Secret of the Blue Room (1933)
secret of the blue room | kurt neumann | william hurlbut | lionel atwill | gloria stuart | paul lukas | remake | old dark house | crime | drama | erich philippi | mystery | romance | thriller | united states | edward arnold | onslow stevens | william janney | james durkin
Film: Secret of the Blue Room
Director: Kurt Neumann
Writers: William Hurlbut
Starring: Lionel Atwill, Gloria Stuart and Paul Lukas
This was a movie that I almost watched by accident originally. When I was doing my Trek through the Twos, I found this version streaming on YouTube. It was when I was settling in to watch this and see who stars in this one that I realized it was wrong. From there and looking further I learned that Universal did a remake with more bankable stars a year after the original came out. I'm now watching as a Traverse through the Threes.
Synopsis: twenty years after 3 murders occur in a castle's 'blue room', three men who each want to marry a beautiful girl decide to spend a night in the room to prove their bravery to her.
We start this at the stroke of midnight. It is Irene von Helldorf's (Gloria Stuart) 21st birthday. She is at the manor where she lives with her father, Robert (Lionel Atwill). Also, there are the three suitors from the synopsis. Capt. Walter Brink (Paul Lukas) who is in the military, Frank Faber (Onslow Stevens) who is a newspaper reporter and then the youngest is Thomas Brandt (William Janney). With the singing done, they head into another room for drinks. Tommy takes Irene aside and proposes. She doesn't respond to it and joins the others.
Irene is asked what she wants to do for her birthday. She picks to hear a spooky story. Tommy brings up what happened years ago in the blue room of this manor. This stiffens Robert who is pressed into telling the tale. Three mysterious deaths happened. The first was his sister. It seems she leaned too far out of the window and fell to her death. The next was his best friend. Finally, there was a detective who stayed in the room soon after and he mysterious died as well. What makes it even more weird, all the deaths occurred at 1 AM.
Listening to this and seeing his chance, Tommy proposes a challenge. The three men will stay in the room on consecutive nights. The rules are that you stay the whole night or forfeit. He volunteers to stay in the room on that first night.
Tragedy strikes when the butler, Paul (Robert Barrat), goes to check on him the following morning and there's no answer. The men all break into the room. Tommy isn't there. The window is open and it makes them think of what happened twenty years ago with Robert's sister. Something also happens with Frank the next night. There is a gunshot and when they get in, he’s dead. How did someone get into this locked room though?
Commissioner Forster (Edward Arnold) is then called in to investigate. Robert and Walter are suspects along with Paul, Betty (Muriel Kirkland) who is a house cleaner and the chauffeur, Max (Russell Hopton). Mary (Elizabeth Patterson), the elderly cook, is even questioned. There is also this stranger, played by Anders Van Haden, who showed up the first night and keeps coming to the backdoor of the manor. Things aren't as they seem and the secret of this mysterious room will need to be uncovered.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I’ll start is that this is interesting to watch a year after the original. I remembered what the reveal was. I was curious if this version was going to do anything different and it doesn’t seem like it. What I will say though, I was able to settle in and watch for little things that I might not have noticed with the original German version. This is just done through Universal with their cast.
With that I’ve said there, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is unnecessary though. Outside of making it in English so viewers do not have to read subtitles. I will argue that this has the better star, Atwill. The rest of the surrounding cast is on par. Since I’ve already been going into it, I’ll explore the rest of the actors. Atwill is good as the patriarch here. He has a brooding nature about him. He doesn’t want to rehash the fateful events that make up the legend of the blue room. He is pushed into it by his daughter and Tommy. It is wild to see a young Stuart, as I know her from Titanic when she was an old woman. She was quite attractive and good in this role. Lukas is solid along with Stevens and Janney. The latter doesn’t have a large role, but it is important. Other than that, I thought the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed in building the mystery.
I’ll shift over to the story then, since that is what I normally focus on. This film is light on the horror elements, most likely being here because we get a murder mystery. They tended to fall into my genre during this era. We also have elements of ‘The Old Dark House’ with secret passages and what not. I’m a sucker for this. What I like the most though is using the lore of what happened twenty years ago and that cycle repeating. This time I noticed that Tommy’s disappearance mirrors what happened to Robert’s sister. Then we have a death like his best friend. The police are then involved for that third night. That was something that worked for me as well.
All that is left is filmmaking. I think that the setting is one of the best parts. We have this large and dark manor. It seems like castles or places like this would have history. They tend to be old and hold generations of a certain family. Building on that with the ‘Old Dark House’ and the mystery of this specific room. The cinematography doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary which is fine. It is still early in the history of cinema. We don’t get much in the way of effects. It is also that type of movie. Other than that, the soundtrack fit what was needed. The use of silence or characters listening to what is happening in the blue room does add an element for me.
In conclusion, this is a fine remake. I’d also say it isn’t necessarily since it is beat for beat. The story we got was interesting. I like where it goes with elements of murder mystery and ‘The Old Dark House’. The acting is better only because we have the likes of Atwill. The rest of the cast is solid. This is made well enough. It doesn’t necessarily do anything to stand out there. I enjoyed my time here even though this didn’t do anything new. I’d only recommend if you like the history of American cinema as this is a solid film from the era.
My Rating: 7 out of 10