Haunted House (1940)

US / 69 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Robert McGowan Scr: Dorothy Reid (i.e., Dorothy Davenport) Story: Jack Leonard, Monty Collins Cine: Harry Neumann Cast: Marcia Mae Jones, Jackie Moran, George Cleveland, Christian Rub, Henry Hall, John St. Polis, Clarence Wilson, Mary Carr, Jessie Arnold, Hooper Atchley, Marcelle Ray, Buddy Swann, Henry Roquemore, Robert Dudley.

Haunted House 0 opener

Jimmie Atkins (Moran) is office boy at the Brownsville Bugle. All Brownsville—evidently a small town in the middle of nowhere—is agog over the trial of Olaf Jensen (Rub) for the murder of his employer, farmer Mary Blake. Jimmie, though, is a friend of Olaf’s and decides to prove the man didn’t do it. In this he’s assisted by pretty Mildred “Millie” Henshaw (Jones), visiting niece of his boss, Albert P. Henshaw (Cleveland), the newspaper’s editor.

Haunted House 1 Jimmie

Jimmie (Jackie Moran) reads the latest news of his friend’s trial.

First up, the young pair concoct what seems like a convincing case against Mrs. Blake’s nephew and heir, gas-station owner Eph (Wilson), only to see it collapse when Jimmie’s own Grandma (Carr), with whom he lives, inadvertently gives Eph an alibi. And when they next make a case against eminent local lawyer Cyrus W. “Cy” Burton (Hall), the dead woman’s executor, he produces documentation that directly counters their claims.

Haunted House 2 Olaf in court

Olaf (Christian Rub) pleads his case in court.

Millie thinks she’s found the secret as to where Mrs. Blake hid her money, a piece of doggerel that the scripters couldn’t even be troubled to properly rhyme:

He poised himself grotesquely
in an attitude of mirth—
On a damask covered hassock
that was sitting on the hearth.

So one night, in the middle of a violent thunderstorm (but of course!), she and Jimmie go out to the old Blake house and start searching . . .

Haunted House 3 Millie and compositor Hank Edwards (Dudley)

Millie (Marcia Mae Jones) and compositor Hank Edwards (Robert Dudley).

The title’s a misnomer—although the kids find the deserted house a bit spooky, it’s not haunted—and that more or less sums up this movie: it doesn’t promise much, but what it does promise it largely fails to deliver. A lot of the old Monogram movies are, despite their budgetary limitations (perhaps even because of them), plenty of fun, but this one is, to be honest, pretty dismal, as if its crew and cast were only half-hearted about proceedings—which is why I’m not devoting much space to it.

Haunted House 4 Millie

Millie (Marcia Mae Jones), caught between shrieks.

There’s maybe a good story in there somewhere but it’s lost behind a stodgy script and a plethora of exuberant girly shrieking from Jones; she never quite says “Yee-haw!” but you sense she must be inching close at times. Jones was a child star; she was only about 16 when she made Haunted House, but if I’ve counted right it was her 33rd screen credit. Moran, a year or so older, was another child actor, although he began his career somewhat later than Jones.

Haunted House 5 the mysterious clue

The mysterious clue.

11 thoughts on “Haunted House (1940)

  1. Sounds like a guilty pleasure rather than any kind of a keeper. Still, there are films that are lightweight entertainments and this would seem to marginally fit the bill, that anoyingly incessant screeching aside. As always you bring your A game to the writing of it John!

    • To be honest, for most of the movies I talk about here, even if they’re bad ones, there’s something to get enthusiastic about — a performance here, a score there, a great piece of cinematography, some clever plot maneuvers . . . most usually the latter, because in cheaply made movies a good script costs as little to make as a crap one. (Which, of course, didn’t stop many Poverty Row movies filming crap ones.) But I couldn’t find anything like that here. I don’t hate it: I just think it has nothing to recommend it — a piece whose motives were entirely mercenary. That’s why I gave it about 1/3 of the space I normally give to some obscure Z-grade item that no one’s ever heard of.

  2. ” it doesn’t promise much, but what it does promise it largely fails to deliver.”

    Haha! Love that line! Maybe I won’t make an effort to find this one…

    • Thanks for dropping by! As I say, it’s not an out-and-out stinker (might have been more interesting had it been!), just one of those where about ten minutes in you wish you’d brought your book.

  3. Pingback: First Annual Queens’ “Children’s Book Celebration” and at-home DVD and blu ray viewings on Monday Morning Diary (July 13) | Wonders in the Dark

  4. I agree with Sam Juliano’s comments – you nearly always seem to find something to look forward to in a film. So I was quite surprised to see you pronounce this one more or less a dud.

    Thank you for waving us away. I suspect you’ve performed a valuable public service here.

    • Thanks for dropping by, and for the kind words! It seems as if everyone involved with this movie just unanimously couldn’t be bothered — at least, that’s the impression it gives.

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