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SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE (director: Reginald Barker; screenwriters: from the novel by Earl Derr Biggers/from the play by George M. Cohan; cinematographer: Edward Cronjager; music: Roy Webb; cast: Richard Dix (William Halliwell Magee), Miriam Seegar (Mary Norton), Margaret Livingston (Myra Thornhill), Lucien Littlefield (Thomas Hayden), DeWitt Jennings (Mayor Jim Cargan), Nella Walker (Mrs. Irene Rhodes), Joseph Allen (Peters, the Hermit), Carleton Macy (Pol. Chief Kennedy), Alan Roscoe (Bland), Craufurd Kent (Hal Bentley), Harvey Clark (Elijah Quimby), Edith Yorke (Mrs. Quimby), Joseph Herbert (Max); Runtime: 75; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Louis Sarecky; RKO; 1929)
“This sort of old-fashioned theatrical piece can only work on the stage.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Reginald Barker (“Bunty Pulls the Strings”) directs this early talkie, an old theatrical warhorse that was filmed in 1917 and 1925 as silents and later in 1935, 1947 and 1987. It’s based on the novel by Earl Derr Biggers (creator of Charlie Chan) and was adapted from the novel by George M. Cohan into a hit Broadway play.

Richard Dix plays the famous NYC novelist William Magee, a restless bachelor who’s having trouble being inspired to write his newest novel. In a Manhattan club, Magee’s agent Hal Bentley (Crauford Kent) wagers $5,000 that he’ll not be able to finish the book within 24 hours. Magee maintains if he can find the loneliest spot in the world, in such peace and quiet he can do it. Hal offers him the only key he has to the inn he owns, the Baldpate Inn, in a remote spot in rural upstate New York. The place is a summer resort, but during winter it’s closed and deserted. On that same cold winter night, Magee’s whisked off there by train. After spending all day and night there, the bet would be won by Magee if he turns in a novel up to his usual high standards.

Magee’s quiet is soon broken by a number of visitors, all possessing the same supposed only key he has to the inn. The intruders include: a gangster (Alan Roscoe) carrying a $200,000 bribe he placed in the inn’s safe, the crooked Mayor Jim Cargan (DeWitt Jennings), a hermit (Joseph Allen) pretending to be a ghost, a lady posing as the wife (Margaret Livingston) of a railroad president (Lucien Littlefield), the woman (Nella Walker) engaged to marry the mayor, the crooked police chief (Carleton Macy) and the NYC reporter Mary Norton (Miriam Seegar) whom Magee fell in love with on first sight when introduced by his agent the other night.

It all builds to a trick ending. Everything about this production was stilted and stagy, as I imagine this sort of old-fashioned theatrical piece can only work on the stage. RKO mainly used it to try out sound effect technical feats such as rolling thunder and gunfire.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”