Sunday, July 13, 2014

Triskaidekaphilia: 'The Hour of 13' (1952)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

Peter Lawford is charming in the otherwise unremarkable mystery The Hour of 13, based on the 1933 novel Mystery of the Dead Police (which was previously filmed as the 1934 movie The Mystery of Mr. X). Lawford plays debonair jewel thief Nicholas Revel, who (through some rather unlikely contrivances) finds himself the chief suspect in a series of murders of London police officers, and must resort to even more contrivances in order to clear his name. Along the way, he's also hoping to cash in on a valuable emerald he stole from a socialite (which is what got him in trouble in the first place) and possibly seduce the daughter (Dawn Addams) of the London police commissioner.

It's all rather breezy for a movie in which innocent policemen keep getting brutally murdered. Although Revel is in constant danger of being arrested for horrible crimes, he never seems particularly worried, and he takes foolish, unnecessary risks in order to spend more time with Addams' Jane, or just to nudge the police in the right direction for him to be able to sell his emerald quietly. Lawford's inherent likeability helps sell the improbable character, but even he can't compensate for the convoluted absurdity of the story, which gets more ridiculous as it goes along.

The Victorian setting (it takes place in 1890) lends some class as well, and the movie gets in a few amusing digs at the exaggerated British politeness of the time. Still, the mystery is completely uninteresting, and when Revel unmasks the villain at the end, his identity and motives are essentially meaningless. The title, too, is a bit nonsensical, referring possibly to the times at which the killer sends warnings of his impending crimes to the police (always at 1 and 3), or to the number of people he's planning to kill. It's a peculiar title for a mostly forgettable movie, although it did at least inspire the name of a heavy metal band.

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