Monday, March 6, 2023

Invitation to the Murder

It's been a couple of months since I took out one of the DVDs from my ultra-cheap Mill Creek box set of crime movies, and this time, I selected another movie that, being from Monogram, was totally new to me. The movie in question is Murder by Invitation.

The movie starts off with a newspaper headline about the competency trial of one Cassandra Denham (Sarah Padden). She's worth millions, and getting up there in years, and her relatives, led by lawyer and nephew Garson Denham (Gavin Gordon) are worried about her and her increasingly erratic behavior. Or at least that's what they claim; Cassandra thinks they're in it for her money. At the hearing, newspaper columnist Bob White (Wallace Ford) shows up, because the case is interesting at least and good fodder for the papers.

Cassandra may be "pixilated", as the characters in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town might have said, but she's certainly not mentally incompetent, so she wins the case. But since her relatives have turned on her, she has to write somebody out of her will, and to that end she invites the relatives over to her house to decide who should inherit and who shouldn't. Graylock, the mansion where she lives with just her servants, is one of those big old places that goes back to the Revolutionary War.

And, like big old houses in B movies like this, it's also got all sorts of hidden passages. This enables someone to go through them, and then open hidden panels in paintings and whatnot, in order to spy on people in various rooms, although nobody catches this mysterious person. They just know something weird is going on. And things are only going to get weirder, because one of the guests winds up as a dead body.

It's obvious there's been a murder, and Cassandra's relatives begin to wonder whether she really invited them here with the purpose of killing them instead of just disinheriting them. The sheriff shows up, as does Bob, together with his secretary Nora (Marian Marsh). Bob is eventually going to be the one to help solve the case, albeit with a little odd help from Cassandra.

I say "odd" help because the movie is more of a comic mystery than a dramatic one. Cassandra, of course, is eccentric, and all those secret passages give the opportunity for absurd goings-on. Indeed, the movie even riffs on the whole idea of secret passages. As the movie goes on, the mystery itself and the identity of the killer matter less and less, with a finale that, if you think about it seriously, should make you wonder why Cassandra never had a serious conversation with her relatives.

Indeed, if you try taking Murder by Invitation seriously you're doing it wrong. It's OK for what it does, and to be fair it's only a B movie from a Poverty Row studio, and not even a programmer. Going in with such low expectations, one gets something that more or less entertains but is certainly never anything spectacular. But it's the sort of B movie that's nice to have on a box set.

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