Chesterfield Pictures

Murder at Glen Athol (1936, Frank R. Strayer)

Murder at Glen Athol should be just a little bit better. The script has a number of twists, with Strayer handling them ably, but it’s just too short as it turns out. The film runs under seventy minutes, which would be fine for a B mystery, but Glen Athol (the title is problematic–Glen Athol is never said in the film) has a lot more going on.

First, just because it opens the film, there’s detective John Miljan and his sidekick, James P. Burtis. Miljan’s a debonair detective of the Nick Charles variety and Burtis is a rough and tumble ex-prizefighter. There’s some really funny bickering between them at the beginning and some throughout the film (Burtis’s performance isn’t quite good enough to make it work as well as it should), but once Irene Ware shows up as Miljan’s love interest… her effect on the hetero life mates isn’t really explored.

Second, the murder investigation reveals a complicated situation of blackmail and cover-up. Since the murder occurs twenty plus minutes into the film, there’s not much time for Miljan to make discoveries. Instead he does it mostly in summary–he explains the entire solution without the audience having seen key features on screen.

Strayer keeps a tight pace, so I doubt he would have needed more than ten more minutes to fill the story out.

Still, it’s a decent mystery; Miljan turns in a great performance.

Speaking of Strayer, he does wonders with a visibly tiny budgeted production.



Directed by Frank R. Strayer; screenplay and adaptation by John W. Krafft, based on the novel by Norman Lippincott; director of photography, M.A. Anderson; edited by Roland D. Reed; produced by Maury M. Cohen; released by Chesterfield Motion Pictures Corporation.

Starring John Miljan (Bill Holt), Irene Ware (Jane Maxwell), Iris Adrian (Muriel Randel), Noel Madison (Gus Colleti), Oscar Apfel (Reuben Marshall), Barry Norton (Tom Randel), Harry Holman (Campbell Snowden), Betty Blythe (Ann Randel), James P. Burtis (Mike ‘Jeff’ Jefferies), Lew Kelly (Police Sgt. Olsen), Wilson Benge (Simpson) and E.H. Calvert (Dist. Atty. McDougal).

The Ghost Walks (1934, Frank R. Strayer)

I’m not sure when the “old dark house” mystery film started–I haven’t seen any silent entries in the genre but I imagine there must be some, especially since the genre also appears to have been popular on stage. The Ghost Walks, in 1934–five years into talkies–shows the genre staling already. In an inventive plot development, it turns out the initial mystery of Walks is a fake, a performance arranged by a playwright (John Miljan) to impress Richard Carle’s Broadway producer.

It’s a fine plot development, only it occurs about fifteen minutes into the film, which means Charles Belden then needs to come up with an all new mystery. Though it does provide some humor–Carle and his assistant, Johnny Arthur, don’t believe the performance is over, even with people dying.

Belden comes up with another inventive plot point nearer the end. Not something I can share without spoiling a rather solid surprise (with a weak explanation, unfortunately). Belden has good ideas–he just doesn’t engagingly package them. I’m shocked he was able to withhold the final reveal, since he so impatiently revealed the play deception.

None of the acting’s unacceptable, though leading lady June Collyer is weak (while supporting Eve Southern is solid).

Miljan is a decent lead and Carle and Arthur’s bickering is amusing. It’s unfortunate Donald Kirke’s would be rapist never gets his comeuppance.

Director Strayer is clearly better than the material. He knows how to keep the actors moving, even if the script drags.



Directed by Frank R. Strayer; written by Charles Belden; director of photography, M.A. Anderson; edited by Roland D. Reed; produced by Maury M. Cohen; released by Chesterfield Motion Pictures Corporation.

Starring John Miljan (Prescott Ames), June Collyer (Gloria Shaw), Richard Carle (Herman Wood), Henry Kolker (Dr. Kent), Johnny Arthur (Homer Erskine), Spencer Charters (Guard), Donald Kirke (Terry Shaw), Eve Southern (Beatrice), Douglas Gerrard (Carroway) and Wilson Benge (Jarvis).

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