(director: Henry Levin; screenwriter: Dwight V. Babcock/Malcolm Stuart Boylan/; cinematographer: Henry Freulich; editor: Arthur Seid; music: Alexander Steinert; cast: Karen Morley (Rachel Martin), Jim Bannon (Jack Packard), Jeff Donnell (Nina Arnold), Robert E. Scott (Young Lawyer), Robert Wilcox (Richard Arnold), Barton Yarborough (Doc Long), James Bell (Edward Martin), Wilton Graff (Ralph Martin), Helen Freeman (Phoebe Martin), Boyd Davis (Capt. Selby Martin), J. Louis Johnson Joshua), Russell Hicks (Colonel Wetherford); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Wallace MacDonald; Columbia; 1946)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This was last of the short-running “I Love a Mystery” series based on the popular radio show. Henry Levin (“I Love a Mystery”/”The Devil’s Mask”/”The Corpse Came C.O.D.”) directs in a workmanlike way this overwrought mystery that never seems lucid, inspired or anything but hokey. The writers are Dwight V. Babcock and Malcolm Stuart Boylan. It’s about an oddball dysfunctional privileged southern family who come apart when the overbearing matriarch, Phoebe Martin (Helen Freeman), is afraid a scandal will destroy the respectable family’s reputation.
In 1946, the 20-year-old single Nina Arnold (Jeff Donnell) is accompanied to a vast but crumbling and creepy Kentucky plantation by two NYC private detectives, Jack Packard (Jim Bannon) and Doc Long (Barton Yarborough), to attend the reading of the will of her estranged grandmother Phoebe Martin by the young family lawyer (Robert E. Scott) from Philadelphia.
The background story goes back some twenty odd years when Phoebe and her Confederate Captain husband Selby Martin (Boyd Davis) are hosting in their mansion the wedding reception of their daughter Rachel (Karen Morley), that was arranged by Phoebe, to another respected southern family but find out Rachel a week before secretly married Richard Arnold (Robert Wilcox). When Selby fails to get his daughter to go through with the marriage to the Wetherford boy, he pulls a pistol on Richard after threatening to have the marriage to his 18-year-old daughter annulled. They tussle and the gun accidentally goes off killing Selby. Phoebe, fearing a scandal, has hubby quietly buried behind the fireplace wall of his study and has everyone in the house, Rachel and her embittered oldest sculptor brother Edward (James Bell) and his hostile hard-of-hearing drunken brother Ralph (Wilton Graff), withdraw from the world and remain strictly under her thumb. Rachel gives birth to Nina, but the child is raised back east and is supported on the quiet by Phoebe. In time, the heartbroken Rachel becomes a deranged amnesiac and Richard has left for good after having been forced off the property and threatened with being charged with murder if he returns.
Phoebe’s twisted sons are upset that outsider Nina is attending the reading of the will and do everything in their power to prevent her from inheriting her share of the estate. There are a few twists, a murder and the discovery of a secret passage leading from the main house to the crypt located on the grounds. The murder scene is poorly executed, and the filmmaker must be out of his cotton-picking mind if he thinks for even a New York second his lunatic murderer is believable.
After things get resolved and all the strange happenings in the house are explained, it still seems as if the plot was hatched by someone with a few screws missing.
REVIEWED ON 11/11/2007 GRADE: C+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/