ONE FRIGHTENED NIGHT
(director: William Christy Cabanne; screenwriters: from a story by Stuart Palmer/W. Totman; cinematographers: William Nobles/Ernest Miller; editors: Joseph H. Lewis/Ray Curtiss; cast: Regis Toomey (Tom Dean), Charles Grapewin (Jasper Whyte), Mary Carlisle (Doris Waverly), Arthur Hohl (Arthur Proctor), Evelyn Knapp (1st Doris), Wallace Ford (Joe Luvalle), Hedda Hopper (Laura Proctor), Lucien Littlefield (Dr. Denham), Fred Kelsey (Sheriff), Adrian Morris (Abner, Deputy), Rafaela Ottiano (Elvira, Housekeeper), Clarence H. Wilson (Felix, Lawyer); Runtime: 69; Mascot; 1935)
“A flawed production which doesn’t hold up to modern standards of thrillers, but it was a fun film mixing melodrama with comedy.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A routine B-film thriller that sparkles because of the mischievously devilish performance by Charles Grapewin as Jasper Whyte, an eccentric old grouch with a keen sense of humor and wit.
With the new state inheritance tax going into effect tomorrow, multi-millionaire Jasper Whyte schemes to avoid paying that tax. He gathers together in his home his anxious relatives and housekeeper Elvira (Ottiano) and associates, and announces that he intends to give away his fortune to his absent for twenty years granddaughter Doris — but if she doesn’t show up for the reading of the will, the money will be divided evenly among the heirs with each getting around a million dollars. Jasper had a disagreement with Doris’s mother over the man she married and they haven’t seen each other since.
Soon a girl appears and says she’s Doris (Evalyn Knapp), that she answered a newspaper ad placed by Jasper’s lawyer Felix (Wilson). Then another girl appears, a touring actress in a vaudeville show appearing in nearby Boston, and she also claims to be Doris (Mary Carlisle); she’s accompanied by her friend, a magician named The Great Luvalle (Ford). She says before her mother died she told her to see Jasper whenever she gets a chance to.
After being served coffee by Elvira — Doris ‘Number One’ is poisoned and the heirs start immediately blaming each other for the murder. The sheriff and his deputy are called in to investigate the crime, and prove to be buffoons. There is an attempt on the life of the other Doris with a poison dart gun, which makes almost everyone a suspect. Jasper believes she is the real Doris after she displays her mother’s temper and tells him off for doubting her. She says that he’s the most hateful person she ever met.
The suspect list narrows down to the following for the murder of Doris: Whyte’s great-nephew Tom (Regis Toomey), a playboy type and big spender, who gets romantically interested in Doris and is currently broke; the relative through marriage to Laura (Hopper), Arthur Proctor (Hohl), who is short on his bank accounts due to bad investments and needs a million dollars to balance his books; the greedy Dr. Denham (Littlefield), who purposely lets Jasper win at cribbage all these years to get in his good graces; and, the lawyer Felix, who handles all Jasper’s business affairs.
It was a flawed production which doesn’t hold up to modern standards of thrillers, but it was a fun film mixing melodrama with comedy. The film had the conventional trappings of a mystery story: an eerie house, shadowy suspects, a hidden passageway, a room not opened for twenty years until now, a masked killer running around undetected, a wisecracking Toomey as a suspect, a rigid housekeeper who looks guilty, a little romance going on in the face of danger between the real Doris and Toomey, and rainy weather at night.
REVIEWED ON 9/2/2001 GRADE: C