Murder by Rope (1936)

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A killer in their midst!
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UK / 63 minutes / bw / Ambassador Film Productions, British & Dominions Film Corporation Dir: George Pearson Scr: Ralph Neale Story: Ralph Neale Cine: Ernest Palmer Cast: D.A. Clarke-Smith, Sunday Wilshin, Wilfred Hyde-White (i.e., Wilfrid Hyde-White), Dorothy Hamilton, Constance Godridge, Guy Belmore, Daphne Courtney, Ronald Read, Alban Conway, Philip Hewland, William Collins.

A movie of two halves—or, rather, a movie of a first one-quarter and a subsequent three-quarters. The opening quarter comprises an extended setup for the main narrative; where Murder by Rope has a problem is that this setup—which has a sort of Edgar Wallace oddity about it—is considerably more intriguing than the rest.

Which is not to say that the movie as a whole doesn’t offer rewards, especially since its closing scenes—after forty minutes of what might best be thought of as country-house-romantic-comedy-with-free-added-murders—once again return to an Edgar Wallace-style eccentricity. Also to enjoy is the spectacle of a Wilfrid Hyde-White young enough to be a plausible romantic hero.

First, that setup.

When the murderer Burford (uncredited) is sentenced to death at the Old Bailey by Justice Sir Henry Paxton (Hewland), the prisoner in the dock disconcerts the court by simply laughing derisively. The secret of why he did so goes with him to the gallows.

The Laughing Murderer (uncredited) smirks as his death sentence is handed down . . .

. . . which makes Judge Paxton (Philip Hewland) vewy cwoss.

Some while later, Scotland Yard receives a letter that’s apparently from the dead man. As the Yard’s Major Walker (uncredited) says Continue reading

Shadow, The (1933)

UK / 71 minutes / bw / Real Art, UA Dir: George A. Cooper Pr: Julius Hagen Scr: H. Fowler Mear, Terence Egan Story: The Shadow (1932? play) by Donald Stuart (i.e., Gerald Verner), novelized by the author as The Shadow (1934) Cine: Sydney Blythe Cast: Henry Kendall, Felix Aylmer, John Turnbull, Ralph Truman, Dennis Cowles, Vincent Holman, Cyril Raymond, James Raglan, Gordon Begg, Viola Compton, Jeanne Stuart, Elizabeth Allan, Charles Carson.

London is enduring a rash of suicides of prominent figures, which suicides can be linked to their being blackmailed by an enigmatic figure called The Shadow: either they pay up on time or he’ll reveal their dreadful secrets. In the early minutes of the movie we see The Shadow deliver this ultimatum to the lawyer Sir Edward Hume (Carson), who at least has the gumption to phone Scotland Yard before putting a bullet through his brain.

The Yard’s Chief Inspector Elliot (Truman) reckons he’s worked out the identity of The Shadow, and is given reluctant permission by Sir Richard Bryant (Aylmer), Scotland Yard’s Chief Commissioner, to tackle the man on his own; the result is that Elliot is shot dead. When the cops arrive, they find that Elliot is clutching an unusual gold-and-platinum charm made in the shape of a clenched fist.

Shadow -

The Shadow spies darkly through the window of Sir Richard’s stately pile.

The dead Elliot’s place as chief investigator is taken over by Chief Inspector Fleming (Cowles), who introduces some new ideas to the investigation: he suggests The Shadow could be a woman (“All [blackmail] requires is cunning and, as far as cunning is concerned, women, in my opinion . . . well, gentlemen, you’re all married, I think?”), or could even be not an individual but an organization. These interesting ideas are unfortunately soon forgotten.

Sir Richard decides, oddly, to spend the weekend at his country house rather than pursuing the most urgent case on his blotter. Similarly odd is that Fleming has a hunch that The Shadow will be among Sir Richard’s weekend guests: Continue reading

Case of the Frightened Lady, The (1940)

vt The Frightened Lady; vt The Scarf Murder Mystery

UK / 80 minutes / bw / Pennant, British Lion Dir: George King Pr: S.W. Smith Scr: Edward Dryhurst Story: The Case of the Frightened Lady (1931 play) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Hone Glendinning Cast: Marius Goring, Penelope Dudley Ward, Helen Haye, Felix Aylmer, George Merritt, Ronald Shiner, Patrick Barr, Roy Emerton, George Hayes, John Warwick, Elizabeth Scott, Torin Thatcher.

In a decaying country pile, Mark’s Priory, live the last of the ancient Lebanon lineage, the widowed Lady Lebanon (Haye), her pianist/composer son William “Willie”, Lord Lebanon (Goring), and the latter’s second cousin, Isla Crane (Dudley Ward), who works as Lady Lebanon’s secretary.

There are many peculiarities about the household. For one, the servants are barred from entering the main portion of the house after 8pm, at which time the two sinister footmen Gilder (Emerton) and Brooks (Hayes) take over. For another, the room in which the late Lord Lebanon spent his last years of illness and eventually died is kept permanently locked. A frequent visitor from London is the sinister physician Dr. Lester Charles Amersham (Aylmer), who seems to have some hold over Lady Lebanon and certainly has been extracting large sums of money from her. And someone has just put a bolt on the outside of the bedroom door of Isla Crane—who’s in consequence the (understandably) frightened lady of the title.

The frightened lady . . . with pursuing shadow . . .

Lady Lebanon is urgently intent that her son marry Isla pronto in order to continue the line. Unfortunately for her plans, Continue reading