The Thirteenth Chair (1929)

Genres - Mystery  |   Release Date - Oct 19, 1929 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 71 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Synopsis by Robert Firsching

Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks) directed this second film version of the Bayard Veiller play, which was his first collaboration with Bela Lugosi, whom he would launch to stardom two years later. Lugosi plays Inspector Delzante, who investigates a series of murders near a British mansion in Calcutta. The murders are pinned on a young runaway named Helen O'Neill (Leila Hyams) who is taken in by a well-intentioned fake Irish medium, Madame LaGrange (Margaret Wycherly). Delzante toys with the various characters in attendance and makes them reveal the real killer, and Lugosi is a lot of fun to watch. The film doesn't hold up to straight criticism very well -- the accents are particularly ludicrous, the Indian setting is totally unconvincing (and, in light of the short shrift it is given in the script, wholly unnecessary), and the acting is of the stiff, declamatory style so popular in the early days of sound. If one can accept these drawbacks and just enjoy the cast (Holmes Herbert, Conrad Nagel, even a young Joel McCrea), the film is quite entertaining. Those viewers whose familiarity with Lugosi is limited to his horror work and his sad decline under the tutelage of Edward D. Wood Jr. may be quite surprised at his screen presence here, which -- while undeniably hammy -- is nonetheless commanding and powerful. He doesn't really act so much as mesmerize.



false-accusation, innocence, killing, medium [psychic], murder, runaway [from home], seance