Sunday, February 13, 2011

Triskaidekaphilia: The Thirteenth Guest

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

Thoroughly insubstantial and frequently annoying, the cheapo 1932 murder mystery The Thirteenth Guest is really only notable for a spunky early performance from Ginger Rogers, who plays an heiress targeted for murder by one of her greedy relatives. Thirteen years earlier, her father had a dinner party with 13 guests, except the 13th guest ... never showed up. Also, her father dropped dead at the party and her mother insisted on leaving everything exactly as it was and immediately moving out of the house. So we've got a creepy old house, a mysterious presence and a killer with an elaborate method of murdering people (he electrocutes them via a mechanism attached to the telephone, then poses the bodies where they would have sat at the dinner party).

It sounds kind of menacing and eerie, but there's basically no tension, and director Albert Ray plays things so lightly that characters rarely even seem to be in danger. The main character is a rakish private detective played with a bit of sparkle by Lyle Talbot, and he has some nice chemistry with Rogers. But the characters are both one-note, and Ray keeps cutting to an irritatingly dim-witted detective as some sort of comic relief. The plot is full of holes and wraps up pretty much at random, and no one seems particularly put out by this whole rash of grisly murders. The killer in his weird hooded outfit spying on a victim while getting ready to pull the electrocution lever is an appealingly grim image, but like everything else in this movie, it's used to basically no effect. (Watch the whole thing yourself at the Internet Archive.)

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