harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,

Movie Review: A Shot in the Dark (1935), P 2 of 2

shot_dark title

Scene 31: Cut to an office with the Sheriff and Joseph. The Sheriff's men have located a compressed air gun which could be or at least be similar to the murder weapon. It was buried in a burlap wrapping on the college grounds and belongs to a Professor Brand. He's called in for questioning.

The professor claims that it was sent to him by some packing company or another. It turns out the compressed air gun is a cattle-killing device that is brand new (as of 1935) which he was using as a prop in his economics course. This doesn't explain what it was doing buried, however. The professor claims not to be able to answer that, as he has been out of town all weekend in New York and only returned when word reached him of the tragic deaths.

The professor claims that he can explain how the gun left his possession, however. He states that Byron was the student selected to demonstrate the gun in class and afterward he had asked to borrow it. Professor Brand assumed he wanted to study the mechanism that makes it work in more detail since Byron was such a 'level headed student', he granted the request.

He's also able to confirm that the needle given to Joseph by the coroner is in fact one of the needles the packing company sent with the weapon.

Scene 32: After Professor Brand is sent on his way, Ken arrives and informs his father that his trip was a bust as far as information from the grieving Mrs. Coates. He does share that he saw some very interesting photographs, however. In the meantime, the Sheriff is a bit put out because Joseph had kept the fact of the murder needles secreted from the Sheriff (or at least he simply failed to mention it through oversight).

Commentary: Of course, you'd think the Sheriff would have spoken to the Coroner about the autopsy report he would have received that mentioned the needles extracted from the victims' brains and he'd have asked to see one, and that would have led the Coroner to mention that Joseph was already given one as well. You'd think... if you weren't getting used to the clumsy way the police department is being used as convenience dictates. I will say though, that it was nice that the writers did have them perform some valuable services to the case, so they're not completely bumbling incompetents. But still... clumsy scripting.

Joseph is disappointed that Ken wasn't able to procure the contents of the letter from Byron's mother to him, but he is satisfied that they have the weapon. The answer as to motive for Byron's death is the who. Tom's is more easy... a murder of necessity since he blabbed that he knew who visited Byron just before his murder while inconveniently (for him) deciding on not just saying who it was for dramatic purposes.

Scene 33: Hmmm.

So, Ken goes into his room and gets out of his shirt/jacket preparing to clean himself up. He puts on a robe from the closet. In the meantime, the Sheriff and Joseph are still speaking about the case and the upcoming inquest. Ken comes out and Joseph notices the robe he's put on happens to be the one that Byron was wearing when his body was found.

Commentary: Uh-huh. Evidence-shmevidence. And... ew, creepy!

Ken didn't notice the robe he grabbed. But now when he reaches into the pocket, what'll you know... the mysterious letter that they've been looking for is still in the pocket where Byron had placed it. What luck!

Commentary: Or, convenient scripting to bring us to the conclusion. You decide.

The Sheriff very sensibly demands it as evidence, which Joseph -- as invited amateur sleuth with the invested power to (uh-huh) -- refuses. He tells the Sheriff he wants it first, but Ken refuses that too. He states that Mrs. Coates wanted the letter destroyed unread and wants to do the honorable thing. Joseph suggests he take it to Jean and let her read it, since she is the sister of the victim.

Commentary: Uh-huh.

Scene 34: Joseph busts in on dinner with the Coates at somewhere - I'm a bit confused as to where we are. I think it's the dorm hall public rooms, or possibly it's Professor Bostwick's home, except that doesn't make sense since he's not here. Anyway, he informs Jean of the letter found and asks her to read it. Miss Lottie objects that she has an obligation to destroy the letter, as per her employer's explicit instruction, but Joseph informs her that her obligation to justice will keep her from doing so until they know the contents.

Commentary: Yeah. An obligation that apparently didn't extend to giving it to the Sheriff immediately, or just opening the damned thing and finding out what was so important to hide, despite the murders that have taken place and the fact that the rest of the mail was stolen in an apparent attempt to find this very letter.

Jean offers to read it, if she can tear it up immediately if whatever skeleton it contains isn't relevent to her brother's death (as determined by her, obvs). The Deputy, who is eating with Jean apparently for no real reason, brings up with the Sheriff how they're the law, but they don't get to have any of the evidence until everyone else is done with it (THANK YOU). The Sheriff expresses his displeasure with this state of affairs, though not to the point of insisting that Ken give him the letter or be arrested for hindering an official investigation back in the dorm room, of course.

Charlie is also there, and he claims he doesn't want to know the contents of the letter under any circumstances as it is Byron's family's secrets to bear. He leaves to 'walk around on campus'.

Scene 35: Jean goes into the drawing room, closing the dining room door as she goes. She begins to read the important letter of exposition.

Scene 36: At the front door, we see a mysteriously masked and cloaked figure enter the house carrying the nailgun. He sneaks up on Jean and demands that she get up from the chair she's in slowly. As she does so, she drops the letter on the arm of the chair, which the killer grabs. As he's sneaking backward to leave, Jean looks over her shoulder and is shot for her trouble!

She falls to the floor, as the killer rushes for his escape.

Scene 37: It's okay... Jean wasn't really shot. She just fainted at the 'boom' the nailgun made at her. Joseph explains that the Sheriff and his men are after the killer now. While she explains that she fooled the killer. She starts to explain how, but then we cut outside.

Scene 38: There we see the Sheriff's men climb into cars to give chase. (Uh. Yeah. Okay -- really needed scene there)

Scene 39: So, apparently Jean only dropped the envelope on the arm chair? Whatever, it's a ridiculous ploy that would have surely failed immediately.

But... so, Jean gives the letter to Ken to read to everyone gathered immediately so there is no chance of its information being lost again. Ken reads that Byron was being informed of his inheritance waiting for his 21st birthday day. It was over a half million dollars.

Scene 40: Out with the police, we're following Charlie and Bill who apparently are helping the police...?

Anyway, Charlie is sure that he knows where they can find the killer going instead of following behind the police. They end up at an abandoned property with zero explanation as to why Charlie thinks this is the place. But, with a light on in the window, the two are sure the killer has indeed retreated there.

Bill has a large gun, so sends Charlie driving off to grab the Sheriff, while he makes sure no one leaves before they get back.

Scene 41: Back with our gang in the drawing room, Ken continues reading the letter of import. The letter reveals that Byron has a previously unknown half-brother, John ... his twin, who we have met. He's the child of Mrs. Coates' first marriage by the husband who abandoned her shortly after his birth.

Mrs. Coates had arranged for the adoption of John to the Meseraux family. She hoped that his true identity would be lost forever and that the half-brother's share of the inheritance would therefore pass to Byron instead. This seems to nicely wrap up the mystery with John being guilty for the murders in his effort to not only claim his rightful share, but Byron's as well... and possibly with plans to get Jean's eventually, too.

Charlie turns up then, asking for everyone to come with him to the abandoned roadhouse.

Scene 41: They manage to find the Sheriff as well to report where they need to head.

Scene 42: In the car with Charlie, Ken and Joseph, we... uh... get a dialogless shot of them looking determined.

The cars pull up next to Bill. While being left on his own, Bill pulled the battery out of the killer's car and then tried to enter the building but was repelled with gunshots.

Scene 43: Our heroes enter the building and John is there and taken into custody. But John insists that he didn't murder Byron. He does cop to killing Tom. The Sheriff demands the identity of Byron's killer if he didn't do it. John is juuuust about to reveal who murdered Byron, when he takes a shot to the back.


At first, the Sheriff thinks he was shot from below by either Bill or one of his men. But a bit of investigation of John's tumbled body reveals the trajectory of the bullet was from the same floor as John was standing, not on the first where they were gathered.


Sheriff and Deputy move upstairs....

Scene 44: Upstairs, the two policemen (not accompanied by random officers below, of course) split up (of course).

The killer is able to slip away in the dark.

Commentary: Y'know, I've been suspecting Jean until John came up as killing Tom but now I'm wondering if it's back to her. Perhaps John stole the letter from Jean to protect himself since she'd already murdered Byron in cold blood. I also suspected Miss Lottie, though I didn't have a motive for her. But this next scene lets her off the hook.

Scene 45: Back at the inn now, Miss Lottie and Ken are talking in the lobby while Jean is presumably, assumingly upstairs resting. Ken is stressing over the fact that Mrs. Coates' first husband & John's father was apparently named Joe and she happens to have that monographed photo of his father in her album. Miss Lottie tries to pooh-pooh that Ken's father could be the scaliwag, but Ken needs an explanation for that photo otherwise. Miss Lottie councils getting Mrs. Coates up there immediately to confront Joe and see if he is the abandoning first husband.

Ken leaves for Boston to convince Mrs. Coates to come back to the campus and meet with his father to put that mystery to rest.

Scene 46: Meanwhile, Joseph has arrived to the inn and meets Miss Lottie as she's heading back for her room. He demands that Miss Lottie summon Mrs. Coates there immediately, and she tells him about the coincidence of his son wanting the same thing and his having just left for Boston on that very task.

She doesn't tell him why, and he doesn't think to ask.

Scene 47: The following day, Mrs. Coates has accompanied Ken as requested. Ken introduces Joseph to Lucille and steps back to see what will happen. Lucille doesn't appear to recognize him at all, but he recognizes her from Paris where he met her while he was a student there. The meeting is entirely cordial and there is no evidence that Joseph Harris is Joe The Runaway Husband. *Whew*

Scene 48: Later that afternoon, Professor Bostwick has now returned to find out about the third murder. Our entire gang of primaries, the Sheriff and his Deputy have gathered at the Professor's.

There are sudden looks of shock as Lucille and Bostwick recognize one another -- he's the mysterious Joe!


Naturally Joe Bostwick used to be Joe Shaw... ex-husband of Lucille and father to the deceased John Shaw/John Meseraux. Actually it's a bit more complicated than that. Not only was Joe a runaway... but he'd never actually been married to Lucille legally at all! It had been a huge sham marriage, with her unknowing.

And, just as naturally, it was he who murdered both Byron and later his own son when he got ready to crack and squeal. What's more, John was always doomed. Once he'd been the inheritor, he'd have been eliminated leaving the fortune to himself. OH, if only he hadn't been so greedy about it all!


And, he'd have gotten away with it if it wasn't for that meddling kid... and his amateur sleuth father... and deus ex Lucille's stopping being a recluse at the most convenient of moments! Curses!

Scene 49: With the murder wrapped up and the guilty under arrest, Jean gets ready to leave the inn with Miss Lottie (And... Lucille? She just vanished?). But, first Joseph is still bothered by her obvious lie regarding her whereabouts the night of Byron's death.

Apparently, Jean had a secret engagement with Charlie and that evening she had gone to see him in order to break it off as she'd developed feelings for someone else. It's no secret that her new feelings are for Ken. And it's even less secret that he feels the same.

Let's try not to dwell on the sappy ending.


The Good: Both Charles Starrett and Marion Shilling make likeable protagonists to spend time with.

I really like the shots intimating the fate of Byron in a mores-of-the-time friendly manner, while also being quite creative.

I really liked the mystery, the two killers, and the murder weapon. It was involved, but easy to follow.

The Bad: The very beginning is really confused because its hard to know who we're going to be following and names are dribbled out slowly.

The police handling is exceptionally clumsy with them not being at crime scenes, apparently not getting necessary reports from the coroner, and giving Joseph far too much control over the investigation - even for a 1930's amateur sleuth flick... including letting him refuse to give over evidence!

Well... Tom's death is still a bit of a mystery. Not who killed him, why, or with what... but how did John manage to line up a shot to Tom's head when he was standing in the choir box? Where was he exactly to make that shot, but with sufficient force for a needle to penetrate the skull? Hmmm... very frickin' unlikely.

Other Thoughts: There are a few moments of really awkward acting, but it doesn't get painful. I also have to object to a few needless shots, especially toward the end which seems to be a recurring motif in these old pictures - things hum along and then suddenly start dragging with lots of unnecessary jumpcuts to useless scenes as we start to pad out the running time.

There are some really clumsy scripting issues too, in addition to the police handling that is mentioned in The Bad. It's nice that they're given minor bits to do that actually help, but they spend far too much time not at crime scenes. One of these is the way that Joseph is handled, especially before he gets caught up in the crime solving.

Lucille is also a problem when it comes to her handling. If we'd have had a scene of Ken convincing her to join him, it would have worked much better for her to show up and blow the killer's identity wide open. Oh, and I'm ignoring Joseph's already having figured it out by talking to Meseraux's adoptive parents and them knowing the Professor's true identity. That's just a stupid device to make Joseph look smart enough not to have needed Lucille to solve things.

Robert Warwick's diction bugged me throughout the picture and I sometime couldn't understand all that he was saying.

Herbert Bunston as the College President was... wow, awkward. Skirting the line of bad acting, really.

The Score: Okay, there are some scripting problems to help the characters out and some of them are too much to ignore. I still enjoyed the story and the way the mystery unfolded for the most part, as well as who the killers turned out to be. The Lucille/Joseph connection was pretty flimsy and wasn't actually necessary to anything since it never amounted to a major plot point, so its being raised was wasted running time. But I liked how things progressed outside of that minor glitch and some of those scripting issues.

3.50 out of 5 stars


Next review: IDW's Spike #2
Tags: review a shot in the dark_1935

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