SPHINX, THE(directors: Phil Rosen/Wilfred Lucas; screenwriter: Albert E. DeMond; cinematographer: Gilbert Warrenton; editor: Doane Harrison; music: Abe Meyer; cast: Lionel Atwill (Jerome Breen), Sheila Terry (Jerry Crane), Ted Newton (Jack Burton), Paul Hurst (Terrence Hogan), Luis Alberni (Bacigalupi); Runtime: 63; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Trem Carr; Monogram; 1933)
“One of those fun old-fashioned films.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An El Cheapo B-movie crime drama from Monogram that has an iron-clad gimmick, and plays as one of those fun old-fashioned films I can never resist watching on a grey Sunday afternoon. It was remade in 1942 as The Phantom Killer. There are two directors listed — Phil Rosen and Wilfred Lucas.
The Sphinx asks the rhetorical question if a witness to a crime can be mistaken about what he swears he saw. After a brutal murder of a stock broker by strangulation has been committed, an office building custodian (Alberni) comes forth as the eyewitness who identifies wealthy philanthropist Jerome Breen (Lionel Atwill) at the scene of the crime. The prosecution’s case depends solely on the witness’s certainty that Breen approached him and asked for the correct time. But the defense proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Breen could not have spoken to anyone because he’s been a mute since birth plus his vocal chords have been severed. There’s also the question of the soberness of the heavy drinking custodian.
The film lacked suspense other than figuring out how it was possible for the mute to talk, the romantic leads provide no sparks together, and the overall production is dated. But the film is more than watchable, and the story is actually quite good and the dialogue is often very witty. It was also a pleasure to watch the masterful villain Lionel Atwill come through with a glorious almost all non-verbal performance.
As the murders continue in the city, ace reporter Jack Burton (Theodore Newton) begins to get suspicious, but his unreceptive sweetheart Jerry Crane (Sheila Terry) believes in Breen’s innocence and even starts dating the charming, deaf-mute tycoon. The film concludes with Breen’s secret revealed at last — which places Jerry in grave danger, who while playing the piano in Breen’s apartment has stumbled onto a piece of evidence that can send her date to the electric chair.
REVIEWED ON 4/6/2004 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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