Tonight, just to shake things up, I’m going to review a very bad film, The Mystery of the 13th Guest (1943).
Aside from reading mysteries, I’ve also been watching several old B movies on Amazon Prime. This is my futile strategy for avoiding total despair. If the end is coming, I want it to catch me totally unprepared. Why should I perish all stressed out?
Anyway, I caught this old stinker, The Mystery of the 13th Guest. It stars an actor named Dick Purcell, who delivers probably the best performance of the film, which tells you nothing at all. He would later distinguish himself, sort of, playing Captain America.
The premise is that old Grandfather Morgan, 13 years ago, gathered his relatives and a couple close associates in his home, arranging them around the big dinner table. There were 13 places set, but only 12 people present. He tells them that he plans to leave his entire fortune to his granddaughter Marie, the only one of the lot who’s worth a plugged nickel. She’s only eight now, but he has entrusted his will to his lawyer, for Marie to open when she turns 21, 13(!} years from now.
Right on time, Marie arrives at the gloomy old mansion on her 21st birthday, and finds the electricity is still hooked up and the phone still working. She finds the table arranged just as it was 13(!) years ago. Then there’s a murder, and soon Private Eye Johnny Smith (Purcell) is on the case, dashing through hallways and secret rooms, running rings around the police.
What was awful about this film? The writing was terrible. The dialogue was awkward, and it got no help from the wooden actors.
The dumbest thing, however, was the portrayal of the police. One understands that every Sherlock Holmes needs a plodding Lestrade to show off against. But these cops belong in a home for the mentally deficient. If they’re the best brains on the force, the uniform guys must have trouble getting their pants on in the morning. The senior member of the team (played by Tim Ryan (also the main writer), a classic mugger who married Irene Ryan, best known as Granny Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies) thinks he’s smart, but he’s really in awe of the amazing Johnny Smith. His subordinate, played by Frank Faylen (later Dobie Gillis’s father on TV) is barely sentient and keeps dozing off. Fortunately, Johnny is good buddies with the District Attorney, so he just takes over the investigation. And they let him. He even orders patrol cars dispatched, and the police hop to obedience.
Terrible movie. Just the thing to transport me to a simpler, less judgmental time, and give me a short respite from the Apocalypse.
You’ll like it, if you have sarcastic friends to watch it with, and do an MSTK3000 treatment.