Sunday, April 7, 2019

Crimes at the Dark House

Not knowing what to watch yesterday, I decided to pull out one of the DVDs from the cheapie box sets of British B movies I bought, and watched a movie I had never heard of, Crimes at the Dark House.

Tod Slaughter stars as a man who at the start of the movie is part of the gold rush in Australia in 1850. One of his fellow gold miners, Percival Glyde, receives a letter stating that his father has died back in England and Glyde needs to return to take charge of the estate and the assume the noble title (well, just Sir). So Tod Slaughter's character comes up with the brilliant idea of killing Percival and taking his place! After all, Percival has been away from England so long that nobody is going to recognize him. (Since 90% of the movie has Slaughter's character impersonating Percival, that's how I'll refer to him for the rest of the post.)

Needless to say, it's a daft plan, even for 1850. Apparently the real Percival had a mole on a part of the body normally hidden, but that's the least of the imposter Percival's problems. He thought he was going to be inheriting a big estate, but apparently everything's been mortgaged to the hilt and there's a five-figure (in 1850s sterling, mind you) debt. There's a second problem in that a Dr. Fosco (Hay Petrie) shows up with Mrs. Catherick (Elsie Wagstaff) claiming that 20 years ago, before Percival left for Australia, the two had a torrid affair that resulted in Catherick's getting pregnant. The daughter, consumed with hatred for her father, wound up in Fosco's insane asylum, and not Fosco and the elder Catherick are blackmailing Percival.

Percival is reminded that his father wanted him to marry the wealthy Laurie Fairlie (Sylvia Marriott), even though neither of them has any desire to marry for love (Percival has already started an affair with one of the maids), they both know that they have a supposed duty. And in Percival's case, Laurie's money would go a long way to paying off all those debts, if only he can get control of it. Laurie's no dummy, and she has no intention of signing any document whose terms she isn't allowed to read. Her sister Marian (Hilary) isn't a fool either, and knows something is way, way wrong.

Catherick's daughter escapes from the asylum, starts showing up around the Glyde estate, and looks amazingly like Laurie. So Percival gets another brilliant idea, which is to switch the daughter with Laurie, and let the daughter get fatally ill, such that everybody will assume the daughter is Laurie and Percival can inherit Laurie's estate. But Marian and Laurie's boyfriend she would have married if she could have married for love are on the case....

Crimes at the Dark House is a movie that should be terrible in so many ways. The characters are one-dimensional, and the writing doesn't help them, with characters being forced to go into long expository soliloquies that are in the script for the sole purpose of allowing other characters to overhear them. Yet with all that, the movie is really worth watching if you know a bit about Slaughter going into it. Apparently, he was the star of a string of B movies produced to fill Britain's movie exhibition quota system in the years just before World War II. He plays it extrememly broadly, and slathers on the over-the-top villainy. Crimes at the Dark House ultimately played out to me as something like a summer stock production where the detailed plot is less important than the character types, and Slaughter fills his perfectly.

The other movie on this DVD is another Slaughter movie, (Sexton Blake and) The Hooded Terror (apparently, in the US, only the second half of the title was used, when it was distributed to TV late late shows and whatnot). Now that I know about Slaughter, I'm going to be looking forward to this one whever I finally get around to watching it.

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