J. Farrell MacDonald

The Thirteenth Guest (1932, Albert Ray)

The Thirteenth Guest has a lot of problems, but its biggest failing is Frances Hyland’s script. Hyland doesn’t just have a lot of logic problems, he also has a bunch of lousy humor. There’s Paul Hurst’s moronic police detective, who Hyland relies on for Guest‘s version of comic relief. Hurst whines a lot and annoys J. Farrell MacDonald, who should be a lot better as his superior. Why isn’t MacDonald better? Because Hyland writes in a bunch of jokes about MacDonald being upset about eccentric wealthy people.

But the dumbest part of Hyland’s script has to be protagonist Lyle Talbot’s passionate anti-murder position. He just can’t stand murder… as opposed to being pro-murder. But Hyland also decides to make the dapper Talbot a reluctant genius detective. So, while Talbot can’t stand murder, he apparently can’t stand having to solve murder cases even more.

Still, Talbot gives a strong performance and, at times, he nearly makes Guest worthwhile. There are some other good supporting performances from James Eagles and Frances Rich. In the other lead role, Ginger Rogers is somewhat ineffective. She’s a lot better in her first scene than she is in the rest of the picture.

Ray’s direction isn’t bad, but Leete Renick Brown’s editing is terrible. The low budget hurts Guest quite a bit. Ray isn’t able to establish any settings. It all looks too cheap in daylight.

Guest should have a compelling narrative, but the budget keeps those involved from taking advantage of it.



Directed by Albert Ray; screenplay by Frances Hyland, based on the novel by Armitage Trail; directors of photography, Tom Galligan and Harry Neumann; edited by Leete Renick Brown; produced by M.H. Hoffman; released by Monogram Pictures.

Starring Lyle Talbot (Phil Winston), Ginger Rogers (Marie Morgan), J. Farrell MacDonald (Police Capt. Ryan), Paul Hurst (Detective Grump), Erville Alderson (Uncle John Adams), Ethel Wales (Aunt Jane Thornton), James Eagles (Harold ‘Bud’ Morgan), Crauford Kent (Dr. Sherwood), Eddie Phillips (Thor Jensen), Frances Rich (Marjorie Thornton) and Phillips Smalley (Uncle Dick Thornton).

The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914, J. Farrell MacDonald)

I was going to say it was odd Frank Baum wrote the screenplay, but I guess he wrote a bunch of them back in the teens. The Magic Cloak of Oz is a silly little film–I’m assuming the target audience was children–and a lot of fun. Baum has a good time with the title cards (the villains are motivated by an irrational desire for soup), but director MacDonald shows a lot of creativity as well, particularly in the first act. The rest of the film is populated with silly characters (in sillier costumes), but the first act contains the most scenes shot inside, which gives MacDonald a real chance to create the Oz setting and he succeeds well enough.

The main action of the film is a bunch of grown men dressed up as animals (these animals, ranging from crow to elephant, are all the same size) either fighting each other or men not dressed up as animals. The battle scenes are funny–the mule’s a lot of fun–and some of the costumes are fantastic.

The secondary action involves a couple kids becoming the King and Princess of a land of Oz through absurd means. There’s some funny scenes, but for the most part, they’re all filler. The meat of their story is the villainous (well, mildly villainous…) Queen from another land, who turns out to be incredibly helpful in the end.

Imaginative filmmaking–a few of the composites are better than ones I’ve seen in big budget films today–helps a lot too….

I’m not sure it’s a wonderful world of Oz (the location shooting of a village at the end hurts), but it’s a fine one.



Directed by J. Farrell MacDonald; written by L. Frank Baum, based on his novel; director of photography, James A. Crosby; produced by Baum and Louis F. Gottschalk; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Mildred Harris (Fluff), Violet MacMillan (Bud), Fred Woodward (Nickodemus), Vivian Reed (Quavo) and Juanita Hansen (Queen Zixi of Ix).

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