Maurice Black, Purnell Pratt. 1:15 [1:01].
Previously reviewed as part of 50 Movie Pack Hollywood Legends in Cites & Insights 9.1 (January 2009). Here’s what I said then:
The waterfront reporter promises his editor a big story on Chinese immigrants being smuggled. He winds up with a “bad lead” because the fishing captain involved is so ruthless he’ll cheerfully drown an immigrant rather than risk exposure. Eventually, the reporter gets the story through a plot involving romancing the captain’s daughter; he also gets shot along the way. There’s a side story involving a drunken reporter who turns up in his apartment. Unfortunately, the whole thing seems scattered, possibly because of missing footage. It’s not bad, but hardly a classic in this rendition. $1.00.
The Dark Hour, 1936, b&w. Charles Lamont (dir.), Ray Walker, Berton Churchill, Irene Ware, Hobart Bosworth, Hedda Hopper, E.E. Clive, Harold Goodwin, William V. Mong. 1:04 [1:09]
We begin with a middle-aged man (in full suit) bantering with a younger man about the younger man’s courtship of the older man’s neighbors’ niece (with the two meeting at the older man’s house because the two greedy and wealthy old uncles can’t stand the young man). We progress from there to…well, quite a bit. The middle-aged man is a retired police detective; the younger one is a current police detective. There’s a third neighboring house, with the uncles’ sister-in-law living there to protect the niece.
During the course of the film, one uncle winds up dead—stabbed, but with remarkably little blood resulting. The uncles’ butler also winds up dead, stabbed with the same knife (and this time there’s blood). A chemist boarding with the retired cop (and also after the niece) disappears. We learn that the uncles own apartment buildings that were torched (and heavily insured). There’s a Lady in Black who may not be a lady. And lots, lots more—culminating in two impending marriages, a guilty party taken off for justice (for both murders and burning down his own buildings)—and a triple twist at the end involving the real killer of the uncle, with the clarity that nobody involved much cares about the death.
Surprisingly good. Not great, but even as a B flick it’s an easy $1.25.