Mysteries and horrors, after the jump....
Charlie Chan at the Circus
Charlie Chan and his large family are invited to enjoy the circus by one of the owners, who that night is found dead in a locked trailer with no real exit. A fun one, especially for this lover of carny films: Charlie Chan rides a circus train! Lee Chan romances a contortionist! Lee disguised as a woman! There's a gorilla! The kind of solution that makes you go, "NO WAY!" in both frustration and admiration! Maybe my favorite so far?
Charlie Chan at the Opera
Charlie Chan and son Lee protect the company of an opera from an asylum escapee (Boris Karloff!), but when there's a murder onstage, they must solve the case before the end of the night! A fun gag where Lee gets his fraternity involved. Really well-done entry.
Charlie Chan at the Race Track
Charlie Chan and son Lee must uncover the head of a gang that's committing some skullduggery at the races - which also includes murder. How many times must Charlie Chan save the reputation of an animal? Feels like there's more action than in the other two this year, but there's not as much excitement.
Two inmates escape, one a banker framed for embezzlement, the other a mad scientist who has come up with a way to shrink people and mind-control them into doing his bidding. The banker uses the technology (?) to exact revenge on the people who framed him, disguising himself as a little old lady with a toy shop. Director Tod Browning once again makes eerie dreams into reality: to see these miniature dolls do crimes while Lionel Barrymore intensely stares is simultaneously amusing and creepy. Terrific score!
Every time I think of this film, I can't wait to watch it again, but the actual act of watching it is always more tedious than I remember. Not the fault of star Gloria Holden, mesmerizing as the woman who wishes to be cured of vampirism, nor of writers Garrett Fort, John L. Balderston, and Oliver Jeffries (real name: David O. Selznick!), who craft a tale about the impossibility of redemption for those who are cursed. Is it the pacing set by director Lambert Hillyer and editor Milton Carruth? Maybe, yes: there's a deadly tick-tock-let's-go quality to the "straight" scenes, while the action of the climax lumbers on. Yet they're also responsible for the legendary Nan Grey seduction scene, the eerie piano scene, and the mostly good performances. One of those performances is not Marguerite Churchill as the hero's love interest: she's delivering lines that any other actress could make bold, flirtatious, intelligent, but instead goes for brash and obnoxious - jarring. Odd movie. I can't wait to watch it again.
The Invisible Ray
A genius locates a meteorite while on expedition in Africa and discovers a new radioactive, Radium X; prolonged exposure drives him mad...mad and homicidal. The third team-up of Karloff and Lugosi, with Karloff as the man gone mad and Lugosi as a sympathetic doctor who wants to help him. This and The Black Cat prove, to me, that Lugosi is at his best in hero mode (gosh, imagine him as a Van Helsing!), while Karloff appears incapable of delivering anything but The Goods. Wild, you might even say delirious, screenplay that goes from sci-fi to adventure to horror without stopping for breath.
Meet Nero Wolfe
Edward Arnold is the beer-loving agoraphobic P.I., Lionel Stander his on-the-ground investigator, Archie. The crime: two mysterious deaths, supposed strangers, that don't even look like murder. , yet must be, and are connected. Love Lionel Stander, but overall, the movie feels like something made to fulfill a quota. Arnold not very appealing here.
Whodunnit set at the Hollywood Bowl. Murder takes place at the 30-minute mark, movie ends 36 minutes later. All that happens are two murders, eleven suspects, three musical numbers, a love story, law-breaking as a sign of true friendship, and a heartbreaking finale, morally grey. Oh, wow, what a film! What! A! Film! Strong ensemble, though Leo Carrillo's my favorite as the star tenor who seems like a great friend but an awful beau.
Satan Met a Lady
A comedic version of The Maltese Falcon, replacing that titular bird with some legendary horn. Bette Davis considered it the worst film she'd ever done. Bette Davis was perceptive. It's too desperate to make you laugh to actually be funny.
Tomorrow, a handful of stage-to-screen adaptations.