The Moonstone, 1934. 5/10

The coolest credits ever–art deco image with two streamlined trains pulling ‘Monogram’ and ‘Pictures’ through skyscrapers on elevated rails. And then the rest of the credits in a more traditional, but no less artistic manner.

The Moonstone, if we’re not familiar with the Wilkie Collins novel, is a huge gem. Starting in Scotland Yard with Inspector Cuff (Charles Irwin), we head out for the country, on a dark and stormy night, to the Verinder’s mansion, Hearncastle, or is it Hearn Manor?. Anne Verinder (Phyllis Barry) lives there with her father Sir John (Herbert Bunston). Dr. Jennings (Olam Hytten) is on hand, just in case…something happens, I suppose. Von Lucker (Gustav Von Seyfferititz), “a notorious moneylender” is there to get Sir John to cough up a debt.

He recognizes Roseanne, a maid, it seems that they’ve had some business. Von Kicker wants the Moonstone in lieu of the debt. Also in debt is Godfrey (Jameson Thomas); Anne got away from him, so he’s in arrears in his love life as well “You know I love you” he tells her, forlornly. Actually he’s her cousin; he’s fixated on her Moonstone as well.

Soon Anne’s fiance Franklin/Frank Drake (David Manners) shows up with the fabled jewel; also Yandoo (John Davidson), Franklin’s servant. The lights go out; the Moonstone disappears. A servant quickly finds it under a table. Anne hits the hay, but a couple of hours later Sir John tumbles in, then a hallway door opens…someone’s been in Anne’s room and pilfered the Moonstone.

A servant finds Sir John laid out on the floor, not dead though. They just sort of gawk at him. “Don’t just stand there like a stuffed owl!” Frank admonishes Godfrey. Hankering for action, Frank wants to ring up Cuff, but the line’s dead. In this very make-believe world, it’s not too surprising that Cuff actually shows up at the door as needed. He interviews each person. Weirdly, Anne gets petulant, and goes back to her room, more or less indifferent to both her father and the Moonstone.

Cuff reveals that the servant Roseanne has been in cahoots with Von Lucker, Yandoo’s problem is that his countrymen are sworn to recover the Moonstone for India. In short, everyone’s somewhat compromised. Godfrey doubly so.

“You nosy old owl!” the servant Betteredge barks at Cuff. Sir John mumbles some cryptic stuff about Roseanna and hot milk; one clue is an experimental anaesthetic drug that the doctor is going on about. Apparently, he and Sir John have been working on it. Has Sir John been under its influence? Sir John had Roseanne give it to Frank in his hot milk.

Supposedly, the stuff (RTH) will make a person recall memories; they give it to Frank (in the hot milk again) to see what happens. Sleepwalking, Frank goes to Anne’s room and takes a substitute gem. He thinks Yandoo is Godfrey. “Godfrey, Godfrey? Take this wretched thing. The place is full of thieves!” Which means Godfrey and Von Lucker get fingered for the heist.

Thanks to Scotland Yard tidying things up, all’s well. Frank and Anne make with the Moonstone (with each other too). I suppose with this ultra-abbreviated 45 minute version of an already short 62 minute original, some plot points got misplaced, like so many little Moonstones. It’s not explained how the drug can make someone do so many complex things. I can buy sleepwalking, and given the semi-horror mystery atmosphere, I’ll even go along with the sleepwalker’s ability to duplicate previous behavior.

But how could Von Lucker/Godfrey ‘program’ Frank to steal the Moonstone in the first place? All that Jennings offer is that RTH provides “a stimulating reaction” to the slight overdose. Not much of an explanation. It might’ve been better to induce a trance-like state through hypnosis, then control Frank by instructions/suggestions. That method would be more in keeping with the mystery premise, and it’s much more believable.

Also, it seems that Sir John knew all about the theft plan. That’s incredible for two reasons: it assumes that he would steal, or conspire to steal from his own daughter; and, having done so, that he’s somehow not culpable. After all, he and Jennings cooked up the drug–it couldn’t have been used without his knowledge and direction.

The best aspect of The Moonshine is the sniping between Betteredge and Cuff. “Go down to the river and put the water over your head” he tells her. They only need sneer at each other to project mutual loathing. That’s vintage British humor at its best.

Other than those juicy morsels, a genuinely creepy atmosphere, plus the very artistic credits, The Moonstone doesn’t really stick with you. Sort of the opposite reaction to the fabled RTH, as this movie probably won’t have many viewers repeating the experience, either awake or asleep.

Farmermouse really liked those futuristic trains, so he gives Moonstone five cups of hot milk. 5/10.

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