The Drums of Jeopardy

04/27/2021 06:37

Film: The Drums of Jeopardy

Year: 1931

Director: George B. Seitz

Writer: Harold McGrath and Florence Ryerson

Starring: Warner Oland, June Collyer and Lloyd Hughes



This is another of the movies from 1931 that I never heard of until working through the list from Letterboxd. The concept of it was an interesting one and something that I’ve definitely seen more of as cinema goes on. Now the version I watched was 10 minutes shorter than the runtime listed on the Internet Movie Database. That is something I wanted to point out here. The synopsis though is a mad doctor is determined to take revenge on the family he believes responsible for his daughter’s death.

For this movie, we start with a young woman in bed. Her name is Anya Karlov (Florence Lake). There is an older woman watching over her and praying for her to get better. Anya seems to be dying and is upset to learn that a letter was sent to her father. She wants this woman taking care of her to keep a secret to what happened to her. We also see she has this fancy necklace with jewels on it.

The letter then arrives to Dr. Boris Karlov (Warner Oland). He is upset and draws the attention of his assistant Peter (Mischa Auer). Dr. Karlov immediately heads to the home of his daughter. She is upset that he knows. This causes her to flee to the family she got the necklace from. Dr. Karlov knows whatever happened to her, it was caused by one of the children. The patriarch is General Petrov (George Fawcett). His brother is Prince Ivan (Ernest Hillard) and then there are his sons: Prince Nicholas (Lloyd Hughes) and Prince Gregor (Wallace MacDonald).

They are having a fancy dinner where General Petrov wants to show this famous necklace to a guest. It is one that has drums on it where the head of them are rubies. It was stolen from India and the lore behind it is that if you take the necklace apart, it is a bad omen if you send a piece to someone. Gregor is nervous when asked to get it and instead the general sends Nicholas. They are shocked to find out that it is missing. This is when Dr. Karlov and Anya show up. He vows that he will kill this family for what they’ve done to his daughter since he isn’t sure who caused her to harm herself.

Dr. Karlov is then taken to Siberia, but word gets out that he’s escaped. We read a letter that General Petrov has died after receiving a Drum of Jeopardy. The rest of this family flees on an ocean liner to America. The problem though, Dr. Karlov seems to be one step ahead of them and is picking them off one by one.

Here is where I’m going to leave my recap of the movie as it doesn’t have the deepest story to it. What I found interesting is that this is a remake of another movie from the previous decade. I didn’t see anything about it being based off a novel, which makes it more interesting as well.

Where I want to start though is with this necklace. I really like the idea of this cursed jewelry. The movie is interesting in painting both our heroes and villains as complicated characters. They have the ancestor that stole this necklace while in India. They refuse to give it back as well. I’m assuming the Petrovs are also from Russia, as they’re also fleeing from the Bolsheviks. That is actually who killed General Petrov, but Dr. Karlov seems to be helping them as part of his revenge. This lore of the necklace though I thought was cool and a nice calling card as well.

As I was saying with the complicated characters, Prince Gregor was the lover of Anya. Since the version I watched is missing 10 minutes, I’m wondering if part of the back-story is missing there. From what I gather, Anya is a member of the ballet and tried to kill herself. I’m not sure if she was with child and he refuses to stay with her or he stops seeing her or what the exact reason is. Regardless, he did give her the necklace and that is how her father gets it. Nicholas is actually a pretty stand up guy who becomes our hero. There is also of course Dr. Karlov. I wish the movie would have given him a bit more back-story before he starts to kill the Petrovs. This feels like an early version of The Abominable Dr. Phibes. This is less creative of course and this movie also paints Dr. Karlov as the villain when he is avenging his daughter. Issues with the censors could be the reason there. It does look like this was still pre-Hayes Code though.

Since I’ve talked so much about the characters, I’ll go to the acting next. I think that Oland is solid as Dr. Karlov. My issue with him is more of the writing. I do think he takes on this super smart character and portrays it well. He is steps ahead of everyone throughout most of it and it feels like Jigsaw could be borrowing from him here. June Collyer is good as Kitty Conover. She shows up when the Petrovs make it to America. She does fall into that troupe where she falls for Nicholas quickly, but I can work with it. Hughes is solid as our hero. Clara Blandick is funny as Kitty’s mean old aunt Abbie Krantz. Hale Hamilton works as Martin Kent who is trying to stop Dr. Karlov. Aside from that I think MacDonald is good as the weasely brother and the rest of the cast rounds this out for what was needed for me.

Then I’ll combine the last two elements here of the cinematography and soundtrack. For the former it is fine. The copy I was watching wasn’t in great shape which is a shame. We also don’t get a lot in the way of the effects, but it also is early cinema and not that type of movie. The soundtrack was fit for what was needed, but doesn’t necessarily stand out either.

In conclusion here, I think that we get an interesting concept here with Dr. Karlov wanting revenge, the family not wanting to give up what happened and protecting their own. Also using this cursed necklace adds an element there. The acting helps to bring these characters to life. If I do have any issues, I think they needed a bit more fleshing out of some things for this to really work for me. Aside from that, I think the cinematography is fine and the soundtrack works for what was needed. Overall I’d say this is just over average for me though.


My Rating: 6 out of 10