This mystery features an American take on the same year’s Gaslight, another patronizing-husband-driving-young-wife-nuts movie. Hedy Lamarr and Paul Lukas star as the Bedereaus, Allida and Nick, in 1903 New York City. George Brent figures in as a sort of do-gooder, Dr. Bailey, drawn into the couple’s lives by Nick’s sister, Cissie (Olive Blake). A mansion, creepy atmosphere, and maybe a love triangle into the bargain.
The opening scene with the train hurtling through a deluge at night is pretty creepy too. Cissie’s encounter there with Dr. Bailey is almost like a patient visit. In New York he goes to a party for the sculptor Clag (Albert Decker), only to find out that Cissie’s just died. For some reason, he has some of her luggage. At a gallery he sees Allida’s portrait; he must be smitten because he gets himself invited to tea at the Bedereau’s.
Clag tells her that Bailey thought her portrait “has a disturbing beauty.” She seems a little on edge. Nick tells Bailey that their son is having nightmares, and implies that Allida has something to do it. “There’s something strange about all of them” Bailey later confides to Clag. Nick goes to see Bailey at his office, telling him that Allida is losing it. She sends herself flowers, she thinks she’s being followed…”and then there’s this business with the child.”
So, the plan is for Bailey to visit with the Bedereaus as a friend, while actually scoping out Allida. He sort of blows his ‘cover’ by telling her that he “knows she needs help,” but she doesn’t remark on it.
Via a flashback, we get a sort of bio of Nick (and Allida too), thanks to the manuscript that Cissie left with Bailey. Nick, who has got to be twice her age, literally took her on as a a protege, and then, as a wife. Back home, there’s a party for her birthday. A young guy, Alec Gregory (George N. Neise) seems to stoke Nick’s jealousy; Alec’s hopelessly taken with Allida. Later, the two men are heard arguing.
Back in the present, Bailey knows that he’s being tailed, and asks Clag what he thinks–specifically about the manuscript. Bailey thinks that it’s Nick that’s nuts, not Allida. Clag reads Bailey all too well, figuring that his friend is in love with her.
One thing that’s weird–where’s this mysterious child? Not to mention, it’s a bit strange that he’s named Alec (Alexander). At dinner, she freaks out that there’s yellow roses (but I see daisies…). With the excuse that he needs to make a call, Bailey goes sneaking around, and finds the actual child. “We all have tigers under our beds” he says of the boy’s nightmares. Bailey thinks it might be a good idea for Allida to come to his office.
But first, we whisks her into a restaurant. He says she has to get out of the house. She has a confession: Alec Gregory had probably been killed by Nick, the same night as their argument over her. Now it’s Bailey’s turn to confess: that he loves her. He tries to get Clag to help him divert Nick, but Nick’s too drunk to be of any use.
The plot definitely thickens as Bailey now believes that Nick not only killed Alec, but Cissie as well, and he might be next. Nick sends Bailey a note that he’s sailing for South America, presumably to escape prosecution. But, not so fast. The steamship deal was a ruse to lure Bailey back to the house–where Nick lies in wait.
Nick confesses to both murders. More cunningly, he also left the gas on. So, Nick can just leave and let the place go up in flames. Which it does, but only after a fight. Allida and the boy get out, as well as Bailey. Nick draws the short stick.
This is entertaining stuff, a crime mystery with a good gothic horror motif. The period atmosphere works great to enhance the overall feeling of dread (although I kind of doubt that electric lights were everywhere in 1903, even in New York City). In authentic gothic fashion, the house is consumed by fire.
The performances were very even and the casting was well-thought out. There’s just enough given of both Allida’s and Nick’s backgrounds to make their rather odd personalities believable. It might’ve been a bit better, though, if Allida had shown more of a range of emotions. She’s supposed to have a tentative, haunted look, but we might expect some angry or happy moments to pop up.
Nick was unable to contain the damage from the first murder, so in true psychopathic fashion, he got worse, and couldn’t stop. To add fuel to his mental fire, he had also thought that little Alec might’ve been ‘big’ Alec’s (and Allida’s) child.
Farmermouse was pretty creeped out, so he’s hiding under a tea cup until its tea time again. Seven of those Humpty-Dumpty toys will do. 7/10