vt On the Stroke of Nine
US / 73 minutes / bw / Chesterfield Dir: Richard Thorpe Pr: George R. Batcheller Scr: Andrew Moses Story: The Campanile Murders (1933) by Whitman Chambers Cine: M.A. Andersen Cast: Shirley Grey, Charles Starrett, J. Farrell MacDonald, Ruth Hall, Dewey Robinson, Maurice Black, Edward Van Sloan, Tane Keckley (i.e., Jane Keckley), Richard Catlett, Harry Bowen, Al Bridge, Harrison Greene, Henry Hall, Frank LaRue.
Lillian Voyne (Grey) is working her way through college by singing at a nightclub, the Lido. One night she hitches a lift from crime reporter Bill Bartlett (Starrett) of the Times–Star, who’s sweet on her, to go meet Malcolm “Mal” Jannings, chime-ringer for the bells in the campanile on the local college campus. Around about the time she’s supposed to meet the man, a shot rings out; when Police Captain Ed Kyne (MacDonald) and Detective Sergeant Charlie Lorrimer (Robinson) explore the campanile, with Bill in tow, they find Jannings shot dead but no sign of the killer. Yet Bill can testify to the fact that no one has left the campanile. It seems like an impossible murder . . .
Kyne’s main suspect soon becomes Lillian, who’s being visibly shifty in response to questions about why she was planning to meet Jannings. Then shyster James Smythe, of the seedy law firm Smythe & Brock, is found murdered in his office—his secretary Hilda Lund (a great little cameo from Keckley) reporting that Lillian had made an appointment to see the man.
When what appears to be the murder weapon is located in Lillian’s underwear drawer, things look bad for the young woman, especially after academic criminologist C. Edson Hawley (Van Sloan), brought into the case by Bill, declares the slugs dug out of the dead men match the rifling in Lillian’s gun.
Also playing a part in things are the students Ann Michaels (Hall), who’s a friend of Lillian’s and has an oddly luxurious apartment for a student, and Wilson (Catlett), who isn’t and doesn’t, plus shady gambler Blackie Atwater (Black), whose friendship with both Lillian and Ann seems incongruously close.
The whodunnit becomes clear rather earlier than I imagine the movie’s makers intended, although the (highly improbable) howdunnit remains a mystery until much later.
This is a serviceable little mystery that moves along at a good pace and is aided by likable performances from the reliable troupers Shirley Grey, J. Farrell MacDonald and Edward Van Sloan. Charles Starrett delivers the goods too, although I’m not familiar with his other work.
This movie is no relation to the much later Out of the Shadow (1961; vt Murder on the Campus) dir Michael Winner. For a bit more on the writer Whitman Chambers, upon whose novel the current movie is based, check the entry on this site for Sensation Hunters (1933).