Monday, January 11, 2010

A killer lurks in the Monte Carlo night

Monte Carlo Nights (1934)
Starring: John Darrow, Mary Brian, George Hayes and Kate Campbell
Director: William Nigh
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

After being convicted for a murder he didn't commit, adventurer Larry Sturgis (Darrow) is on his way to prison when a lucky coincidence gives him a chance to not only escape, but also to cover his trial by appearing to be dead. Following the only lead to the real killer--a system for playing the roulette wheel--he travels to Monte Carlo in hopes of tracking him down. Here, he reunites with his fiancee (Brian) and a police detective (Hayes), both of whom never gave up on proving his innocence. Will they find a killer before he strikes at them from the shadows of the Monte Carlo night?

"Monte Carlo Nights" is among the best-looking films that prolific low-budget mystery director William Nigh ever helmed. With three gorgeous and talented actresses in key roles, a decent leading man, and a bigger budget than average for a Monogram production--as evident in the sets, costumes, and crane shots featured in the film--Nigh delivers a decent little thriller that holds up nicely some 75+ years later.

The film has two weaknesses that causes me to rate it at the lower end of average, one of which is direction, the other a script issue. First, the film starts slowly, forcing the viewer to sit through an entire horse race while an ineffective attempt at establishing the lead characters takes place; it is such an obvious bit of padding that I had low hopes for the rest of the film... but it quickly got better. Second, the script is too sloppy to be truly effective in the "innocent man accused" genre that it belongs to. While it's a subgenre that was still taking shape--and Alfred Hitchcock wouldn't perfect it in movies until a few years after the release of "Monte Carlo Nights"--there's no excuse for the incompetent way the film's red herrings are served out (and then barely adressed as the film moves along).

Still, despite its flaws, this is one of those pleasant surprises that emeges while one digs through the piles of neglected or completely forgotten films that have received new life with the coming of DVD.

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