Starring: Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire
DIR: William Beaudine
Blurb: Bela Lugosi stars in this Monogram thriller as Charles Kessler, a man living with his daughter while hoping for the return of his wife. Upon seeing her peeking through a window, he falls into a trance and…(spoiler, spoiler, spoiler).
Scene 01: We open on a painting of a woman with blonde curls in a party dress and gazing off into the distance. Our viewpoint pans down and across the entryway of a home, where we see a gentleman descending the staircase. This is Charles, the master of the house.
At the foot of the stairs is the butler, Evans.
Charles gazes for a moment at the painting of the woman, obvs the long lost wife in our blurb, before Evans reminds him that dinner is waiting.
Scene 02: In the dining room, the candles are lit and two services have been placed. Charles greets the empty chair of his wife as if she were still joining him as Evans helps him with his chair.
He goes on to tell his wife she’s looking lovelier than ever as Evans fetches the dinner coffee. When he presents it to Charles, he’s reminded that Mrs. Kessler is to be served first. The Evans does with a quick smile at the empty chair.
Evans exchanges glances with Mr. Kessler to ensure that Mrs. Kessler is pleased with the service before he gets Charles’ coffee for him.
Commentary: Ohhhh… that’s so sad. And it’s so very sweet that Evans plays along by glancing at the empty chair and exchanging smiles with empty air. It’s all so tragic.
[Oh, oh. I’m emotionally affected -- I haven’t gotten enough sleep.]
Scene 03: Mr. Evans leaves the dining room and from the stairs meets Charles’ daughter. She asks Evans worriedly how her father is “taking it”.
Virginia is told that he seems to be okay, and that “they’re” having dinner - apparently continuing to pretend Mrs. Kessler is still there has become normal routine. [Future Rob wants to butt in to say that we’ll find out in just a few scenes it’s only once a year.]
Before she can go on, the door buzzer rings and she tells Evans she’ll get it.
Commentary: There is a bit of weird camera work happening here by use of a mirror reflecting from the stairwell into the dining room. I’m not sure if this is significant, as it’s going to be used later or if it’s just fancy-schmancy director work, but it took me two viewings to notice the mirror in place. I was disoriented there for a minute.
Why I’m bringing it up, is that I like that we’re opening with some dynamic camera angles and editing. Our early movies have a habit of planting a camera and having people talk at each other until our eyes glaze over. I’m glad to see that William Beaudine is going to be fluid.
Scene 04: At the door is Ralph [McGuire], who Virginia is uptight about seeing. She tells him that she warned him not to come by that evening, but Ralph isn’t able to understand her attitude.
After some accusations that she’s acting very odd, Virginia tells Ralph to join her in the library. But as she’s walking away, Mr. [McGuire] notices Mr. Kessler having dinner alone with the extra place setting.
His curiosity gets the better of him and he ignores following Virginia to look in on the dining room, instead.
Scene 05: He sees Charles making plans with [Betty] for after dinner and looks puzzled and troubled. Virginia draws him away to the library.
Scene 06: There, Ralph asks Virginia what has happened with her father and she has to explain the situation with her mother.
It becomes clear now that her father is usually fine all year, but when the anniversary date of her mother’s wedding comes around, this is how he ends up “celebrating it”, still missing her very much. This despite the fact that she fell in love with his best friend and divorced him to marry the new man in her life. That is the marriage date that her father insists on celebrating in this tragic manner.
She was worried that her father’s eccentricity would put him off, but he assures her that he loves her. They kiss.
Ralph and Virginia do that weird thing where they press the sides of their faces against one another, when Ralph gets another puzzled look. He notices that the maid, Cecile is standing in the entryway watching with amusement.
She interrupts to ask Ms. Kessler if she wants her coat and Virginia explains, after straightening her hair with embarrassment, that she was planning on going for a drive to enjoy the beautiful evening they’re having. She invites her beau to join her.
Scene 07: In the kitchen, Evans is polishing the silver coffee service while in the background, someone else is trying to repair the toaster. Cecile waltzes in and asks if Ms. Kessler plans on marrying that nice man of hers, but Evans shoots her the eye and tells her that he’s not the one to gossip. He suggests that Cecile stop asking questions if she wants to stay employed.
She doesn’t take hints well, even ones so obvious. Instead, she straight up says that she thinks the Kessler home is a weird one and brings up that she heard from Jules [our toaster repair man in the background will be revealed to actually be the gardener but he appears to be more of a general Mr. Fixit also, is now trying to throw her hand signals that she can’t see, and that are too late, to shut her up and it's a very cute moment in the background] about a string of murders in the area.
Evans tells Jules he talks too much, and then sweeps Cecile, who is new there, out to show her where the linens are kept for changing day. Jules looks guilty as he follows them to the door, but it isn’t about Cecile’s big mouth ratting out his loose lips.
As soon as the other two have left, he pulls something out of his jacket. It’s an empty paper bag, which he fills with a bottle taken from the refrigerator. He scurries his way out of the kitchen with his purloined bottle.
Commentary: HAH! I frickin’ knew I didn’t like Cecile straight off just from her sly spying on her mistress from the doorway. I can’t explain it [which is why I didn’t include a commentary in that previous scene, even though I had started to type one] but there was something sneaky on her face that I didn’t like.
She’s not going to fit into the household, mark my words.
[Future Rob would like to intercede with something that I’m not allowing him to say, because it’s mildly spoilerish and besides, it’s not relevant to my feelings about her straight off. So, shut up Future Rob and just watch the movie.]
Scene 08: We follow Jules through the woods and to a storage garage/shed. From there, after he lights the candle [off stage spotlight], he opens a trapdoor.
Under the floor of the garage above is an entire room made up. On a bed, lying unresponsive is a woman who stares at the wall. Jules greets her as Mrs. Kessler!
Jules tells Betty Kessler that he’s brought her dinner [A bottle? Her dinner is to get drunk on an empty stomach?] and complains to her that he needs to go home, so she needs to get herself up. Betty says she wants to go home, too and Jules tells her that she is home and as soon as she’s feeling better, he’ll return her to her husband and daughter.
Betty complains that nobody ever writes to her and Jules explains nobody knows where she is except him. He starts to explain about finding her… but she interrupts with vague memories of running away in a car. Betty says that they’re going faster and faster and they’re going to crash.
Betty wonders if she can ever go home now, but Jules insists he must go home now and will return in the morning. He pleads for her to “eat her dinner” which again, is only a bottle of something [Wine? Liquor?], not much of a dinner.
Commentary: Okay, so that was a complete shock. I was suddenly very interested in just what the hell is going on with Jules and the Kessler family estate! I thought the mystery was what had actually happened to Betty Kessler, but I didn’t expect to see her hidden away on the property!
Scene 09: When Jules returns home, his wife complains good naturedly that he’s late for supper again. He returns, with a kiss on the cheek, that he just couldn’t get away from her before now.
She asks Jules why he won’t tell Mr. Kessler that Mrs. Kessler has returned. Jules states that he doesn’t dare right now, as the shock would surely kill Mr. Kessler, not to mention the heartache because of her current mental state. Mrs. [Adams] cluck-clucks how sad it is and that Betty would’ve been better off dying in that accident. Mrs. [Adams] says that she’s worried Mrs. Kessler could be linked to the awful spate of murders in the area, but Jules poo-poos that she’d never hurt anybody.
They start to eat, when it suddenly hits Jules that if anyone finds out that he’s been hiding Betty away, they might think that he’s responsible for the murders!
[Well, that depends I guess. Who the fuck has been murdered?! Why would anyone think they’re connected in any way to the estate, and if they are, where is any sign or discussion of the police and why isn’t anybody outside of the new maid expressing any fears?
And really, Jules? You’re worried about accusations of some murders somewhere around there but not at all worried about … oh… not reporting an accident, not getting Mrs. Kessler to medical attention, not telling your employer that his wife is alive, not telling Virginia her mother isn’t off somewhere with her new husband, stealing food and beverage from the house, kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment -- “for her and Mr. Kessler’s own good”, I’m sure, and finally by the looks of Betty’s “dinner” - starving her as well.
Okay, suddenly having Mrs. Kessler held in a hidden room seems like a stupid twist.]
Mrs. [Adams] tells Jules again that he must tell somebody about their finding Betty Kessler out of her right mind. He refuses.
Scene 10: Sometime later that evening, Ralph and Virginia arrive back at her home. She invites him in, but he declines. This is under the watchful eye of Cecile who is out smoking.
Virginia asks Evans to put her car away in the garage.
Scene 11: As Evans is taking care of this, we find Ralph cutting through the forest on the property. He’s taken aback by Cecile, who greets him as “Casanova”, in a far too familiar manner.
It’s clear that Ralph knows her as well, but he isn’t pleased to see her. She complains at him that coming and getting a job in the house was the only way for her to see him. She snots that he’s ignored all of her letters and telephone messages.
He tries to take his leave of her, but she warns him that she’s not about to let him go now. He tells her that he didn’t ever love her and that he’s fallen for Virginia, but Cecile is clearly unimpressed. She warns him that he’s not marrying anyone else and she won’t be ignored. She tells him that sooner or later Virginia is going to have to know about “us” and then promises to be a good wife to him.
He gives her a “bitch, you crazy!” look and wanders away clearly disturbed by her inability to let go.
Evans sees most of this argument, though he isn’t close enough to hear anything, or so it appears.
Scene 12: While Cecile is wandering back toward the house with a self-satisfied grin, Virginia is rushing into her father’s bedroom. She’s there to wide-grin that she’s in love. After Bela clarifies it’s Ralph of whom she speaks, he offers her his joy that she’s found someone nice. She rushes back out all excited.
Scene 13: As Evans comes into the bedroom to see if Mr. Kessler requires anything before he retires for the night, Bela notices the butler’s hand has been injured. Bela asks after it, and Evans waves it off as having happened in the dark garage while putting Ms. Kessler’s car away.
Bela insists on putting antibiotic on it and re-wrapping it before Evans retires.
When finished, Bela wishes Evans a good night and states he’ll be up for some time to read. He also thanks his butler for the wonderful dinner for he and Mrs. Kessler.
Scene 14: Meanwhile, outside, the missing-presumed dead Mrs. Kessler has wandered out of her room below the garage floor. She strays out onto the property.
As she’s wandering way toward the house, Bela freezes in his reading. A strange look comes over his face. Seeming to actually sense his wife’s presence, he comes to the windows overlooking the yard, while Mrs. Kessler stands transfixed and staring up at her old bedroom windows.
The two stare at one another, with Bela Kessler unable to force himself to believe he’s seeing Betty standing in a robe in their yard.
Betty states up at the window at her husband’s staring figure that she’s afraid to come home and he’ll kill her. She tells her husband that he’d kill anybody….
Commentary: I have to admit that this scene started out a bit weird… what with Bela apparently just sensing his wife’s presence, but Betty Compson is doing a marvelous job of seeming “not quite with it” and her pronouncements about her being frightened of her husband was eerie. The long moment when they’re just staring at one another felt really off kilter, and I liked how both of them seemed frozen just waiting for something to happen next to break the queer atmosphere between them. It’s a really interesting and somehow off-putting moment.
Scene 15: Mr. Kessler leans away from the window with a blank look on his face before blinking long and hard in confusion. He wipes his hand over his forehead and things go all fuzzy….
Scene 16: Sometime later, Bela seems to come back from a fugue state. He slowly leans over to the window again, but there is no sign of Betty Kessler.
He steps out of his bedroom, walking unsteadily and near stumbling. We follow as he nearly falls down the stairs, stumbling along with one hand stretched out in front of him and a dazed look on his face.
He suddenly gets a look of fear on his face, before turning unsteadily and walking to the back room near the staircase.
Commentary: I’m really liking the visuals of this scene from the way Bela is acting so out of it, to the way that the camerawork is being done. It’s a very nice sequence that is nicely relaying to us that Bela Kessler may not know where he is or what he’s doing currently.
But, I have to issue a complaint about the music here. It has nothing to do with the scene and is intrusive because of it. I have no idea what they were doing here, but whoever chose to place this soundtrack here chose really badly when picking the music.
Scene 17: The little room is an apartment and leads to another doorway. When Bela listens in to this door, he hears music playing. Upon opening it, we see Cecile sitting in bed reading. She’s obviously a bit startled to have the master of the house shuffling into her bedroom.
Scene 18: She’s even more alarmed when he closes her bedroom door and removes his robe. The look on his face is absolutely leering at her to her growing fear.
With the loud radio covering any sounds, Kessler stalks at her in bed with a disconcerting smile on his face and his robe held out like a net to catch a small animal. Cecile huddles at the head of her bed, growing hysteria in her face as she clutches her blanket in front of her, as if it could be a shield from Kessler’s rapey-vibe.
She gives a short yell as Bela peers at her insanely with the robe held between he and she. This is then thrown over her petrified figure. We can only presume that she’s feinted as she gives no further signs of distress.
Commentary: Okay, that was supremely uncomfortable and harrowing for having nothing overt being shown. I liked the way that we focus the camera only on Bela during those last few moments and the crazy eyes peering upon her. I didn’t like Cecile right off, but I gotta tell you, this scene had me really terrified for her and god only knows what she was thinking with him silently glaring at her like that.
*BRRRr* Bela gives good creeper-glare.
Scene 19: Presumably the next morning, Evans goes and knocks on Cecile’s door as she should be rousing herself to get to work. He can hear the radio on in her room and gives several hard knocks to get her attention.
After several moments of not receiving any response, he finally gingerly opens her bedroom door. He finds her hanging half off of the bed. After giving her a quick check, Evans rushes out.
Scene 20: He goes straight upstairs to inform Mr. Kessler that something dreadful has happened to the new maid. The police are ordered summoned while Bela gets dressed to rush to her aid and see if there is anything he can do.
Scene 21: Sometime later, everyone has been kept in the drawing room. The detective in charge asks Mr. Kessler why he won’t leave the house, hinting that other mysterious things have happened there recently, possibly even other deaths.
Virginia explains that her father would never leave because her mother lived there.
He explicates that right now, it appears Cecile was murdered in the same way as another person on the estate about six months previously and Virginia states it must be the same person.
Duh. But the other case remains open for lack of any evidence pointing to the killer. And the only physical evidence left with Cecile is a note telling her not to try to see someone named Ralph.
Obvs, this name startles Virginia as she’s currently seeing a Ralph. But surely it couldn’t be the same man!
This leads to Evans very reluctantly having to admit to seeing Cecile and Virginia’s Ralph having their intense discussion out in the yard.
As it turns out, Evans did hear quite a bit of the argument when things got a bit loud. He now tells the detective that he heard Mr. Dickson tell Cecile that he never loved her and her response that he’d never marry anyone else. He has to tell the detective and Virginia that Ralph angrily promised Cecile that no one would get between he and his happiness, including her.
Virginia is left stunned and speechless.
Scene 22: Next we have a Newspaper Headline, in which “Engineer Accused of Murder” and that Ralph Dickson has declared his innocence when charged with murder of attractive blonde, Cecile Mannix.
This quick-fades to the police station where Virginia is meeting with her “practically fiancé”, accompanied by her father. He’s explaining that he’d known Cecile for a few years and that she’d given him ‘companionship’ that he’d needed. He insists though, that when he’d met Virginia he’d fallen in love ‘for the first time’.
Bela asks after Ralph whereabouts overnight, looking for somebody who could vouch for him for the times of the murders. But Ralph states that he’d gone for a long drive in the country to clear his head after his confrontation with Cecile and saw no one that he knew [and apparently the paper can’t be bothered to print a photograph and a request for anyone who’d seen him that night to inform the police as a material witness]. Bela insists that they know Ralph isn’t a murderer and they’ll do whatever they can to see him released.
Commentary: Well. This is turning out to be interesting as far as things are progressing since the implication is that Bela Kessler is the killer. But, does he know that he’s the murderer? Right now, it appears he may be in the dark about his own culpability. And there is the very disturbing thing that is happening between he and his “long lost” wife, Betty.
But I’ve got a real problem happening here and it centers on Ralph Dickson. John McGuire is handsome enough and all, but I’m just not seeing the depth of emotion that we should be seeing from him. When Evans described him as “sure was mad”, what I saw on screen was perturbed. And here, when he’s facing murder charges, he seems more withdrawn and “things kinda suck” rather than “JEEZUS, I’m facing murder charges here, and I can’t prove my innocence!” and even Virginia standing by him doesn’t appear to be having any impact on him. His acting is really underwhelming. I’m not exactly saying he’s bad in the role, and he may be in shock that this is all happening but the performance feels half-asleep somehow. I wish we’d get a bit more feeling from him.
Scene 23: Cut to a courtroom. The manager of Dickson’s apartment building testifies that Ms. Mannix came there often. She thought that he and Cecile may’ve been married with the amount of time the dead woman had spent at Ralph’s apartment. It’s another horrible shock for Virginia.
Next, our gardener, and wife hider, Jules testifies that he went home early that night to help his wife with the housecleaning. [Uh. Okay. I suppose to rule out suspects for the jury?]
We don’t hear from Ralph himself. With our focus on Virginia looking like she may puke or pass out at any moment, the Prosecutor reminds the jury of Ralph’s motive to do in Cecile, before asking Evans to repeat the snippet of conversation he’d heard between her and Ralph. Virginia looks with worry over at the jury box [whose members are kept offscreen].
Ralph and Mr. Kessler share glances of “oh, this is going really bad” with one another.
Commentary: Physical evidence? Schmevidence, the jury says… apparently….
Scene 24: Ye Olde Newspaper Headline gives us the verdict… AND sentencing: Dickson Sentenced To Die.
Commentary: I’m of two minds about this quick trial. On the one hand, it’s nice that we don’t have to waste a lot of time basically hearing people describe what we already saw for ourselves, especially since we know more than they do. They gave us enough to know that other people were aware of Cecile’s central role in Ralph’s life before he threw her over, and we got Evans’ recollection. That really is enough for us. On the other hand, it would’ve been nice to see some snippet of a defense pointing out the lack of physical evidence, questioning how Ralph managed to get into Cecile’s bedroom in Virginia’s house, and hearing some heartfelt plea of his innocence from Ralph himself in there somewhere.
I can’t make up my mind whether I like this particular shortcut in the story or not.
Scene 25: Later, Virginia is speaking to Ralph through a screen as he awaits his date with the executioner.
[Funnily enough, I half expected Ernie the Whiner to wander through whining his way about carrying out another execution from ‘Buried Alive’.]
Commentary: I didn’t consciously realize it, but I obviously recognized Detective Williams as George Pembroke, who annoyed me so much playing Over-Acting Ernie in the other film.
Virginia assures Ralph they haven’t stopped fighting and offers that they’re going to see the Governor the following day. She’s sure there is something that can be done, like pointing out the no evidence thing, perhaps?
Scene 26: In the Governor’s office, Bela assures the man that surely Ralph couldn’t have done it. Virginia insists that if he knew Ralph, he’d know that he just couldn’t be a killer.
Amazingly, this fails. The Governor claims to have reviewed the facts of the case and insists that there would have to be new evidence suggesting the jury was wrong for him to intervene. [Like having three viable suspects under the roof where the girl was actually murdered, with two of these: Virginia more so than her father on the face of things, for wanting her dead - if she’d gotten wind perhaps of Cecile’s ulterior motives for moving in as the maid. Apparently though, the jury went with Ralph slipping into Cecile’s rooms in Virginia’s house with nobody the wiser to do the deed. And were so comfortable with that, they went with death despite no physical evidence tying Ralph to the crime. And everybody else is shrugging that “Sure, he probably did it. Let’s go ahead and kill him.” Hm. Okay.]
Scene 27: We whirlwind ahead to Ralph receiving last rites from a priest in his death row cell. As per usual in these things, Priest is interrupted by the guards coming to lead Ralph down the corridors to the death chamber, just as the Priest gets to droning on about cups runneth over and being led to peaceful pastures, and shadows of death, blah-blah.
Scene 28: In a very nice transition, we join Virginia and Bela at their home, where Bela takes over for the Priest in finishing the recitation with his hand settled on a home bible. The phone rings.
Bela has to break it to Virginia that the execution was carried out….
Commentary: I have really enjoyed the performance of Polly Ann Young, and I really like her quiet sorrow here. I’ve come to really like Virginia and I’m actually feeling very sorry for her, specifically because of the horror to still come her way. Polly has done a great job of making her character likeable, and it’s my hope that she’s going to play a more active role in proving her Ralph’s innocence going forward. I’ve not pre-watched this one, so we’ll have to hit play to find out if her role is going to get beefed up a bit. So… uh… let’s do that.