THE UNHOLY NIGHT
(director: Lionel Barrymore; screenwriters: from the play by Jacques Feyder/story by Ben Hecht/Edwin Justin Mayer/Joseph Farnham/Dorothy Farnum; cinematographer: Ira Morgan; editor: Grant Whytock; music: William Axt; cast: Polly Moran (Polly, maid), George Cooper (Frey, former orderly & current servant of Montague), Sojin (The seance seer), Natalie Moorhead (Lady Violet Montague), John Miljan (Major Mallory), Boris Karloff (Abdul Mohammed Bey – the Hindu Lawyer), Ernest Torrence (Dr. Ballou), Roland Young (Lord Montague), Dorothy Sebastian (Lady Efra Cavendar), Clarence Geldert (Inspector Lewis), Claude Fleming (Sir James Rumsey, chief inspector), Richard Tucker (Col. Davidson), John Loder (Capt. Dorchester), Philip Strange (Lieut. Williams), John Roche (Lieut. Savor), Sydney Jarvis (Jordan, The Butler); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: ; MGM; 1929)
“it’s winsome as an old-fashioned crime drama.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
More suited to its original Jacques Feyder play roots than to the screen. It’s murky, creaky, too talky, too stagey and trips over its plot lines. But, ‘what the hell,’ it’s winsome as an old-fashioned crime drama. American noted actor Lionel Barrymore(“Ten Cents A Dance”/”Madame X”/”The Rogue Song”), more known for his acting than directing, tries his hand at directing and stumbles when he turns to the seances, but otherwise does a fine job of letting the talented cast do their acting thing. It’s based on a story by Ben Hecht. The writers are Edwin Justin Mayer, Joseph Farnham and Dorothy Farnum.
In the London pea-soup fog, an unknown killer has knocked off four members of the same 1915 British military regiment, in Gallipoli, but the fifth potential vic Lord Montague (Roland Young) escapes from being strangled and winds up in Scotland Yard. The chief investigator Sir James Ramsey (Claude Fleming) has the ten surviving regiment officers brought to Montague’s estate for safety and questioning. Also at home is Montague’s occult follower sister, Lady Violet (Natalie Moorhead), and her future hubby, the research scientist, Dr. Ballou (Ernest Torrence), who are holding a seance to communicate with the dead. Soon an hysterical Lady Efra Cavendar (Dorothy Sebastian) runs into the estate wondering if she’s too late to stop another murder. Lady Efra is the wealthy daughter of Major Cavendish, a disgraced officer booted from the fourth regiment for card cheating and since then has hated those fellow officers. Tagging along with Ladt Efra is the Hindu lawyer Abdul Mohammed Bey (Boris Karloff), who informs us that Cavendish has died and reads his disturbed client’s will that bequeaths one million pounds to the lone surviving officer from his old regiment.
The drawing room thriller is a claustrophobic affair, set primarily in the wisecracking brandy and soda drinking spacious home of Lord Montague. Suffering from a stodginess due to its theatrical roots, nevertheless the movie has enough twists to keep you guessing until the climax who is the culprit.
REVIEWED ON 8/9/2014 GRADE: B-