Movie Critique - Mystery House

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: Another locked-room mystery with some decent acting from the cast; almost bordering on horror and scary feeling with the beautiful usage of light and shadow by the film makers.

Mystery House is a 1938 American mystery-crime film directed by Noel M. Smith and produced by Jack L. Warner and Hal B. Wallis. The film has Dick Purcell, Ann Sheridan, Anne Nagel and William Hopper in the lead cast. Distributed by Warner Bros.- First National Productions.

Hubert Kingery (portrayed by Eric Stanley) is shot at a hunting lodge and ruled as suicide. His daughter Gwen Kingery (portrayed by Anne Kruger) disagrees and hires private detective Lance O'Leary (portrayed by Dick Purcell), nurse Sarah Keate's (portrayed by Ann Sheridan) boy friend. And thus begins the twisted tale of murder, mystery and suspense.

This was the 12th film of the 12 movies under the Clue Club series by Warner Bros that released from 1935 to 1938. The film was based on the 1930 novel Mystery of Hunting's End by Mignon G. Eberhart. Screenplay was written by Sherman L. Lowe and Robertson White. The opening credits give the primary actor's live photo with their name and their character's name below.

The primary reason I ended up watching this movie was for William Hopper who is billed fourth and portrays the role of Lal Killian. He is famed for his role as private detective Paul Drake in the original Perry Mason TV series. I have seen all of his episodes from that TV show and was curious to see how his earlier films fared. Not a bad film with a supporting role for Hopper. Ofcourse in this film he has black hair instead of his original blonde hair.

Dick Purcell's Lance O'Leary comes across as a combination of two fictional other detectives - Richard Diamond (famously played by Dick Powell) and Archie Goodwin, the assistant to Rex Stout's fictional detective Nero Wolfe. The satiric wisecracking and comic relief combo in one man is unique to both these fellows. And Purcell's O'Leary gave them a firm step to rise.

The two female leads - Ann Sheridan as Nurse Sarah Keate and Anne Nagel as Gwen Kingery - are smarter than you think. Specially when females were portrayed more as damsels in distress or totally oblivious fools in most mystery films then. Pretty and smart - a powerful lethal combination that filmmakers later exploited into femme fatale in the film noir in the 40s and 50s.

Although Anne Nagal reminded me of Hallmark Movies heroine Erin Krakow a lot. Not sure if in some twisted way they are related to each other.

As with any B-movie from them, a lot gets packed in a short 56 minutes of the film. Another locked-room mystery with some decent acting from the cast; almost bordering on horror and scary feeling with the beautiful usage of light and shadow by the film makers. Neat little mystery that can be watched on those lazy days.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. The character Nurse Sarah Keate appears in two other films - 1938 American mystery romantic comedy The Patient in Room 18 portrayed by Ann Sheridan and in 1935 American mystery comedy film While the Patient Slept portrayed by Aline MacMahon. Both films were based on Mignon G. Eberhart's novels.

b. Note the quote on the fireplace in the hunting lodge. It is a direct quote from the book that this film was based of.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Before being killed, Gerald writes a note and hides it under his ink blotter. But after, Nurse Keate finds it on top of the desk, clearly open.


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