Every Sunday, Film School Rejects presents a movie that was made before you were born and tells you why should like it. This week, Old Ass Movies Presents:
One Frightened Night
What do you have when you gather a group of greedy relatives at the large home of an eccentric millionaire who has somehow paid God enough to make it rain and blow the power out? The correct answer is ‘a cliche,’ but the correct answer in 1935 was ‘a fairly new cliche.’ Of course, One Frightened Night employs all of these effects and more – a vaudevillian magician and beautiful impostor round out the cast of usual suspects.
Jasper Whyte (Charley Grapewin) has amassed his friends and close relatives at his home to announce that his fortune is to be split between them – a husband and wife in financial straits, a doctor wanting to open his own clinic, a mysterious lawyer, a loyal maid, and a carefree young man with a gambling problem. Of course, the group won’t see a dime if the man’s long-lost granddaughter reaches the estate by midnight. When she does, the group exchanges sinister glances. When a second woman arrives claiming to be the rightful heir, the real trouble begins.
This films stands out from other stories of rainy nights and jealous inheritance mostly because if its dialog which is as quick as a 1930s film needed to be. Since cinematographers hadn’t quite grasped the concept of emulating candlelight and since film quality left much to be desired, writers had to be sharp enough to keep audiences riveted. This film is no different. It’s billed as a comedy and mystery, and it lives up to both.
Director Christy Cabanna was responsible for over 150 films, his first being a documentary about Pancho Villa. He also acted in 58 movies and wrote 46. His considerable experience in a relatively young art helped him create a film that is sharp and dangerous. Unfortunately, I imagine most young audiences would watch this movie only for its camp value. No one takes a blow-torch to anyone’s eye, and no one places a bear trap around anyone’s head, but beyond the black and white crackles and sometimes-shoddy craftsmanship it’s a genuinely suspenseful mystery.
It was made during the popularity of other dark, stormy night tales of the 1920s and ’30s like Cat and the Canary and stands as a forerunner to films like Vincent Price’s House on Haunted Hill and Agatha Christie’s thrillers – which perfected the genre.
You’ll dig it if you liked…
Clue: The Movie
The House on Haunted Hill