Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Swell Night for a Murder

One Frightened Night
1935 / B&W / 66 minutes

A comically irascible millionaire would prefer to leave his fortune to his long-lost grand-daughter. After fruitless searches for the girl, the old buzzard opts to split his dough among types that we are happy to find in a B-movie mystery-comedy. A niece married to a husband with a gambling jones. A ne’er-do-well nephew. A pompous attorney. A staid doctor. A silently disapproving housekeeper. The coot tells them he will allocate a million to each, but his plans and their hopes are derailed when two different women show up and claim to be the missing grand-daughter. Everybody has a motive for the murder that ensues.

The well-differentiated characters are larger than life. Charley Grapewin does a great grouch, gleefully telling home truths; he is best-remembered as Uncle Henry in Wizard of Oz. So does Regis Toomey as the jaunty womanizer who revels in trouble and upset. Hedda Hopper plays the niece, curious since I never knew she acted. Wallace Ford, a magician, gets in good lines and sight gags, but he wearied me with his boisterousness.

Strange that the actors had a hard time placing the word stress in easy words like “tin cup,” “left-handed,” and “imposter.” But they had no trouble with really hard words like “unsullied,” “prestidigitator,” and “legerdemain.”Also curious was when the character wanted to say that the lawyer was just talking in platitudes. Nowadays we would say, “Next he’ll praise apple pie and mother.” Then, it was said, “When is he going to bring in Lincoln and Gettysburg.” Other good lines: “Stick around this morgue long enough and they'll be saying goodbye to you with flowers,” and “Don’t be a bigger idiot than you can help,” and “It looked like something the Devil let loose,” not to mention the deplorable male chauvinism of “A remarkable women. She won’t talk.”

The lighting provides curious shadows. The camera presents tracking shots. The set of the mansion is large and mildly creepy. The pace is enjoyably brisk. The credits are creatively presented on window shades being pulled down. All in all, a clever movie to spend a cheerful hour with.

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