Before Dawn (1933)

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Is a psychic beauty a criminal fraud . . . or for real?
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US / 62 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Irving Pichel Pr: Merian C. Cooper Scr: Garrett Fort Story: “The Death Watch” (1932; in Sergeant Sir Peter) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Lucien Andriot Cast: Stuart Erwin, Dorothy Wilson, Warner Oland, Dudley Digges, Gertrude W. Hoffman, Oscar Apfel, Frank Reicher, Jane Darwell.

Before Dawn - 0 opener

This movie was reportedly made as a follow-up to cash in on the huge success of King Kong (1933), reuniting as it did Merian C. Cooper and (at least in spirit) Edgar Wallace. Yet it’s a claim that’s hard to believe: King Kong was a big-budget epic, a full 100 minutes long on its release (and nearly half an hour longer in what we’d today call the director’s cut), while Before Dawn is under half the length of the longer of the two versions and decidedly modest aspirations. It reads like a low-budget filler, in other words, and it’s hard to believe it was ever intended to be anything else.

NYPD-affiliated Special Investigator Dwight Wilson (Erwin) is conducting a roundup of phony spirit mediums in the area, and the first he pulls in is the supremely lovely Mlle. Mystera, aka Patricia Merrick (Wilson), plus her father, Horace (Digges). We know, and Wilson soon finds out, that Patricia is in fact a genuine medium; while Horace is in the office of Chief of Detectives John F. O’Hara (Apfel), trying to sell him on the idea of employing Patricia as a psychic detective, Wilson finds a tearful Patricia waiting in the antechamber. Telling him that he cheated in order to entrap her—he never had an Aunty Minnie, so no wonder Patricia couldn’t locate her in the afterlife—she demonstrates her genuine psychic powers. Wilson’s immediately convinced:

“Say, baby, I’m for ya. My face hasn’t been so red since I went to my first burlesque show. . . . I’ll get ya out of this, so help me.”

Before Dawn - 4 Wilson tricks Paricia at her seance

Special Investigator Dwight Wilson (Stuart Erwin) tricks Patricia (Dorothy Wilson) at her seance.

Patricia, given her chance to demonstrate her powers to Chief O’Hara, does not disappoint. Stunned by her first success, he Continue reading

Rätsel der Roten Orchidee, Das (1962)

vt Secret of the Red Orchid; vt The Puzzle of the Red Orchid
West Germany / 82 minutes / bw / Constantin, Rialto Preben Philipsen Dir: Helmuth Ashley Pr: Horst Wendlandt Scr: Trygve Larsen Story: When the Gangs Came to London (1932) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Franz Lederle Cast: Christopher Lee, Adrian Hoven, Marisa Mell, Pinkas Braun, Christiane Nielsen, Eric Pohlmann, Fritz Rasp, Wolfgang Büttner, Herbert A.E. Böhme, Günther Jerschke, Sigrid von Richthofen, Hans Paetsch, Edgar Wenzel, Benno Gellenbeck, Kurt A. Jung, Klaus Kinski, Eddi Arent.

Red Orchid - 0 opener (Minelli & Steve)

Another of the Rialto/Constantin Edgar Wallace krimis, and as entertaining as any of them, albeit relatively lacking in the series’s hallmark bonkersness: while the plot reaches levels of implausibility that English-language cinema rarely achieves in thrillers outside the James Bond movies and their imitators (but see Operation Diplomat [1953]), it doesn’t have anyone disguising himself in a froglike mask, cunningly using an air pistol to fire poison-tipped darts whose flights are not feathers but plastic models of black widow spiders or prancing around in red monkish attire while brandishing a whip. But there’s plenty of other fun to be had here, not least being a plethora of tremendous, manifestly noir-influenced cinematography, with great exploitation of the black-and-white medium, in particular the use of shadows. In addition there are two noted UK thespians in leading roles, Lee and Pohlmann.

Red Orchid - 1 O'Connor's gang try to enjoy a nice game of poker

O’Connor and his gang try to enjoy a nice game of poker.

In Chicago in 1960 the gang boss O’Connor (uncredited) is playing poker with his buddies in a basement at the Plaza Hotel when a couple of gunmen burst in and mow everyone down. Seemingly the sole member of the gang to escape is Der Schöne Gunner Steve (Kinski), who was late getting to the game but did his best to phone through a warning to his boss. As they depart, the gunmen tell the pile of corpses that they’ve brought a message from rival gang boss Kerkie Minelli (Pohlmann).

Red Orchid - 2 Gunner Steve realizes what's about to go down at the Plaza Hotel

Gunner Steve (Klaus Kinski) realizes what’s about to go down at the Plaza Hotel.

Soon we see Kerkie Minelli being put aboard a ship by Chicago cop Captain Allerman (Lee). The Chicago PD hasn’t been able to get enough evidence against Minelli for the O’Connor murders, but they have enough else on him to Continue reading

Strange Adventure, A (1932)

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An old dark house and a hooded figure, oo-er!
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vt The Wayne Murder Case
US / 60 minutes / bw / Chadwick, Monogram Dir: Phil Whitman Pr: I.E. Chadwick Scr: Lee Chadwick, Hampton Del Ruth Story: Arthur Hoerl Cine: Leon Shamroy Cast: Regis Toomey, June Clyde, Lucille La Verne, Jason Robards Sr, William V. Mong, Eddie Phillips, Dwight Frye, Nadine Dore, Alan Roscoe, Isabelle Vecki, Harry Myers, Eddie Chandler, Snowflake.

A Strange Adventure - closer

Vile old plutocrat Silas Wayne (Mong) is, though still mobile, nearing death. Unmarried, he brings all his nieces and nephews together in his home for a pre-mortem reading of his will. Before the great performance, however, his nephew and secretary Claude Wayne (Phillips) opens the old man’s hidden safe—all the family seems to know where this is, and how to get into it whenever they want to!—and scans the provisions of the will. One of these concerns the housekeeper, Miss Sheen (La Verne):

“To her and her children I leave the Candor diamond, in the hope it will continue to be an evil omen!”

Another relates to his married niece Sarah Boulter (Vecki), who’s to get $100,000 upon the birth of her first child—a prime example of the old man’s psychological sadism because, as we find, he well knew that Continue reading

Calendar, The (1948)

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An Edgar Wallace yarn about a man addicted to the geegees . . . and to the curves of Greta Gynt!

UK / 77 minutes / bw / Gainsborough, GFD Dir: Arthur Crabtree Pr: Antony Darnborough, Sydney Box Scr: Geoffrey Kerr Story: The Calendar (1929 play) and The Calendar (1930), both by Edgar Wallace Cine: Reg Wyer, Cyril J. Knowles Cast: Greta Gynt, John McCallum, Raymond Lovell, Sonia Holm, Leslie Dwyer, Charles Victor, Felix Aylmer, Noel Howlett, Sydney King, Barry Jones, Diana Dors, Claude Bailey, Desmond Roberts, Fred Payne.

The Calendar - 0 opener

A modest but rather jolly screen adaptation of one of Edgar Wallace’s plays, which he subsequently rewrote as a novel. In fact, this wasn’t the first adaptation; it was preceded by The Calendar (1931; vt Bachelor’s Folly) dir T. Hayes Hunter, with Herbert Marshall, Edna Best and Anne Grey, which I haven’t seen. This, the 1948 remake, while in theory a thriller has in practice many of the attributes of a bedroom farce, although it’s not really a comedy either: just a piece of entertainment.

Captain Garry Anson (McCallum), a compulsive better on the ponies, owns a string of racers; his trainer is the lovely Lady Mollie Panniford (Holm), who, as a woman, is a rarity in the male-dominated horse-training world of the time. “What you mean is that, as a girlfriend, I’m a pretty good trainer,” she observes ruefully to him at one stage. The reason for the rue is that he’s besotted with Wenda (Gynt), to whom he’s been engaged for many a yonk. Then the news comes that the will of his recently deceased aunt has brought him Continue reading

Mystery of the 13th Guest (1943)

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What is the mystery of the empty 13th chair?

vt The Mystery of the 13th Guest
US / 61 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: William Beaudine Pr: Lindsley Parsons Scr: Tim Ryan, Charles Marion, Arthur Hoerl Story: The Thirteenth Guest (1929) by Armitage Trail Cine: Mack Stengler Cast: Helen Parrish, Dick Purcell, Tim Ryan, Frank Faylen, Jacqueline Dalya, Paul McVey, John Duncan, Jon Dawson, Cyril Ring, Addison Richards, Lloyd Ingraham, Fred “Snowflake” Toones, Shirley Jean Anderson, Lester Dorr, Herbert Heyes.

Mystery of the 13th Guest - 1 The mystery envelope ...

Mystery of the 13th Guest - 1a ... and what it contained

Thirteen years ago, in the old Morgan home at 122 Mill Road, Grandpa Morgan (Ingraham) convoked a meeting of his ten possible heirs, plus his lawyer, John Barksdale (Ring). The twelve of them sat around a table at which a 13th chair remained empty—the nonexistent “13th guest” of the title, even though this would be technically not the 13th but the 12th guest. Grandpa announced that his will was contained in a sealed envelope, which he passed to his seven-year-old granddaughter, Marie (Anderson), on condition that she open it on her 21st birthday while seated at this very table.

Fast forward to today, as one dark night the grown-up Marie Morgan (Parrish) lets herself into the old family heap. She’s astonished to find that, even though the place has been closed up for thirteen years, the phone and electricity are still on. In the gloom a shot rings out and, the next we know, Marie Continue reading

Flat Two (1962)

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Another tangled tale from Edgar Wallace!

 

UK / 58 minutes / bw / Merton Park, Anglo-Amalgamated Dir: Alan Cooke Pr: Jack Greenwood Scr: Lindsay Galloway Story: Flat 2 (1927) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Bert Mason Cast: John Le Mesurier, Jack Watling, Bernard Archard, Barry Keegan, Ann Bell, Campbell Singer, Charles Lloyd Pack, David Bauer, Russell Waters, George Bishop, Gerald Sim, Andre Mikhelson, Monti de Lyle, Adrian Oker, Gordon Phillott, John Wilder.

Flat Two - 0 opener

I gave this movie basic coverage in A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir, but at the time I hadn’t seen it myself (although I had read the novel). Recently I was able to watch it as part of the UK-released EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERIES Vol 3 DVD set (thanks, Stan!), one of seven volumes containing the complete series of these UK B-movies, originally released during 1960–64.

Susan Martin (Bell) has been losing hand-over-fist at the gambling club owned by slimy Emil Louba (Bauer), and he tells her that her IOUs have now added up to a staggering £10,000, money she doesn’t have. He offers to throw the IOUs away, however, if she’ll go on holiday with him to the continent and become his mistress. Susan, although visibly nauseated by the prospect, doesn’t see that she has much choice.

When she breaks it to her architect fiancé Frank Leamington (Watling) that she’s not going to marry him after all, he Continue reading

Bande des Schreckens, Die (1960)

vt The Terrible People; vt Hand of the Gallows

West Germany / 91 minutes / bw / Rialto, Constantin Dir: Harald Reinl Pr: Helmut Beck Scr: J. Joachim Bartsch, Wolfgang Schnitzler Story: The Terrible People (1926; vt The Gallows’ Hand) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Albert Benitz Cast: Joachim Fuchsberger, Karin Dor, Fritz Rasp, Dieter Eppler, Ulrich Beiger, Karin Kernke, Ernst Fritz Fürbringer, Eddi Arent, Karlgeorg Saebisch, Alf Marholm, Elisabeth Flickenschildt, Otto Collin, Günter Hauer, Josef Dahmen, Werner Hedman.

Bande des Schreckens 0 opener

One of the earliest in the long series of Rialto/Constantin krimi movies based (increasingly loosely) on the works of Edgar Wallace—it’s #3 on the list if I’ve counted right—this isn’t as bonkers as some of the later entries . . . No, no, no, I take that back. It’s not as flamboyantly bonkers as some of the later entries, but it’s major-league bonkers all the same.

For a long time Inspector Blacky Long (Fuchsberger) of the Yard and his boss Sir Archibald (Fürbringer) have been on the tail of the notorious master-criminal Clay Shelton (Collin), and finally Long nails him in a bank in the act of cashing a fraudulent check. Shelton tries to bluff it out, claiming really to be the check’s token signatory, Colonel Proudley, but no go. He makes a break for it, and before he can be subdued he’s put a fatal bullet into a uniformed copper.

Bande des Schreckens 1 Shelton judges his judgers, soon before hanging

Shelton (Otto Collin) judges his judgers.

On the morning of his 8am hanging, Shelton persuades the prison authorities to summon a collection of individuals to his cell, and to each of them he promises a nasty death even after he himself has departed this mortal bourne. They Continue reading

Mönch mit der Peitsche, Der (1967)

vt The College Girl Murders; vt The Monk with the Whip; vt The Prussic Factor
West Germany, Denmark / 84 minutes / color / Rialto, Preben Philipsen, Constantin Dir: Alfred Vohrer Pr: Horst Wendlandt Scr: Alex Berg (i.e., Herbert Reinecker) Story: The Terror (1927 play) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Karl Löb Cast: Joachim Fuchsberger, Uschi Glas, Siegfried Schürenberg, Grit Böttcher, Konrad Georg, Harry Riebauer, Tilly Lauenstein, Ilse Pagé, Siegfried Rauch, Claus Holm, Günter Meisner, Hans Epskamp, Heinz Spitzner, Jan Hendriks, Rudolf Schündler, Narziss Sokatscheff, Tilo von Berlepsch, Kurt Waitzmann, Suzanne Roquette, Susann Hsiao, Inge Sievers, Ewa Strömberg, Bruno W. Pantel, Kurt Buecheler, Wilhelm Vorwerg.

Monch mit der Peitsch - 0 opener

One of the long series of krimi movies loosely (usually very loosely) based on works by Edgar Wallace and designed to make as little sense as possible. This one seems intended especially to appeal to fans of the Diana Rigg-era The Avengers (1965–8), with touches of Bondesquerie thrown in.

A mad scientist, Cabble (Vorwerg, who was also one of the movie’s art directors), invents a new poison, based on prussic acid, that can used in aerosol form. He demonstrates its efficacy first on rats and then on his hapless assistant (uncredited), in the latter instance using a spraying device concealed within a hollowed-out book. No sooner has he handed over the formula and the device to his unseen paymaster than he is himself murdered—by a monk clad from head to toe in red, complete with KKK-style hood, who wields a bullwhip Indiana Jones-fashion, wrapping the lash around the victims’ throats and then, Continue reading

Blaue Hand, Die (1967)

vt Creature with the Blue Hand
West Germany, Denmark / 87 minutes / color / Rialto, Preben Philipsen, Constantin Dir: Alfred Vohrer Pr: Horst Wendlandt Scr: Alex Berg (i.e., Herbert Reinecker) Story: The Blue Hand, or Beyond Recall (1925) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Ernst W. Kalinke Cast: Harald Leipnitz, Klaus Kinski, Siegfried Schürenberg, Carl Lange, Ilse Steppat, Diana Körner, Hermann Lenschau, Gudrun Genest, Albert Bessler, Richard Haller, Ilse Pagé, Fred Haltiner, Peter Parten, Thomas Danneberg, Heinz Spitzner, Karin Kenklies.

Blaue Hand - 0 opener

But is he?

We open with a court scene in which David Donald “Dave” Emerson (Kinski), son of the third Earl of Emerson, is being sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of the estate gardener, Amory (Haller)—a sentence commuted, because of his diagnosed unsoundness of mind, to indeterminate detention in the mental facility run by Dr. Albert Mangrove (Lange). But Dave’s not long there before someone slips a key into his cell; using it, he’s able to make his escape and flee the few miles home to Gentry Hall through the spookily foggy woods. Once there, he goes to the room of his identical twin Richard (also Kinski); finding him absent, Dave purloins a set of his clothes so that he can pass as his brother.

Also in Gentry Hall are Dave’s other brothers Robert (Parten) and Charles (Danneberg) and the youngest sibling, Myrna (Körner), none of whom can believe that Dave is really guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. More enigmatic on the matter are the ex-stripper stepmother of the Continue reading

Missing Million, The (1942)

UK / 78 minutes / bw / Signet, ABFD Dir: Phil Brandon Pr: Hugh Perceval Scr: James Seymour Story: The Missing Million (1923) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Stephen Dade Cast: Linden Travers, John Warwick, Patricia Hilliard, John Stuart, Ivan Brandt, Brefni O’Rorke, Charles Victor, Marie Ault, Eric Clavering, Valentine Dyall, Arthur Hambling, Albert Chevalier, Aubrey Mallalieu, Jim Donald, Cecil Bevan.

Missing Million - 0 opener

Rex Walton (Brandt) is about to marry Dora Coleman (Hilliard), daughter of treasury official Michael Coleman (O’Rorke). As he and his sister Joan (Travers) visit the Colemans’ stately London house one evening, though, Rex suddenly disappears, and a mysterious phonecall tells Joan that his life is in danger. It proves that there’s a vicious blackmailing gang on the loose, led by a master-criminal—”the prince of blackmailers”—called The Panda because of his habit of Continue reading