(director: George Archainbaud; screenwriters: Bartlett Cormack, Samuel Ornitz/based on the novel by Tiffany Thayer; cinematographer: Leo Tover; editor: Charles L. Kimball; music: Max Steiner; cast: Irene Dunne (Laura Stanhope), Ricardo Cortez (Sergeant Barry Clive), Jill Esmond (Jo Turner), Myrna Loy (Ursula Georgi), Mary Duncan (June Raskob), Kay Johnson (Helen Dawson Frye), Peg Entwistle (Hazel Clay Cousins), Florence Eldridge (Grace Coombs), Harriet Hagman (May Raskob), C. Henry Gordon (Swami Yogadachi), Wally Albright (Bobby Stanhope), Edward Pawley (Burns, Chauffeur), Blanche Friderici (Miss Kirsten,Teacher), Elsie Prescott (Nan), Marjorie Gateson (Martha); Runtime: 59; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David O. Selznick; Radio Pictures; 1932-B/W)
“A slight crime drama thriller that’s poorly acted and filled with hokum, but has enough charm to be entertaining.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A slight crime drama thriller that’s poorly acted and filled with hokum, but has enough charm to be entertaining. It’s an adaptation of Tiffany Thayer’s trashy novel, that might appeal to fans of the pre-Code era movies or lovers of bad movies.
It’s about a half-Japanese, half-Indian woman, Ursula Georgi (Myrna Loy), who was not accepted by 12 elitist white women at the exclusive boarding school of St. Albans Seminary in San Francisco, after sent there by the missionaries to pass for white to get better opportunities in life after graduating from the college. When rejected by her sorority sisters and racially slurred, she leaves the school and now years later as an adult is seeking a cruel revenge against them by manipulating the prophesies of a fake mystic, Swami Yogadachi (C. Henry Gordon), someone she works for in NYC. Even though he sends the woman cheery horoscopes she changes them to be doom-like horoscopes. These horoscopes from him are made on the request of each sister, who were recommended to him by their trusted former teacher (Blanche Friderici).
Though it’s hardly a work of art (it could have been better received if it took the white racist angle more seriously and didn’t completely demonize the minority villain), but this should not stop the viewer from enjoying such nonsense and applauding Myrna Loy’s outrageous performance as the villain for being so deliciously camp.
Veteran B-film director George Archainbaud (“The Old West”/”Last of The Pony Riders”) and the writers Bartlett Cormack and Samuel Ornitz keep it fast-paced, but barely lucid.
Spoiler alert: read no further if you want to avoid spoilers.
The first of the school alumni to be victims of the deranged Ursula are the upstate NY circus performing partner trapeze artists sisters June Raskob (Mary Duncan) and May Raskob (Harriet Hagman), as June is so rattled by the death threat horoscope letter sent by the swami that during the act her sister falls to her death when she drops her. The incident makes June go insane.
The evil Ursula hypnotizes the swami to go to sleep and sends a letter in his name to Hazel Cousins (Peg Entwistle), correctly predicting she will soon become insane and stab her husband to death and be sent to prison. Entwistle is the noted Welsh stage actress who, in a fit of depression in her real-life, jumped to her death two days after the film was released, doing it from atop the famous HOLLYWOOD sign on the L. A. hills.
Meanwhile the other sorority girls look to the stable Laura Stanhope (Irene Dunne) for leadership, who tells them the horoscopes received are not believable.
Grace (Florence Eldridge) receives a swami letter whereby the swami predicts he will die by July 1st. Under the hypnosis administered by Ursula, giving the swami the ‘evil eye,’ after he predicts Ursula will have a tragic end, the swami commits suicide by jumping onto the tracks as a NYC train pulls into the station and runs him over.
The NYC resident Helen Frye (Kay Johnson) is warned in a swami letter that she will commit suicide before Christmas, and the worried woman calls Laura. Laura’s a widow living in Beverly Hills with her adorable young son Bobby (Wally Albright), and they agree that all the sorority sister survivors should meet at her L.A. house to band together. Helen takes the train to L.A., but shoots herself with her husband’s gun as Ursula meets her on the train and gets her to commit suicide through using hypnosis as a method of suggestion.
In L.A., Ursula goes after her main nemesis, Laura, planning to kill her son Bobby with poisoned candy on his upcoming birthday. After receiving one of those swami letters about Bobby’s demise, Laura goes to the police and to the rescue comes Sergeant Clive (Ricardo Cortez), who becomes her ‘knight in shining armor’ when he figures out who the killer is and traps her into committing suicide on a train and thereby fulfilling the swami’s prophesy.
REVIEWED ON 3/19/2020 GRADE: B-