US / 66 minutes / bw / Universal Dir: Kurt Neumann Pr: Carl Laemmle Jr. Scr: William Hurlbut Story: Geheimnis des Blauen Zimmers (1932 screenplay) by Erich Philippi Cine: Charles Stumar Cast: Lionel Atwill, Gloria Stuart, Paul Lukas, Edward Arnold, Onslow Stevens, William Janney, Robert Barrat, Muriel Kirkland, Russell Hopton, Elizabeth Patterson, Anders Van Haden, James Durkin.
The first of three Hollywood remakes of a German movie, Geheimnis des Blauen Zimmers (1932), its two successors being The Missing Guest (1938) and Murder in the Blue Room (1944), this is introduced by the haunting sounds of Tchaikovsky’s main theme from Swan Lake.
Gloria Stuart as Irene.
In a stately pile somewhere, Irene von Helldorf (Stuart) is sitting up late to celebrate the first few hours of her 21st birthday with father Robert (Atwill) and the three men who seek her hand. Conversation turns to the mansion’s quondam guest room, the Blue Room, no longer used since, twenty years ago, three people died in it in (a) quick succession and (b) inexplicable circumstances, the door being locked from the inside.
Lionel Atwill as paterfamilias Robert.
To impress Irene with his manly courage and belie his extraordinary drippiness (the voice alone is enough to make even Pope Francis want to sock him one in the eye), young Thomas “Tommy” Brandt (Janney), who has loved her since childhood, declares he will sleep that night in the Blue Room. Soon his two rivals—professional soldier Captain Walter Brink (Lukas) and journalist Frank Faber (Stevens)—strike a deal with Tommy that they’ll do the same on successive nights, even should some misfortune strike him—as, let’s face it, you know it will.
Paul Lukas as Walter.
William Janney as Tommy.
Onslow Stevens as Frank.
Meanwhile, Paul (Barrat), the butler, is clearly up to something nefarious connected to the Blue Room in cahoots with a Stranger (Van Haden) from outwith the mansion.
Next morning, there’s no sound when Paul knocks at the door of the Blue Room. Tommy has disappeared without trace! The door’s locked with the key on the inside; the window’s open, but over a sheer drop into the moat.
Robert is strangely resistant to calling the cops, claiming he’s fearful of bringing down the buzzards of the press upon them all. But then, with Tommy’s disappearance still unsolved, there’s a murder, and Robert’s hand is forced.
Edward Arnold as Forster (left) interrogates Robert Barrat as Paul.
It’s with the arrival of Commissioner Forster (Arnold) and his team from the Homicide Squad that the movie, which up until now has been moving along briskly and generating a few moments of enjoyable creepiness, seems to deflate. Although there are some startling revelations—such as why housemaid Betty (Kirkland) should be so embittered toward chauffeur Max (Hopton)—and a dramatic chase and gunfight, it feels as if the energy has gone out of the proceedings.
Mary Kirkland as Betty.
Russell Hopton as Max.
Lukas, as Captain Brink, is the star of the show, his actions being the mainspring of the plot and the focus of our interest until Edward Arnold’s Commissioner Forster turns up. Lionel Atwill, despite his lead billing, has only a relatively minor support role, while Gloria Stuart, as the plot’s romantic pivot, has little to do beyond look fresh-faced and charming in the usual Gloria Stuartish ingenue way, and sing, very sweetly, the movie’s solitary song, “I Can’t Help but Dream of You,” composed by Heinz Letton to lyrics by Clarence Marks.