Warner Oland and Dorothy Wilson in Before Dawn (1933)


(director: Irving Pichel; screenwriter: from the story “Death Watch” by Edgar Wallace/Garrett Fort/Ralph Block/Marion Dix; cinematographer: Lucien Andriot; editor: William Hamilton; music: Max Steiner; cast: Warner Oland (Dr. Paul Cornelius), Dorothy Wilson (Patricia Merrick), Dudley Digges (Horace Merrick), Stuart Erwin (Det. Dwight Wilson), Oscar Apfel (Inspector O’Hara), Gertrude Hoffman (Mattie), Frank Reicher (Joe Valerie), Jane Darwell (Mrs. Marble); Runtime: 60; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Shirley Burden; RKO; 1933)

Entertaining haunted ‘Old Dark House’ cheapie yarn.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Entertaining haunted ‘Old Dark House’ cheapie yarn directed by Irving Pichel (“The Most Dangerous Game”/”She”/ “Santa Fe”). It’s based on a story by Brit writer Edgar Wallace, and is mainly written by Garrett Fort. It’s worth seeing to catch Warner Oland who plays Charlie Chan, in one of his better creepie villain roles other than Fu Manchu.

American fugitive Joe Valerie (Frank Reicher) before dying in a Vienna hospital tells sinister clinic research psychologist, Dr. Cornelius (Warner Oland), that fifteen years ago he pulled a robbery that netted him a million bucks and hid the money in his American house in NYC, that’s owned by Mrs. Marble (Jane Darwell). When Mrs. Marble learns of Joe’s death a few weeks later, she tells her tight-lipped elderly housekeeper Mattie (Gertrude Hoffman) it’s time to search for the loot stashed somewhere in a secret room. But Marble gets a fright when she thinks Joe’s ghost is present and takes a fatal fall down the stairs. Meanwhile undercover cop Dwight Wilson (Stuart Erwin) arrests the medium, Patricia Merrick (Dorothy Wilson) and her father Horace Merrick (Dudley Digges), while engaging in a sting operation. To get the charges dismissed, pop suggests to Wilson that he give his daughter a chance to prove she’s not a charlatan by solving a difficult case. A reluctant chief of detectives, John O’Hara (Oscar Apfel), after sampling her credibility to see things in the other world allows the medium to stay at Mrs. Marble’s house after a brief visit there, and soon Cornelius arrives. Patricia’s greedy father and the malevolent Cornelius, pretending to care only about the psychological aspects of the case, vie with each other for the missing money, and before things are solved three others will die and in the end the cop will marry the medium.