Classic Film Guide

Mystery House (1938)

Directed by Noel M. Smith, this short (under an hour) murder mystery stars Dick Purcell as a detective who also happens to be infatuated with a nurse, played by Warner Brothers "Oomph Girl" Ann Sheridan. Unfortunately, it's not very good in that it's fairly easy to tell early on who the culprit is. However, there is some mystery as to how certain things come about, which may hold your interest nevertheless.

Herbert Kingery (Eric Stanley, uncredited) is hosting his company's officers at his hunting lodge. The women are excused after supper when he drops this bombshell: someone has embezzled half a million dollars from the company, meaning it's about to go under, and the person responsible is in the room. Without revealing who it is, he excuses himself to retire for the evening. He wants all the others to think about giving up their assets to save the company. Shortly thereafter, his German Shepard dog starts howling, then a shot is heard coming from his room. The others, some of whom had turned in as well, rush to the door and then must break in through an outside door to find Kingery dead. Since there was no one else in the room, all three ways to enter it were locked from the inside, and none of the officers speaks about the financial malfeasance, the unknowing jury at a coroner's inquest rules the official cause of death to be suicide.

However, Kingery’s daughter Gwen (Anne Nagel) is not satisfied with the verdict. Against the advice of her wheelchair-bound Aunt Lucy (Elspeth Dudgeon), she hires a detective that her aunt's nurse Sarah (Sheridan) knows, Lance O'Leary (Purcell). She then invites all the same people who were at the lodge when her father died for another hunting weekend at the lodge. This includes Lal Killian (William Hopper), Julian Barre (Anthony Averill), and drinker Newell Morse (Hugh O'Connell), among others. Though none of them know she's hired a detective, they all return lest they be thought the guilty party. However, two of the guests are also then killed, Helen Paggi (Jean Benedict, uncredited), and Gerald Frawley (Ben Welden). Helen was heard alluding to the real cause of Kingery’s death, then thought to be the victim in a love triangle between her husband Joe (Anderson Lawlor) and Terice (Sheila Bromley). Frawley had spoken with Gwen about this reason, and is seen being shot while the servant Bruker (Trevor Bardette) is looming outside his window. Helen's death is ridiculously claimed to be a suicide, but O'Leary is able to deduce that she'd been strangled.

Though initially drawing incorrect conclusions, and after the director has deliberately tried to confuse the matter with the servant Bruker, O'Leary discovers the most ridiculous means by which the two men (Kingery & Frawley) were killed. He then uses it to force the murderer to reveal "himself".  After the fact, most viewers will ask themselves how such a device could ever have been expected to work, and when could it have been installed anyway? Certainly NOT after Kingery had exposed the embezzlement, which is the only logical time for it. Plus, the actions of the guilty party not only indict "him" fairly early on, but "his" later action, wanting to turn on the radio, makes NO sense, given what O'Leary finds inside it.  FYI, I was able to figure out who the credited character Annette (Dennie Moore) was, unless she was the female servant.

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