WHAT’S A NICE GIRL LIKE GINGER DOING IN AN OLD DARK HOUSE?

Rick’s Journal   –   (MY FILM CAREER)

Don, one of my older brother’s neighborhood buddies, used to babysit me on Saturdays if Brother Joe was otherwise engaged.  When my brother was my babysitter, he and I usually went downtown and saw four movies:  a matinee double feature, a break for hamburgers at the Krystal, and another double bill in the evening.  When Don was taking care of me, we went to one movie or one double feature, in the evening  —  he must have worked during the day on Saturday  —  then Don would bring me home and spend the night at our house.

But Don didn’t get much sleep that night after we saw The Thirteenth Guest.  I went many years wondering and not knowing , what was the movie that so scared me that I whimpered most of the night and at one point heard Don muttering that we would bever go see a movie like that again.

Then at Cinevent in Columbus, Ohio on a quiet Memorial Day morning, I walked into my last movie of the festival, and imagine the cinematic shivers that hit my spine when I realized that I was watching my long-lost scary movie.

Watching it again, finally, I asked myself what could have frightened me so as a child.  Though this is an old and dark house it is not really haunted.  We see the hooded, masked villain too often and for too long.  Though we see only parts (camera-selected parts) of his hidden room, with close-ups of his hand and (SPOILER ALERT) electric switch, we see these too often as well.  I think what had me close to pissing my youthful pants was those perfectly still, perfectly dead bodies in chairs at the table.

They are still eerie today, despite the fact that much of the rest of this little film is dated.  Most of the scenes are single long takes of dialogue.  The rare camera movements are thus effective, an early one especially:  zooming slowly and out-of-focus-ly in on the telephone.  Telephones are a motif in the photoplay (form and content).  Many of the family members who figure in the plot are 30s hoity-toity; and there are lines about the upper crust and big businessmen who stop at nothing.

Ginger Rogers is not perfect here, and that must be said because even her earliest performances in undistinguished films tend to be just that.  Perfect.  In tone, inflection and inexplicable maturity.  (She is just out of her teens.)  Here, in the scenes between the beginning and ending suspense sequences, she is too relaxed, too insouciant given what has happened to her and what she knows might happen to her.

Lyle Talbot is a suave, world-weary inspector.  I like following the before and after of any cast members of Gone with the Wind.  Paul Hurst plays a not very bright detective seduced by the suspect he is tailing.  Seven years hence he will be shot in the face by Vivien Leigh on the stairs of Tara.

The Thirteenth Guest
Albert Ray
1932
from the novel by Armitage Trail
(This film has also been shown as Lady Beware.)

NEXT FRIDAY POST May 9

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

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