Astrid Allwyn, Gustav von Seyffertitz, and Cornelius Keefe in Mystery Liner (1934)


(director: William Nigh; screenwriters: Wellyn Totman/based on the novel “The Ghost of John Holling” by Edgar Wallace; cinematographer: Archie Stout; editor: Carl Pierson; cast: Noah Beery (Capt. John Holling), Astrid Allwyn (Lila Kane), Edwin Maxwell (Major Pope), Gustav von Seyffertitz (Inspector Von Kessling), Ralph Lewis (Prof. Grimson), Cornelius Keefe (First Officer Cliff Rogers), Zeffie Tilbury (Granny Plimpton), Boothe Howard (Capt. Downey), Howard Hickman (Dr. Howard), Jerry Stewart (Edgar Morton), George Hayes (Joe, the watchman), George Cleveland (Simms the Steward), John Maurice Sullivan (Watson), Olaf Hytten (Grimson’s Aide); Runtime: 62; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Paul Malvern; MGM; 1934)
“Acceptable sci-fi whodunit programmer about several murders taking place on an ocean liner over a new high-tech invention.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Acceptable sci-fi whodunit programmer about several murders taking place on an ocean liner over a new high-tech invention. It’s based on the novel “The Ghost of John Holling” by Edgar Wallace; the screenplay is by Wellyn Totman. Director William Nigh (“The Strange Case of Dr. Rx”/”Stage Struck”/”I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes”) does only a fair job in keeping things moving, as too much remains static and chatty.

Captain Holling (Noah Beery), the skipper of the Guthrie, is deemed unfit for duty by the ship’s Dr. Howard (Howard Hickman) because of a mental disorder and sent to a sanitarium on the day before the ocean liner is to sail. Shipowner Watson (John Maurice Sullivan) promotes Chief Mate Downey (Boothe Howard) to captain and his rival Cliff Rogers (Cornelius Keefe) takes his spot. The ship officers are both interested in pretty ship nurse Ms. Kane (Astrid Allwyn), and have a falling out over her when she chooses Rogers. The newly promoted men are told they have a secret mission on this voyage as the radio communication invention of Professor Grimson (Ralph Lewis), called the “S-505,” will enable the control of the seas (it’s capable of steering the vessel by remote control).

When Professor Grimson barely survives a rope strangulation, Watson eschews the police and calls instead on a private investigator, an army major named Pope (Edwin Maxwell). The private eye soon learns from the ship doctor that Holling was poisoned through voodoo with a rare tropical drug to induce his mental breakdown, and later is told by the steward (George Cleveland) that Holling has been mysteriously spotted in the cabin of one of the guests, the cranky granny Mrs. Plimpton (Zeffie Tilbury), on vacation with her grandson Edgar (Jerry Stewart) to rest her nerves. Everyone but the comical granny becomes suspicious of the aristocratic German passenger Von Kessling (Gustav von Seyffertitz), who is always snooping around. Things really start hopping when right before the S-505 test, Downey is killed by strangulation as he tries to send a televised message to Watson on shore.

Look for a clean-shaven Gabby Hayes in a minor part as a watchman. Film buffs might also recognize noted British character actor Olaf Hytten, who as the professor’s assistant can be seen working the levers and knobs of the “S-505.” Top bill Noah Beery only had two brief scenes and was obviously recruited only to give the film some name recognition.