Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film Tuesday: THE SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM starring Lionel Atwill, Gloria Stuart and Edward Arnold

If it's Tuesday, then Forgotten Films (and other assorted Audio/Visuals) are on the menu once again. Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other forgotten or overlooked films other movie mavens will be talking about today.

Since it's only two weeks until Halloween, I'll be concentrating on mysteries and/or horror films (light on the horror, though - I'm not a huge fan) for the time being. Beginning today with a dandy - a long ago film that was once considered 'lost'.

THE SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM (1933) is a film directed by Kurt Neumann and starring, among lesser known others, Lionel Atwill, Gloria Stuart and Edward Arnold. This is not a great movie, far from it, and not really a 'horror' film at all - though it is occasionally classified as such. It's one of those locked room B movie mysteries that studios used to delight in churning out - thank goodness.

If you're a Lionel Atwill fan like me, you'll enjoy his playing against type. He really did have a great screen presence - I liked him in just about anything. Gloria Stuart you know from playing the elderly lady who ditches the jewels in TITANIC. Here she is young and beautiful and gets to sing a love song at the piano in a room full of several men lusting after her. Very daring, I'd have thought. But also rather like dangling cheese in front of a bunch of hungry mice. But I'll say no more lest I give the denouement away.

This is just the kind of creepy little movie for a rainy Autumn night when all you want to do is put your feet up, have a nice cup of tea and not think too much. When you don't want to watch anything too exhausting or exacting but you're still in the mood for a vintage mystery, movies like THE SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM fit the bill nicely.

Lionel Atwill, Gloria Stuart and Paul Lukas

The plot:

The setting is an old mansion/castle/whatnot owned by Richard von Helldorf (Lionel Atwill), a rich man with a mysterious past, whose daughter Irene (Gloria Stuart) is celebrating a birthday - her twentieth, I think. Celebrating with Irene and her father are three men who are in love with her. In fact, in the middle of the 'party' she gets an intense proposal from one of them. But Irene's not having any. Apparently, she'd rather dangle the three on a string though she is not a coquette by any means. Just a young woman at the height of her girlish powers about to get a lesson in the harsh realities of movie life.

One of the men, Captain Walter Brink (Paul Lukas in his younger and more dashing mode) appears to be the favorite, but we only learn that as the film progresses.

Okay, so the group settles in for after dinner drinks and Von Helldorf is cajoled into telling a mystery story. The tale concerns dastardly doings in the castle's Blue Room which is now and forever kept locked. Uh-oh.

It seems that twenty years before, Von Helldorf's sister inexplicably flung herself from the room's window into the moat below. After that, a young man died in the same room and AFTER that a detective hired to solve the mystery spend the night in the Blue Room and was found shot to death. No gun ever found.

All three events happened at the stroke of one o'clock in the morning. From then on to this day, the room has been kept locked and apparently the sinister butler, Paul, has the only key.

Okay, you know what happens next.

One by one, the men at the birthday celebration decide they will spend a night in the Blue Room to prove their courage to the young and beautiful Irene.

One disappears, one is shot and one...well, you'll have to see the movie to find out what happens. None of it really makes much sense and the resolution should have been apparent to anyone with any ounce of brains, but it still makes for a creepy, sinister story worthy of a Halloween night.

Oh, and Edward Arnold makes his appearance about half way through the movie as the local police investigator, called here the Commissioner and addressed as Mr. Commissioner. He's a friend of Captain Brink's and arrives at his request to try and solve the crimes.

Of course, Lionel Atwill lurks about just for diversion's sake and there are mysterious comings and goings which add to the general ominous atmosphere.

As I said earlier, a dandy movie for a rainy autumn night.

You will be pleased to know that youtube currently has the movie on view for free. (AVOID the comments section which spoils the surprise ending.)

P.S. The opening credits make use of Tchaikovsky's music from Swan Lake apropos of nothing but the fact that they probably had no money to spend on original music and/or that back then, music was not considered all that important in the unveiling of a story. (Though there are two swans in the castle's moat and maybe that brought to mind...ah, who knows?)


  1. Lionel Atwill as not a villain is always worth experiencing, I suspect...meanwhile, as for not so much horror...do you like the Val Lewton Unit films, CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, THE BODY SNATCHER and the like (THE SEVENTH VICTIM and several others they did were more suspense films, with similar mood)?

  2. Yvette, I may be wrong, but I think that most of Universal's "horror" pictures (including Frankenstein and Dracula) used the Swan Lake music. Hey, when you get something that works... ;-)

    I don't remember seeing this one in my ill-spent youth, when 11:30 P. M. 1930s-40s horror movies were Friday night standards...I may have to swallow my pride and visit You Tube. Thanks!

  3. I haven't even heard of the actors in it much less the movie title.

  4. Yvette, I like that title, it makes me just want to sit down and watch the film to see what the secret really is. In the days when a visit to the cinema, was an evening out, with a B movie, look at life, cartoon and trailers. Dave

  5. I love CAT PEOPLE, Todd. One of my favorite films. This is as 'noir' as I go. I've mentioned that I think THE LEOPARD MAN is one of the most frightening films I saw as a kid. Nightmares for years.

    I remember liking these sorts of films more when I was a kid.

  6. I don't remember ever seeing this once upon a time either, Les. But I saw Lionel Atwill's name and decided to watch it.

    Go ahead, swallow your pride. :)

  7. Patti, you never heard of Lionel Atwill??? Well, obviously you're not a fan of the old B-mysteries. Hey, nobody's perfect. :)

  8. Exactly Dave, that's just the kind of movie it is. Fun.

  9. Thanks for the YouTube links Yvette - never seen this one but it definitely sounds like my kind of thing. And I really like Atwill, who of course had a very sad and weird end to his career almost as odd as the kind of stuff he used to get up to in his films!

  10. Sounds great for a stormy night.
    I love the oldies. Do you like Edward G. Robinson? Years ago I saw a scary movie with him. He was either the Father or Grandfather and the kids were told never go in the (icehouse) or barn. Just can't remember the name of the movie.
    Hope you are enjoying the fall days. yvonne

  11. I read something about Atwill being involved in some kind of sex orgy. Ha! There was a trial and I think he was acquitted but I'm not sure.

    Ah, the weird old days.

    I'm still a big fan.

  12. Yvonne, I do like Edward G. Robinson. I always found him so odd. He looked like no one else in movies. He was unique.

    I liked when he played the gruff detective.

  13. I haven't seen a movie for over a year now but this one sounds very interesting so perhaps I'll give it a go. Thanks for the YouTube link.

    Overlooked films is a very interesting feature, I'm also thinking of taking part in it.

  14. Neer: You definitely should take part, but then you'd have to watch some movies. :)

    This one is a very oldie but goodie. Fun for a rainy night.


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