The Phantom of Crestwood (1932)

Film Review

THE PHANTOM OF CRESTWOOD

Release Date: 14 October, 1932

Studio: RKO

Director: J. Walter Ruben

Starring: Ricardo Cortez, Karen Morley 

Synopsis

During a furious storm, blackmailer Jenny Wren gathers four of her lovers, Priam Anders, Senator Walcott, William Jones and Eddie Mack, at Crestwood Lodge. She wants them to pay her to keep quiet. Jenny's innocent sister, Esther, has come with her fiance, Frank Andes, the nephew of Priam. Also present are the wife of Senator Walcott, the fiance of Jones, Priam's sister Faith, and Priam's friend Mr. Vayne. Late that night, gangster Gary Curtis and members of his gang break into the house. Going up the stairs, Gary catches Jenny as she staggers down. Jenny has been stabbed in the neck with a dart. Gary, who has come to retrieve a client's love letters from Jenny, realizes that he and the other members of his gang will be accused of the murder. The road has collapsed in the rain, and everybody is trapped in the lodge. To save themselves, the gangsters attempt to find the murderer. Gary questions each person. All the men had reasons to kill Jenny. Mr. Vayne is the father of a young man who committed suicide because Jenny rejected him.

Later that night, Esther is stabbed with a dart, and Jenny's maid disappears. Outside the lodge, Gary finds a passageway under a bench. The passage, which leads to the lodge, contains body of the maid who has been stabbed with a dart. Investigating further Gary learns from Esther that a strange noise was heard just before Jenny was stabbed. He finds the spot where a ring and knuckles hitting the wall made the noise as the dart was thrown. Gary deduces that Faith, Frank's aunt, tried to kill Esther and killed Jenny by accident. She is trying to protect the family name and feels that Esther is not worthy of her nephew. Faith takes Esther to the edge of the cliff outside the lodge and tries to push her off. Gary stops her, and she confesses. Gary gives her a chance to avoid trial and jail. She follows his hint and throws herself off the cliff.

Discussion

This film is an entertaining "old dark house" type of mystery with plenty of suspects and secret doors and tunnels. The detective in the case is unusual because he is a crook and housebreaker. He is trying to solve the murder in order to avoid being accused of the crime himself. The guilty person pays at the end but the manner of her death shows that the film is pre-code. The crook/hero suggests suicide as a way to avoid disgrace, and the murderess jumps. The film begins with a radio announcer discussing the contest associated with the radio broadcast of the mystery play, Who Killed Jenny Wren? The radio mystery was broadcast without a solution, and the audience had been asked to submit endings for the story. Winners of the contest won prizes. The motion picture, Phantom of Crestwood, is derived from the radio play and presents a solution to the mystery. This solution is not based on the endings submitted for the contest.