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The House of Fear (1939)

A detective goes undercover as a producer to investigate an actor's murder, which occurred during the performance of a play...

The House of Fear (1939)

Triple Staged

I watch these old mysteries not because I expect to find a good one. They rarely are, but often you can see a free art experimenting with different cinematic tricks while no one yet had a settled cinematic vocabulary. And here is a good one.

This is a mystery about the murder of a ruthless radio reporter. We see the murder occur just as he is about to make an announcement that will ruin some innocent people. Oh, but wait. A few moments later we learn that what we have seen is a play, a play within the movie.

In fact, the movie itself is an adaptation of a play. Essentially all the action occurs in a theater. To fully appreciate this, you need to know that the mystery genre made its leap from cheap paperbacks to movies via radio.

That first scene where things slide effortlessly is not as sophisticated as say, The French Lieutenant‘s Woman. But it is more impressive for the time. As the story goes on, it becomes more ordinary, but I‘ll mark this opening as a milestone in a nesting vocabulary.

Posted in 2015

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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