Strangers of the Evening
strangers of the evening | h. bruce humberstone | stuart anthony | warren duff | zasu pitts | eugene pallette | lucien littlefield | comedy | mystery | united states | theodore von eltz | warner richmond | harold waldridge | based on | novel | tiffany thayer
Film: Strangers of the Evening
Director: H. Bruce Humberstone
Writers: Stuart Anthony and Warren Duff
Starring: Zasu Pitts, Eugene Pallette and Lucien Littlefield
This is a movie that I didn’t know about until looking through Letterboxd for horror from 1932. To be honest, this was the next one on my list that I’m working through so I didn’t know much coming in. That was also the reason that I watched it when I did as well.
Synopsis: bodies start mysteriously disappearing from the city morgue. An investigator tries to figure out what is going on.
We have an interesting movie here. I saw from the credits that this was based off a novel. That didn’t surprise me for the era. We start with a body being delivered to a funeral home. What they know is that the person brought in is named McNaughton. He was a lawyer that people think would have been governor. He died in a car accident and his face was mangled. Tommy Freeman (Harold Waldridge) receives him. This is his first solo time taking care of the body. He gets a call from the owner, Dr. Joseph Chandler (Warner Richmond). He’s told to not let anyone handle the body, but him. Tommy spooked by everything.
The movie shows us a conversation with Dr. Chandler with unsavory individuals. It appears that things aren’t as they seem and that how McNaughton died might not be exactly what is being said.
Dr. Ray Everette (Theodore von Eltz) also works at the funeral home. Tommy seeks him out to calm his nerves. He has problems of his own. He is seeing Ruth Daniels (Miriam Seegar). Her father doesn’t want that and he follows her to the funeral home. Something happens and Ruth’s father is attacked. Two people passing by take him for dead. They don’t want to call the police, thinking they’ll be blamed. They decide to take him to funeral home. They leave the body with Tommy. He freaks out again when this person sits up, causing him to flee.
The police get involved and Detective Brubacher (Eugene Pallette) tries to make sense of what is going on. This leads him to searching out Dr. Everette and Ruth who ran away to Chicago to get married. It is believed that Frank Daniels, her father, was murdered. There is also this Richard Roe (Lucien Littlefield) who can’t remember who he is and was found in just a raincoat by Sybil Smith (Zasu Pitts). Det. Brubacher fingers him as the killer. There is much more going on and it leads all the way to the top for the truth.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introducing all these characters. Where I want to start is that this movie is another one that is light on the horror elements. We get more of a murder mystery that was popular for the era while also mixing in comedy. I guess the horror elements here is that we have murder and a criminal organization that could be behind everything. None of the murders on are screen though. If this was made today, it wouldn’t be in the genre. It is more comedy than anything.
I want dig into the mystery here. It is quite deep and pulled my interest to figure out how everything fit together. I can’t fully give credit to the movie as it is based on a novel. I’m not shocked to see that we have the undertone of organized crime. We learn from the beginning that Dr. Chandler is with a group of villainous characters. He fits right in with them. I like his explanation why he isn’t handling McNaughton as it gives him an alibi. Instead, he wants Tommy to oversee it. He is a rookie whose never does this before, so that is perfect what they’re doing. Going along with this we have the storyline with Ruth, Dr. Everette and Frank. He doesn’t want his daughter with Dr. Everette, but something happens to him. We then get a bit more there by meeting Frank’s brother of Robert (Tully Marshall) who isn’t a fan of his sibling. There is also Sybil and Richard who Det. Brubacher is fingering for the crime since he is the wild card here by knowing that someone was murdered but can’t explain why. He also claims memory loss. There isn’t a lot that happens, but we have a couple bodies. Not everyone is dead that we think though.
Where I’ll go next is a negative for me. I don’t love that this has a comedic tone. It doesn’t ruin the movie. I understand the era and this was more popular to do. We get these interactions with Richard and the police where he tells them that he knows about the murder. They think he’s the one who did. What I don’t like here is that they’re trying to force a confession. There isn’t things like forensics and the best way to convict is getting your suspect to admit what they did. Richard is off so I don’t like that they’re pinning this on him. I don’t know if playing this straighter would add anything, but the change in tone when shifting to things with him doesn’t necessarily work for me.
That is enough for the story so I’ll take this to the acting. This is where it shines, even though we don’t have a main character per say. I think that von Eltz is good as Dr. Everette. He has a stake in getting to the bottom of what is happening as a possible suspect. This is an element that gialli would take from movies like this. Seegar is given a lesser role and only here to have her father involved. I like Pallette as the main detective. I don’t like some of his methods, but that is also the era. Richmond is fine in his role. Littlefield is here to add a comedy element. He does that well, but I’ve already said my piece there. I thought that Waldridge would have a bigger part, but he disappears from that opening scene as he goes into hiding from fear. The cast is solid overall. They bring all their characters to life with personality and making them distinct.
The last things to go into would be the filmmaking. I think that overall, it is good. We get different locations and cities to flesh out this story. The movie doesn’t give much personality to these other places, but it does give us a bit of New York. We have the funeral home as well as the alley by it where ‘deaths’ happen. The other major location is the police station which is good. There aren’t a lot in the way of effects, but it isn’t a movie like that. Other than that, the soundtrack was fine for what was needed without standing out.
In conclusion, this is a fun murder mystery. We have different stories that are interconnected and come together to explain what happened. I like the acting across the board. Each person brings life to their character. If I have a negative, it is the comedy. I won’t hold that against Littlefield as I think this performance was good. This is a well-made movie so I had no issues there either. For me, I would say that this is an above average movie. It is worth a watch, but just lacking elements to go higher. It doesn’t necessarily stand out.
My Rating: 7 out of 10