Monday, February 13, 2012

Triskaidekaphilia: 'The Mystery of the 13th Guest' (1943)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.
A year ago, I wrote about the forgettable 1932 B-movie The Thirteenth Guest, which despite being essentially worthless was for some reason remade 11 years later, with the same plot-hole-ridden story, the same pathetic comic relief and the same complete lack of suspense. The Mystery of the 13th Guest is somehow even 10 minutes shorter than the extremely brief original, barely qualifying as a feature film at just over an hour. The production values are maybe a bit higher, and the slapstick isn't quite as annoying, but otherwise this movie is just as pointless the second time around.

Once again the plot involves an heiress (Helen Parrish, replacing Ginger Rogers) who's been targeted for murder by members of her greedy family, thanks to an inheritance she's set to receive from her late grandfather (although in the original it was her father). And once again the murders occur inside the grandfather's abandoned old house, with the killer hiding behind the wall and activating a mechanism attached to the telephone that electrocutes his victims. It's not quite as creepy as it was in the original, and the mystery of the long-ago dinner party that supposedly drives the plot is even more nonsensical. The titular mystery is never solved, and appears to be completely irrelevant, since the person who was absent from the dinner party at which the grandfather announced his will (where there were 12 guests and one empty seat) isn't behind the murders and is never revealed.

The acting is passable, and the bumbling detective who was so irritating in the original is slightly toned down here, although the style is still a little too snappy and light for a plot that could have been lifted wholesale from a horror movie. Parrish and Dick Purcell, who plays a private detective investigating the case, don't have the same chemistry as Rogers and Lyle Talbot in the original, but Mystery spreads the focus out a little more, giving a police lieutenant played by Tim Ryan (who also co-wrote the screenplay) nearly as much emphasis, and offering up some amusing scenes for the heiress' despicable relatives. The movie zips along so quickly that the plot details are almost completely lost, and the rushed resolution makes little sense. Maybe somewhere in the original novel by Armitage Trail is a compelling, cohesive mystery, but it can't be found anywhere in either of the two movie versions.

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