Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Thirteenth Chair!


I don't know why I picked this creaky old movie to record, but I'm glad I did. The Thirteenth Chair is a 1929 mystery movie which adapts what was apparently a very popular stage play by the same name. That popularity is difficult to understand given this production, but then those were long ago times. The reason I'm glad I caught this flick is simply that it showcased the first teaming of director Tod Browning and actor Bela Lugosi, the duo who would in a couple more years in 1931 bring us Dracula. The weird thing is that Lugosi doesn't even rate a billing in this movie, not on the poster and not even in the TCM blurb which accompanied the movie. But he's the best thing about this clunky old programmer for sure.


The story is a pretty simple one. A man we never meet has been murdered by stabbing and his friend concocts a seance to smoke out the guilty party, a woman he is certain. But the medium he hires to make his scheme work has a conflict of interest and things go awry when another murder is committed right at the seance itself. That's where Lugosi shows up as a detective to get to the bottom of the locked house mystery.

Lugosi dominates the last half of the movie, almost all of which takes place in the same house and in a few rooms. The rest of the cast are worthy enough actors portraying the biggest pack of braying British snobs you'll ever find with a few left out for something more interesting.

Bela on the case.
The success of this story must have been a fascination with seances and mediums which get some attention, because the story itself is pretty ramshackle, as alas is some of the film making. Early on we get an odd glimpse of a critical clue which I mistook at the time for a technical error and it might have been for all I know. And at least one scene for sure was a few seconds of a room full of actors waiting for a cue to all talk at once in a simulated hubbub. The editing in this one was pretty terrible. Two large portions of the movie take place in the absolute dark. The funniest part is when an actor will walk across a room and leave one scene to show up across the same room several seconds later in another scene. The time differential between the scenes suggests a far greater distance than is actually crossed. Sloppy but funny.


I'm glad I saw this relic, which was apparently also released as a silent movie. It's a real valuable bit of movie lore to see Browing and Lugosi working together pre-Dracula, but that's about all this one has.

I recommend it on that basis alone. 

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