The other night, on a sudden whim, I went to YouTube and watched a film I’d only read about. It’s a 1935 English mystery called The Silent Passenger. It has the distinction of being the first cinematic depiction of Dorothy Sayers’ detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. Miss Sayers wrote the story especially for the film. Here it is, if you’re interested.
I’d heard bad things about this film, and it generally lived down to its reputation.
Actually, that’s kind of unfair. For its time and environment, it’s not a badly done film. It’s a clever, complicated story about blackmail and mixed-up luggage. It’s atmospheric, and the final showdown in the railroad repair facility is fairly exciting.
What’s wrong with it – and the reason Dorothy Sayers hated it – is the portrayal of Lord Peter. Peter Haddon, a well-respected actor of the day, seems appallingly miscast. He has a long nose – which is right – but otherwise he’s too tall and too dark – and kind of oily, like a gigolo. Instead of a monocle, he sports a repellant little mustache. And instead of playing Lord Peter as we love him – as an affected, amusing twit in the tradition of the Scarlet Pimpernel, he walks around with his mouth gaping open like the village idiot.
Still, it has its place in history. You might find it amusing.