vt Horror in the Night
US / 54 minutes / bw / Allied Pictures Dir: Albert Ray Pr: M.H. Hoffman Scr: Frances Hyland Cine: Harry Neumann, Tom Galligan Cast: Monte Blue, Lila Lee, William B. Davidson, Gwen Lee, Arthur Housman, Sidney Bracy, Mischa Auer, Harry Cording, Wilfred Lucas, Lynton Brent, John Beck, Allan Cavan.
Belonging to a grade that requires an extension of the alphabet beyond the letter Z—arguably quite far beyond—this can’t seem to decide which horse to back: should it be a murder mystery or a castaways-on-a-jungle-island Tarzan riff? It ends up being a bit of both but, alas, not very much of either.
The ship the Intruder is weathering heavy seas when it’s reported to Captain Rush (Cavan) that there’s been a terrible murder. He rushes to the scene and finds that the dead man is being guarded by Detective-Lieutenant Samson (Davidson) of the San Francisco PD. The corpse was a jewel thief named Gardiner, and Samson has been on his trail—and that of a trove of diamonds he stole—for months. He instructs a ship’s officer to round up a collection of passengers suggested by Gardiner’s valet, Carlo (Bracy), who says he has seen them in contact with his late master: John Brandt (Blue), Connie Wayne (Lila Lee), her father (Lucas) and her alcoholic brother Reggie (Housman), a third-class passenger called Cramer (Cording) and, last but by no means least, a sassy blonde passenger called Daisy (Gwen Lee).
Before the investigation can go far, the Intruder hits a rock or some other submarine obstacle and cants wildly (or doesn’t, this varying from one shot to the next). Samson insists all his suspects get on the same lifeboat, which contains several of the ship’s officers and is the last to depart because John Brandt has to go rescue the stone-drunk Reggie—Reggie being the comic relief, you see.
After some hours of floating at sea, they reach a jungle island; remarkably, the boat they land from isn’t the one they’ve been aboard all day. They’re met by the weird ululations of a man in a gorilla suit and by the even weirder ululations of gorilla-suit’s friend, a disheveled wild man (Auer). Somehow they all settle down, Samson having made it clear that John is his Suspect #1 for Gardiner’s killing because it was in John’s cabin that Skipper Rush found Gardiner’s missing diamonds. John doesn’t seem too worried by the charge, and most of the other castaways pooh-pooh it, on the grounds that he’s not the type. As Connie points out waspishly when Reggie introduces a parodic game of Detective, none of them can be the guilty party: “People like us, we just don’t kill people.” Can’t argue with that.
A strong man who doesn’t waste words, John Brandt (Monte Blue).
Connie and Daisy share a cave that night, and Daisy explains that Gardiner’s valet, Carlo, isn’t a killer either; she should know because they used to be married. When Connie wakes, the cave seems less of a haven than before because now the women can see that there’s a human skeleton propped up in a corner.
That’s not a xylophone over there in the corner . . . Daisy (Gwen Lee) and Connie (Lila Lee) make a horrifying discovery.
A while later the pair come across Cramer and notice there’s blood on his hand. At gunpoint he marches them off across the island and, once satisfied they’re far enough from base camp, prepares to shoot them. Luckily the man in the gorilla suit staggers onto the scene and, while Cramer is wasting bullets on him, Connie and Daisy run off and find another cave, this time with two skeletons in it. Yes! It’s the wild man’s home, and just then he arrives, introducing his visitors to the two skeletons: Mary, whom clearly he loves, and Joe, whom he proceeds to hack to bony pieces with a dagger—obviously never having had that idea before in all the years he’s lived here. One can only assume there’s a love-triangle backstory just aching to be told, but in this movie’s short running time there’s no space to tell it. (To be fair, apparently there have been longer cuts of this movie, so it’s possible the wild man’s backstory emerges in them.)
Back at camp, John has noticed the absence of Cramer and the women; moreover, it’s discovered that someone—presumably Cramer—has murdered Cap’n Rush.
The wild man (Mischa Auer) is arguably the most convincing of the male players . . . except maybe the guy in the gorilla suit.
While some of the castaways prepare to greet the crew of a French craft, the Tillamook, whose attention they’ve managed to attract (and whose sloop precisely resembles the Intruder‘s lifeboat, but with the name on its prow altered), the rest go off searching for the absentees. Cramer has found the women at the wild man’s cave and taken a potshot at Connie, fortunately only winging her arm (although she collapses as if shot dead and prettily plays dead for long enough to get us all worried); John has a wild fight with Cramer that reduces both Joe and Mary to their constituent bones amid quite a lot of dust; Cramer makes a getaway but, as he does so, lets slip from his pocket an incriminating sheet of paper; Samson shoots a fleeing Cramer dead; and off everyone goes aboard the Tillamook . . . ready for the final unveiling of the true killer.
Some of the acting amongst the Intruder‘s crew is really quite extraordinarily amateurish, as if the budget dictated the drafting in of a couple of passers-by; luckily First Mate Hanson (Beck) redeems quite a lot, and becomes a sort of spokesman for the rest. Monte Blue was an idol of the silents—and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—who lost his star status on making the transition to the talkies; thereafter he played either character roles or starred in budget-strapped offerings like this. He has very little screen presence, which presumably explains his precipitate fall from the heights. Lila Lee, by contrast—another star of the silents era—offers considerable charisma, and is very effective here as the cute ingenue, even though she was into her 30s by now. She and Gwen Lee make good foils for each other, the seemingly older (in fact, a couple of years younger) Gwen becoming the ingenue’s worldly confidante, never at a loss for a salty riposte—the Joan Blondell role, in other words.
As noted, Reggie provides the comic relief that was in those days considered by Hollywood to be an essential component of crime/mystery movies. A redeeming feature here is that the humor is kept largely in check; there’s just the one piece of outright clowning. He’s even given what’s almost a good line, as the castaways settle down with little delight to their raw supper: “Well, now I know why Robinson Crusoe called his man Friday. They ate fish every day.”
On Amazon.com: The Intruder.