June Collyer

Before Midnight (1933, Lambert Hillyer)

Ralph Bellamy gets top billing here, but he doesn’t deserve it. I’m always stunned when, with a reasonably early feature motion picture like Before Midnight, the filmmakers are clearly exhausted with the genre.

Midnight‘s a big house mystery (enclosed setting, certain number of suspects) but the opening establishes the majority of the film is set sometime in the past. Bellamy’s character could have died of old age for all the audience knows, as there’s one guy telling another a story about this great mystery, which we then see.

The mystery seems like it might be an interesting one for a while, as Bellamy interrogates each suspect, one by one; it seems like he’s going to solve the case out based on the interviews, a unique film approach.

Instead, Bellamy amiably investigates in the standard mystery fashion, giving some of the supporting cast a little time to themselves. Unfortunately, the supporting cast is boring and–even at only an hour–the film feels way too long. Because of the structure, the suspects don’t have any subplots not related directly to the murder and, because he’s not really a character, Bellamy doesn’t get a love interest. It’s all about the mystery.

And the mystery isn’t bad, just not good enough to carry the entire hour.

Hillyer’s a rather indistinct director. I don’t remember a single well-directed moment in the film (but no badly directed ones either).

Good performances from June Collyer, Claude Gillingwater, Betty Blythe and Otto Yamaoka help a lot.



Directed by Lambert Hillyer; written by Robert Quigley; director of photography, John Stumar; edited by Otto Meyer; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Ralph Bellamy (Inspector Steve Trent), June Collyer (Janet Holt), Claude Gillingwater (John Fry), Bradley Page (Howard B. Smith), Betty Blythe (Mavis Fry), Arthur Pierson (Doctor David R. Marsh), George Cooper (Stubby), William Jeffrey (Edward Arnold), Joseph Crehan (Captain Frank Flynn) and Otto Yamaoka (Kono).

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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