Scene 29: It’s sometime later when the door buzzer goes off and Evans answers to find the spitting image of Ralph standing in the doorway! He reacts like there is a ghost standing in front of him, of course.
The man strides in an introduces himself as “Dickson” and asks to see Mr. Kessler. Evans is too nonplussed to do more than wave Mr. Dickson to the dining room, where both Bela and Virginia are barely picking at their dinner.
Both of them are shocked to see Ralph standing there, but of course, this is not Ralph Dickson. It’s until now, unknown identical twin, Paul. He comes to us from South America, though he wasn’t able to get there in time to see/help his brother but would now like to know what exactly happened with his twin.
Scene 30: In the kitchen, Jules is again going about sneaking bits of food [chocolate cake in this instance] presumably for Betty. Evans comes in dazed and asks if he looks pale, because he’s feeling mighty pale.
The dining room buzzer goes of . Jules has to prod Evans to go answer the summons, as he’s clearly reluctant to see the “ghost image” standing there in front of him again [and you can infer this is probably because his own testimony was largely responsible for swaying that half-assed jury of idiots].
Commentary: I’m also really liking Clarence Muse, who I’m finding has that certain magnetism that draws focus to his performance, even though really he should probably be more of a background character. And I liked this moment where he’s clearly reluctant to have to be the one to answer the Kessler summons after the surprise of seeing “Ralph” standing before him minutes before.
The introduction of Paul though is bugging me, and I tried to shake it off, but it’s annoying - that Paul introduces himself by his last name just to stretch out the “Is it Ralph, not dead?” moment. It was just so silly -- why wouldn’t he have opened with “I’m Paul, obviously Ralph’s brother as you can tell. May I please speak with Mr. Kessler?” rather than his actual greeting, except for our confused benefit? It was just contrived… and unnecessary.
Scene 31: Evans is told that Mr. Dickson would be having coffee with the family and Evans lets out a relieved breath that this isn’t, in fact, somehow Ralph.
Scene 32: Moments later, Virginia leads the way into the sitting room. Paul goes on that he knew circumstantial evidence could lead to wrong conclusions but it’s only now that he’s realized just how serious those wrong conclusions could be. He offers that he’s there because he’d like to find out who really killed Cecile and clear his brother’s name.
Bela offers a room in the house to Paul during his stay and goes to make arrangements.
Scene 33: For some reason, we follow every footfall of Bela’s up the stairs
Commentary: I have a feeling that William Beaudine was very conscious of early film making’s tendency to be static looking and dully filmed. He appears to have directed his camera shots to ensure that everything was given more fluidity with many shots being from above looking down on our actors and changing up camera angles. I enjoyed the camerawork and his directing for this, but this specific hold on Bela’s walking up toward the camera just wasn’t needed.
Scene 34: Out from the garage, Betty has once again slipped out into the night.
As this is happening, Bela is summoning Paul to be shown to his guest room, while Virginia excuses herself to go and speak to Evans about the extra for breakfast the following morning.
Scene 35: Upstairs now, Paul is welcomed to his temporary room by Bela. Plans are made to gather Paul’s luggage the following day, and the two men part of the evening.
Scene 36: Which leads to Bela Kessler being in his own room again, reading.
Once again, through some unexplained thingie, he seems to sense his wife’s presence outdoors. He seems to slip into a half-daze again and wanders toward his windows, while at the same time, Betty is shambling to stand under her former bedroom windows and staring up for him.
They share a long stare, hers with fear, his with malevolence.
Kessler turns away, exactly as he had when he’d gone to visit Cecile.
Commentary: It’s kind of, just a tiny bit, bugging me that we’ve got no reason for Jules to still be hiding Betty from authorities or medical attention. His actions just aren’t making sense, and his explanations to his wife to waive this away are hardly convincing [which also puts her actions in not going to the police herself in a more than questionable light -- neither of these characters are working for me].
Of more interest than being bothersome is this unvoiced, seemingly psychic connection between Bela and Betty. It seems a strange and uncanny thing to introduce twice now, without it being explained at some point when Bela Kessler could just have easily been introduced to have a habit of staring for long periods outdoors at night -- perhaps at the roses his wife used to tend to or some other emotionally resonating reason like that -- rather than this odd connection.
I’m really hoping that this plot point isn’t hand waived away in the denouement, but I’m always leery of these older films. I’ve been stung one time too many.
Scene 37: Bela once again does the stumbling-shambling shuffle out his room [to the entirely randomly light-action theme that isn’t helping the scene whatsoever].
Bela Kessler stumbled down to the foyer, but unlike last time, Evans is there futzing around. He glares down at the butler as Evans doesn’t notice him. When Evans wanders into the dining room, Bela stumbles down the stairs, apparently now stalking him.
As Bela is once again taking off his robe to use as a binding for his victim, Evans strolls into the kitchen for some last minute clean up before he turns in for the evening.
This simple happenstance seems to save Evans, as Bela stands for a moment lost what to do without his prey in sight. He repeats his movements to the servants quarters under the stairs again, instead.
[Okay, there is some wackiness with the lay out of the house now. Apparently this door to the servant’s quarters is a longer hallway than we’ve ever been given hints at thus far. It appears that the kitchen has an entry very close to, but not quite connected with, the dining room. Instead the dining room has to connect to the hallway which run from the door by the staircase along to the kitchen door, and this hallway also includes the sets of rooms for the servants. It’s the only way to explain Bela’s going through the door to the servants section of the house and appearing through the same door to the kitchen that Evans has been seen using to enter - apparently - from the dining room earlier. I’m sleight-of-handing this a bit, but it works… it’s still bothersome when small things like a living space suddenly yanks me out of the story because the geography suddenly doesn’t make sense. Clearly they’re using a single door for both entry to the kitchen from the dining room and now also from the hallway that Bela used to reach Cecile’s rooms. And it is the only way to explain how Evans isn’t in the kitchen… he went through the dining room into the hallway for the servants, and instead of hanging a right into the kitchen, he went to his own set of rooms somewhere in that hallway.
And my god, but my brain gets distracted by the silliest things….]
Scene 38: In the kitchen, in near darkness, we find Jules once again raiding the refrigerator for Betty. He gets leaped by a stalking Bela Kessler, who covers his head with the robe, while simultaneously strangling the man out from behind.
[All of this shown to us through shadow play, which actually works quite well.]
Commentary: And also, Jules appears to cooperate in being strangled to death by not making much of a fuss about it. That was quite the loyal employee that the Kessler household just lost.
Scene 39: The following morning, poor, poor Evans is once again the unlucky devil to find the body. As the camera pans down from Evans’ stunned face, using the table edge as a wipe, we see Jules lying on the kitchen floor right where Bela left him.
Commentary: See my previous comment about William B.’s directing. The man clearly wanted to jazz up the story, and I gotta admit that it’s working wonderfully. The shots he’s composed and directed are making sure that this “old, dark house” type picture isn’t staid and I really like what he’s doing.
Scene 40: This time, Evans forgoes going to the Master of the House with the latest death and runs into the sitting room instead. He grabs up the phone to call police directly.
As Evans awaits the police, he has to break the news that the Kessler’s have lost another servant.
Scene 41: Our police detective has arrived and is taking a look at the body of Jules. He tells the household, here they go again and asks basic questions about how long Jules had worked for them.
He asks after anyone coming in or leaving during the evening before and is told about their houseguest, still upstairs, that is staying with them.
Scene 42: Paul is coming down for the day, when Williams’ partner goes to fetch him. [Okay. William’s partner is a bruiser if ever there was one without a stitch of civility. I immediately want to punch him.]
With Paul summoned [rather rudely and brusquely], it’s the detective’s turn to be shocked at the resemblance to dead Ralph. Everyone withdraws to the sitting room/library [Bela insists on library, but it’s a paltry one… sitting room or parlor is more like it].
Well, everyone but Evans and Detective Bruiser Ryan who are left with the body to await the coroner, anyway. Ryan immediately asks Evans just where he was the date of the previous murder, but Evans waves him off with an offer of morning coffee.
[It’s um, comedic. I’ve no doubt that Jules is laughing it up. I’m wondering when somebody is going to mention his wife and letting her know her husband won’t be coming home to help not-watch over Betty’s wanderings anymore.]
Scene 43: In the parlor-slash-library, Detective Williams complains a bit more about how their killer isn’t leaving behind any fingerprints to make his capture easy. Before anyone can bring up how this should clear poor, dead Ralph, Detective Ryan comes to collect Williams to speak with the coroner.
After he leaves, Paul asks about “the others” and Virginia has to tell him that Jules isn’t the first to die on the property. He asks why anyone is still staying in the house. She stares at her father and helplessly tells him that they can’t leave.
Commentary: Now, I’m getting a little irritated. Somehow the script fails to bring up - FROM HIS OWN BROTHER - that Ralph was executed for no reason and he doesn’t seem the least bit perturbed about it.
AND - NOBODY questions that the only thing the three murdered people have in common are: Virginia, Bela, Evans, Jules’ Wife.
Uh, the probable killer is down to four people… maybe some hard pressing and a trip downtown with separate cars is called for right about now.
Scene 44: Sometime later, Evans is waylaid by Paul when he’s bringing in his luggage. Paul asks for more information about the other murders, but Evans refuses to say a word, as it’s not his place to gossip.
As he heads upstairs, Williams comes back from the servant’s hallway and Paul turns to him to fill him in on what has been going on. A few things are now brought up: The other murders weren’t brought up at Ralph’s trial because they didn’t seem connected [and the defense lawyers are utterly incompetent or the judge and all of the appellate jurists decided that it wasn’t relevant as well]. The police haven’t closed the house as a multiple murder scene because the Kessler’s have a lot of political power in the town, and Mr. Kessler’s been given his way as far as staying put. Williams shares the scandal of Mrs. Kessler’s leaving about seven years before, and how Mr. Kessler seems to be waiting for the day when she’ll come back to him.
This is interrupted by Bela’s return to the foyer. Williams excuses himself. Attention is turned to the painting of Betty as a young woman and Bela tells Paul that he hopes he’ll get to meet her as he still believes that she’ll come back to him someday.
Extremely weirdly, Virginia now comes from upstairs where she’s all huge grins, despite being surrounded by murders over the last several months apparently [And NOONE finds this inappropriate or suspicious in the least, of course]. The phone rings and she goes to answer. The call is for Mr. Kessler and he reports that he must go out for a bit for business.
Commentary: God, this is weird. You might almost think that Virginia hasn’t been told yet that the gardener is lying dead in the kitchen with the way she’s Little Miss Sunshine. And what the hell is with everybody’s refusal to see that the logical choices for Strangler are currently Bela Kessler or Evans [with Virginia less likely, and Jules’ wife even less still]. And where the hell is Jules’ wife?! Is SOMEBODY going to clue her in, before her husband doesn’t show up for dinner, that he’s dead?
These people’s actions are starting to glaringly make less sense and Detective Williams’ hand waiving isn’t helping me out here. Also, George Pembroke once again got supremely irritating [as he did as Ernie the Over-actor in “Buried Alive”, 1939, by not getting rid of that stupid unlit cigar clenched between his teeth while trying to deliver his dialog.
Scene 45: Later, Bela Kessler is meeting in the Coroner’s office with him and apologizes for not being of more help in Jules’ death. He asks after the gardener’s wife [FINALLY] and is told that it’s been taken care of.
He’s told that she took it quite hard, at which point she happens to arrive to take claim of the remains. She’s shown into an empty room where her husband is lying around under a sheet, not being refrigerated.
Scene 46: After Coroner leaves her at her request, she pulls the sheet down from her husband’s face. She screams.
Scene 47: This summons the Coroner and Mr. Kessler, where the Coroner attempts to escort Mrs. Mason back out. But she insists that her husband is alive, and she saw him move.
Somehow, she’s right! Jules twitches in a way that isn’t consistent with muscle spasms as rigor sets in [so… he was left sitting out unchilled, and no autopsy has been started yet… the man
Jules starts to barely come to consciousness and Bela asks him if he recognizes who tried to kill him. The gardener’s eyes widen in fright, but before he can reveal anything, he actually dies. No, really this time.
Commentary: A few things here: I don’t like the set up for the scene, and our director’s really fallen in love with that move the camera sideways along a track between two rooms that share a wall so that we “pass through” the shared wall in one single take into the new location. It’s nice… don’t get me wrong… but now it feels like showing off the technique for the fluid motion over being an artistic choice for the film itself. More of the director’s “look what I can do”.
As to the scene itself, other than the conceit that Jules has been lying out like this, it was really quite good. I did get a small chill as Jules’ eyes widened in fear [even though I’m not convinced that he could’ve recognized Bela as his attacker] and his dying with his eyes wide open was creepily portrayed. But, the acting by Ottola Nesmith was a bit uneven for me and it was really noticeable.
Scene 48: Later that evening at the Kessler table, Bela is telling Virginia and Paul how ghastly the whole thing was. Paul brings up the other killings, with apologies, and clarifies that they all happened at night. Bela asks after the reason for such a question [though he acknowledges that they have been] but Paul waves the inquiry away. He also asks after how long Jules was with him, and Bela replies seven years.
In the meantime, Evans is serving dinner which is running late due to the new cook trying to find their way around the unfamiliar kitchen.
Scene 49: In the kitchen the elderly new cook is flustered because the roast has come out a bit burnt and she so wanted to make a good impression. She tells Evans that she likes it at the estate, with everything being so peaceful and quiet. Evans side eyes her with a “bitch, you cray-cray” glance.
He asks her if she ever reads the papers, but she doesn’t because they’re so full of trash “and murders and such”. He doesn’t bother to share her chances of winding up dead.
Commentary: I get the feeling this is so supposed to be a bit of comedy relief after the harrowing Jules affair. It’s not a bad scene, and it’s not overplayed so on that point, the whole thing is fine.
But, it’s also not really pushing this plot forward any. It’s feeling that a lot of our scenes now are padding until we can reach the revelations about Betty and what is happening around here and though the acting is good for the most part… it’d be nice if there was some progress. I think the basic flaw is the structure of the story. If we hadn’t specifically scene Bela as the attacker on the maid and Jules, we could be left wondering if he’s really the killer or a red herring right now. Or, as I had thought when we followed Evans into the kitchen, we could’ve had a undercover police officer as the new cook which also would’ve nicely excused the issues in the kitchen and could’ve helped things feel like there was work being done to finally find out what is happening in this house.
But unless they’re going to really fake us out by having this elderly grandmotherly woman be undercover [which would actually be an awesome twist, especially if she Jane Marple’d the solution], we’re not going anywhere right now and with the police’s failure to do the most obvious actual investigative work, pacing is starting to slack off. With a run time of 64 min, and with us being 41 min. in, this isn’t the time to coast.
Scene 50: Sometime after dinner, Virginia watches a chess game of her father’s with Paul, where Paul is within a few moments of checkmate. Bela grins that Paul has the game, and Virginia laughingly tells her father that he’s finally met someone who is his match.
Paul offers that her father just maneuvered himself into a bad position [yeah, yeah, META…]. Outside, a storm is moving in. Bela is about to turn in, when Evans asks for a moment of his time.
Scene 51: Evans is informing Bela of the new cook’s desire to leave after one evening because she felt her first dinner was a failure and she’s embarrassed. Bela tells Evans that he’ll speak to her about it.
In the meantime, Paul bids a good night to his host. Virginia walks Paul upstairs.
Scene 52: In the kitchen, Bela comes in with Evans to compliment their newest addition on her “elegant dinner”. Her mind now at ease, she tells Evans that Mr. Kessler is a wonderful man.
Evans doesn’t share that she’s likely to get murdered soon.
Scene 53: Upstairs, Virginia is not with Paul but in her own room where she’s writing at her desk.
Commentary: Okay. Were these last two scenes actually needed for something? I mean other than the run time.
Scene 54: Downstairs, Bela Kessler glances over the chessboard once more to see if there was a way he could get out of Paul’s trap. He analyzes what he could’ve done wrong during the game.
Scene 55: In his room, Paul has gotten ready for bed by losing his business jacket.
He’s reading a magazine.
Scene 56: In her room, Virginia finishes a letter and yawns. Outdoors, more thunder is heard. She turns off her room lights and slips into bed [in real time!] and settles in.
Scene 57: Downstairs, Bela makes another move on the chessboard. He gets the Sudden-Onset Psychic Awareness Pose. The SOPAP is causes this time by Betty staring in from the rain slicked window outside of the parlor.
Kessler goes through an emotional flash of sorrow, before his glare turns to rage.
He comes forward toward Mrs. Kessler, but she backs away into the pouring rain. Bela stares out at Betty in the rain, his face growing ever more angry looking.
He clenches a fist, and turns toward the interior of the house….
Commentary: I loved the way this scene was composed and shot. It’s a bit of fancy for this period of filmmaking again, but unlike the ‘share wall, one continuous camera movement’ it isn’t something that has been repetitively done, so doesn’t come across as a director flourish just because… it’s actually very well used in service to the film.
I also loved the moment when you watch Bela Lugosi’s character turn from deeply sorrow stricken to a sudden growing rage. I just can’t help but think this moment would be so much more powerful if we didn’t already know he’s our killer because we’ve already seen two murders committed by him. If the identity of the killer had been hidden until this moment, it would’ve been fantastic.
There is also the hanging problem of Jules’ wife already knowing all about Betty and still not saying anything after her husband’s death. It seems like there just isn’t enough incentive for her to keep Betty’s mentally unbalanced presence secreted right now, while presumably still taking care of the woman, even if she doesn’t wonder if Betty is their killer because of the relation of the woman’s arrival with the bodies piling up. That part of the scripting is really not working.
Scene 58: We watch through the rain-streaming window as Bela Kessler does his “I’s a-gonna strangle somebody” stumble out of the parlor.
At first, it appears the new elderly Cook is about to get it, but then he pauses at the door to the servant’s area of the house. Instead, his attention is brought to the upstairs.
Scene 59: Like a man possessed, he stumbles with a look of confusion as compulsion drives him to Paul’s door. Inside, Paul seems to hear him there. But in the hallway, Bela once again hesitates as he’s driven to instead wander down to his daughter’s door.
He sways at her door, as if trying to resist this powerful urge from inside his mind but he can’t stop his compulsion until it is satisfied.
He enters her room.
Commentary: Once again though, the music is an issue. It’s not exactly poor, but it isn’t really doing the job of a soundtrack either and is more intrusive than it is helpful. Having these scenes only be Bela and the creak of the floors as he’s on the stalk would’ve been far scarier as he readies to murder his daughter and it is a real disservice that they shoved this random soundtrack in.
Scene 60: Inside her room, Virginia is sound asleep as Bela removes his robe and approaches the bed [And yes, despite his being fully dressed it is difficult not to get a rapey-vibe in common with when he closed in on Cecilia which just makes this scene all that much more gut-tightening -- even though I know that Virginia is obvs going to get a save].
Mr. Kessler is just about to jump on Virginia, when a lightening strike seems to stun him out of his trance. He gazes around in complete confusion at where he’s found himself.
As thunder roars overhead, a very confused and disturbed Bela leaves his sleeping daughter.
Commentary: Yes, I already knew Virginia was going to be saved. But I still really liked this whole sequence with her near miss. Bela does some wonderful face-acting, especially with his eyes and the disrobing at the foot of his daughter’s bed was supremely squicktastic [which probably wasn’t actually recognized as sexually suggestive at the time] as well as just chilling… if only that music wasn’t here….
Scene 61: In his room, the still completely dressed Paul [minus his dinner jacket and still on the same magazine page, I think] hears movement in the hallway again. He gets up.
He follows after Bela as Mr. Kessler returns to the parlor room. Something in his manner has Paul concerned for him and when he finds him staring out into the rain, Paul asks whether he’s feeling ill.
He greets Paul, as if he’s just coming out his daze still and is confused to find himself standing in the parlor. Bela puts it all down to sleepwalking, and though Paul is still obviously worried, he returns to his room while Bela states he’ll read for awhile.
He starts to, but he can’t keep his attention from the parlor window though he doesn’t understand of course what has him so disturbed out in the night. Once again, Betty Kessler can’t seem to stay away, even in a thunderstorm. The share stares once again.
Her eyes glare in at him. He has a dizzying moment and then gets another look of growing rage on his face. When he glances back at the window, Betty has melted away into the darkness again.
He reaches for the windows and gives it a double-fist clench shake.
Commentary: Okay, c’mon! Now, clearly having to play this scene twice is a form of padding… better than the random shots of cook in the kitchen and writing letters at desks but still….
Yeah, this story could’ve used a bit of restructuring into more of a mystery rather than a thriller in which we’re all just waiting for somebody to realize that their murderer in the house is somebody already in the house and look more closely at the three plausible possibilities.
Scene 62: The following morning, Virginia, Paul and Bela are all coming downstairs together. Mention is made that when Bela went to bed finally, he was so tired he can’t even remember going to his room.
They find the painting of a young Betty torn in its frame, specifically around the throat. Bela has a moment of near-tears before he suddenly wonders if anyone was hurt and rushes off for the servant’s quarters.
Meanwhile, Virginia and Paul gaze at the ruined painting of her mother. Virginia complains that nothing could’ve hurt her father more.
Scene 63: In the kitchen, Bela first asks after Evans welfare and the man clearly hasn’t been into the entryway yet to see what was done the night before. Mr. Kessler notices the cook not in yet and gets concerned for her safety next.
The cook is not to be found, though Evans believes she followed through on her plans to go to the market early. Kessler is too worried to assume.
Scene 64: In the entryway yet, Virginia asks Paul if there could be a connection between the vandalizing and “what’s happened before…” [You mean the murders that are continuing while nobody will leave the house, Virginia? Yeah, I would guess so. I admire Paul for restraining himself from an epic eyeroll.]
Scene 65: In the kitchen with Evans as he’s preparing the morning coffee, Marie comes in with a fresh basket of food to Bela’s relief. She wonders after why he seemed so relieved after he walks about and Evans, with obvious amusement, says that he thought she’d been murdered.
She goes on for a moment about her planned apple pie before Evans odd statement catches up with her brain.
Scene 66: In the entryway, Paul, Virginia and now Bela all stare at the destroyed painting. The door bell buzzes. It’s Detective Williams, who apparently was summoned by Virginia.
Bela points out the painting and Williams tells them that nobody crept into the house the night before as Detective Bruiser and his boys were out there watching the house all night [but apparently not the back yard, Detective Cigar Chomping so shut up].
Paul summons the Detective to point out a pair of shoes pointing out from behind a curtain, as if someone is hiding in the parlor. Williams pulls out his gun.
The shoes turn out to belong to Detective Ryan! And he’s dead! And he stood there all night being dead, somehow through the science of instant rigor mortis! And without The Boys having seen a thing!
Commentary: Oh, damn it. I have so much good will everyone and now it’s all looking like it’ll be pissed away right at the end with stupidity in order to fill out the inadequate run time. DAMN IT.
Scene 67: [Jeez… how many more scene swaps are we going to cram in here.]
Shortly later, Paul finds a string caught in the destroyed painting of Mrs. Kessler.
Scene 68: In the kitchen, Williams and Kessler question the cook. She says she heard nothing weird the night before, but is convinced that something odd is going on around there [which, yes… but remember she’s not up to date on the murders].
She tells them that she’s left food on the counter three times now, and it has disappeared on her. Detective Williams says she should hire a detective to watch it and leaves, apparently not finding the possibility that there is an intruder hiding still in the house to be one possibility.
Kessler tells her with a grin that is what she gets for being such an excellent cook.
Scene 69: In the entryway, Williams rejoins a considering Paul. He hands over the string found caught in the canvas and Williams goes to search the upstairs for a match to the fragment. He instructs Paul to keep everybody downstairs.
Scene 70: A bit later, Paul, Virginia and Bela are laughing together over something they were discussing when Williams barrels in holding the incriminating robe.
For some reason it was found in Evans’ room. Bela poo-poos whether Williams is trying to implicate Evans because of a string in the painting canvas and Virginia tells him any such suspicions are ridiculous.
He’s ready to all but accuse Evans right now, but Paul and Bela both suggest caution. Paul wants to summon a psychiatrist as one bit of string isn’t enough to prove anything. A suggestion that Williams immediately finds preposterous but very quickly comes around to agreeing to because why not?
Scene 71: That evening, a psychiatrist visits the Kessler home. Everyone has gathered in Bela’s bedroom for some reasoning. The doctor is there to ask Evans a few questions to see if he’s displaying any insanity. Bela sends Virginia to summon Evans for him, but then to go up to her room until the men folk have things in hand.
Paul asks the doctor if it’s possible for a man to seem completely sane for months at a time, then suddenly turn psycho for an hour or two before returning to normal. Dr. White Hair assures him it’s completely possible… just as the lights go out.
Bela goes to look at the fuse box, but Paul stops him to light candles instead.
Scene 72: In the meantime, Virginia meets Evans at the stairs where he hands her a lantern. She tells him about her father wanting to see him in his room.
Commentary: Another padded scene, to be sure. I’m trying to stay with our program now that we’re reaching the end point, but I’m disappointed because things were going so well and now everything is coasting along until a dramatic reveal, killing the momentum with empty scenes to fill time. Damn it.
Scene 73: Evans comes in to announce that Maria was sent to the store for more fuses to repair the electricity issue. In the meantime, Bela tells Evans to take a seat for the doctor. Evans is a bit nonplussed to be invited to sit in his boss’ chair and then a bit worried when everyone makes clear they want to talk to him.
Clearly a group of white men crowding into the African American with judgment face should do wonders to put Evans at ease.
[Hey! Mr. Kessler’s name is “Charles” … well, I’m not going through this whole review to change his first name now, g’d damn it. Consider him to be Bela Charles Kessler, now and he, uh, generally goes by his middle name.]
The doctor starts asking questions of Evans about whether he thinks Mr. Kessler is insane to Bela’s momentary surprise and Evan’s shock.
Scene 74: Meanwhile downstairs, Betty is sneaking into the kitchen in search of food. She gets herself a turkey leg.
From the servant’s hallway, one of The Boys and a uniform comes in to find out who she is and why she’s there [I’m not clear if they saw her wander in, or if they’re just generally searching the place while Williams is keeping everybody else busy upstairs].
She acts guardedly over her turkey leg. That and her bathrobe points out to him that she’s, uh, got an issue or two.
Betty tells him that she has to go home to her husband and daughter, and The "One Of The Boys" Boy [Detective Tim?] plays along, telling her that he knows right where she lives and wants to help her.
She’s almost grateful that somebody can help her to get home, but then she crazies that “… but I’m dead, understand… I’m dead” at him. He goes ahead a plays along with that too. He instructs her to come along with him [And for some reason, he keeps calling her ‘young lady’ despite the fact that she’s a) NOT and b) Hasn’t evinced any kind of behavior to suggest that she believes she is her younger self and c) is probably older than he is. It’s very, very weird.].
He leads her away.
Commentary: Which is all coming across as a Deux Ex Ex-Wife-Appearance to cause Bela to enter another killer period and unravel everything that has been happening at the last minute making the entire “investigation” … what little of it there has actually been… entirely superfluous to the plot. Damn it. Damn it, I was really liking this film.
Scene 75: Upstairs, the doctor is now asking if Evans thinks that Detective Williams is crazy. Evans answers “I don’t think so” while side-eying that he may be not all that sure.
Scene 76: In the meantime, Betty is being led toward the stairs when she pulls away from Detective Tim’s hand to stare at the destroyed portrait of herself. She crazies to the police that she knows the woman in the painting. She describes her as wicked and that she can’t go home.
Detective Tim draws her away to continue up to Bela’s bedroom meeting.
Commentary: I’m going to go ahead and give Betty Compson some props here. She hasn’t had anything much to do but stare in windows but here she’s allowed to act and she’s doing a marvelous job. In fact, there is something in her voice inflection in this particular scene that made me think of Juliet Landau as Drusilla for some reason for just a moment.
Scene 77: In the bedroom meeting, Williams is asking about Bela’s robe. He asks about Evans having it, but Evans claims not to know what he’s talking about.
In the meantime, Betty is still being led through the hallway.
She’s escorted into the bedroom meeting. Evans exclaims “Mrs. Kessler!” in complete shock, while Bela has another psycho-reaction. Mrs. Kessler tells Mr. Kessler that she’s dead, while they stare at one another.
While Bela is starting to sway back and forth, Betty goes on to tell him that she’s afraid to come home. She states that he’d kill her, he’d kill anybody. Williams joins the dots that were already joined for him, as Bela starts staggering in his wife’s direction. Betty is hustled away, while Bela staggers after her as everyone else watches his reactions.
Commentary: And somehow, the music is even more inappropriate than at every other time it’s been inserted. What the hell were they thinking??
Johnny Lang and Lew Porter undoubtedly had only stock music for Monogram Pictures at their disposal since this is a cheapie movie but they just failed to match visuals with their music at all. I’m also going to put some blame on Mr. Beaudine who surely, as director, could have chosen to go sans music and Robert Golden as Editor who certainly could’ve pressed for more moments of silence over the ridiculously random score.
Scene 78: Bela Kessler is followed for a short distance down the hallway, before he very suddenly turns to attack/throttle Detective Williams!
For some reason, only Paul Dickson bothered to follow along and he now wrestles with Bela Kessler. For another some reason, when everyone starts to come out to the sounds of the struggle, the Psychiatrist stops Evans from helping and Paul orders Virginia to get back in her room, and she listens to him despite seeing her father strangling a Detective in the hallway.
Scene 79: Meanwhile in the bedroom that Paul was using, the Uniform and Detective Tim don’t hear the wrestling match playing out in the hallway. Tim is still telling Kessler that he’ll get her home. She suddenly collapses out of the chair she was sitting placidly in and onto the floor.
Commentary: Yeah, I’d say I’m just a little annoyed at this point. Let’s just wrap this up… everything is out in the open now, we just need the Psychiatrist to spout out an explanation for Bela’s psychotic breaks, Virginia to discover her mother is alive, and Betty to tell us exactly what happened that night when she tried to run off with her apparently piece-on-the-side so long ago. And we’re down to like, 90 seconds-ish.
Scene 80: In the hallway, Bela chokes out Williams, while Paul stands there ineffectively and nobody else tries to intervene or to call for backup.
In the guest room, Detective Tim announces the very sudden death of Betty Kessler!!
Commentary: WAIT, WHAT!?! She’s suddenly just dead… from shock, one would think, but still…! Okay, I really didn’t see that one coming at all.
But what the hell is with everybody letting Williams continue to get strangled… it’s … it’s actually hilarious.
Scene 81: With Betty’s sudden death, Bela Charles Kessler suddenly comes out of his sudden murderous trance [you just know we’re going to get zero reason for this entire psychic connection plot point even though it’s been referred to throughout the entire picture].
Detective Williams has to break it to Bela that Evans wasn’t their killer but he was himself. He doesn’t take it so well, as you can imagine.
Commentary: This was a wonderful acting job by Bela here. He really nailed his close up of the realizing Kessler and left me feeling so crushed for him. It’s a shame that he had to spend so much time making cheapie horror, because the man could act when you gave him something to work with.
Scene 82: As he’s being marched out to the police station, he gazes at his destroyed painting. He tells her that he knew she’d come back and that they can never be parted now… not knowing that his returned wife is actually dead upstairs.
And that it… nothing as explanation for the night Betty left, nothing for the psychic link [as I expected in that case], nothing about Virginia being told her mother came home… and then died! Nothing.
What a flabbergasting ending. Damn it.
The Good: First, I'm going to give a nod to director William Beaudine. I'm also acknowledging strong acting by Bela Lugosi as the tragic Charles Kessler, Betty Compson as the ultimately doomed Mrs. Kessler and Clarence Muse as Evans.
I really liked the beginning and the sadness of Bela's having dinner with his absent wife and the way that Virginia and especially Evans supports him through it.
I absolutely loved the shock of Betty Kessler actually being back and on the property [alas for The Bad].
The murders of both Cecile the scheming maid and the stalking of Virginia were especially well handled. I also loved some of the shots of Betty and Bela staring at one another, especially during that thunderstorm scene. That was wonderfully composed and filmed.
The Bad: The revelation that Betty was back and hidden the entire time in the Kessler garage was totally mishandled every step of the way. Her part in the story was treated as a McGuffin to reveal her husband as the killer [not to mention giving him the impetus to murder unknowingly] rather than have her play a central role in the denoument. It's not only a badly handled way to treat the character in the story, but it's also just a bizarre choice!
And in this vein, Jules' role in the story also makes little sense and is never given an adequate explanation. In addition, his wife's role is so perfunctory and unnecessary that I don't even know what she's doing in the story at all.
I was going to put a comment about the inappropriate music in Other Thoughts, but by the end of the film, it was really bugging me just how out of place it was. I'm especially annoyed during its intrusion of the stalking of the sleeping Virginia when we should've had nothing but the creaking floor under the entire scene.
As per usual, the police's role in this mess is ridiculous. I'm especially irritated by Detective Bruiser Ryan's body being found in a standing position in the Kessler parlor. That was a superemely stupid moment.
Other Thoughts: I didn't include Polly Ann Young or John McGuire in The Good, but I want to state that they both had some stronger scenes, that I enjoyed. They just weren't reaching for excellence. I feel that John's work was much better as Paul than as the lovestruck Ralph.
Also, George Pembroke didn't irritate the way he did as Over-Acting Ernie the Executioner in the mentioned earlier film, but he has enough line delivery quirks to bug me. I'd call his scenes as varying in quality.
I liked the implication of some kind of psychic link between husband and wife but I wish it had been addressed somehow within the story. I can live with ambiguity on this point, but some kind of whack at explaining it would've been nice.
I do wish there was more room to breathe in the film, especially at the beginning when we're still dealing with Ralph's mistaken arrest and trial. It's also just a bad step that more wasn't done with his death's pall over Virginia, Paul and Detective Williams later in the film. In fact, in general, I'm just not happy with the lack of scenes with Polly Ann Young as Virginia, especially in the denouement. Her entire life has been basically destroyed but all of that is left for her to deal with off-screen... it's such a waste!
I have no idea what the elderly cook's role was about. There was no reason for this character to have scenes. And I can put the Psychiatrist here, too, since he has no impact on anything.
The story and characters, but especially acting, did carry me through to the end so it stays out of the bad but pacing was a problematic thing as we closed in on the end. The last 20 minutes or so especially started dragging for me. I also really wish that this script had been set up as more of a mystery [and it would've been even better had Bela Kessler been a red herring the entire time, though who I'd set up as the killer I'm not sure -- probably Virginia, less well adjusted to her mother's running off than she thought].
The Score: Here again, as is the habit with these old films, I was really into the story and characters and it had all of my good will... and then....
I'm mostly really just annoyed and disappointed with the way that Betty's entire history and story was ignored so she could be the McGuffin of the film and the way that because she was shunted off to a very sudden death, Virginia was also left without her huge, emotional scene. There is this huge hole in the script where Betty Kessler is concerned and that space was filled with pointless scene switches and the characters of Jules' wife and the Elderly Cook, Maria. Damn it.
2.75 out of 5
Next Up: "Secrets" in The Walking Dead
"The Benders" in Supernatural
"The Mole People" for movie reviews.
BTVS, Season 10, Issue 18
Angel & Faith, Season 2, Issue 17