Sunday, January 3, 2010

'Murder at Glen Athol' is a mystery worth investigating

Murder at Glen Athol (aka "The Criminal Within") (1936)
Starring: John Miljan, Irene Ware, Iris Adrian and James Burtis
Director: Frank Strayer
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Well-known gentleman detective Bill Holt (Miljan) is called upon to solve the murders of the VERY liberated Muriel Randall (Adrian) and her ex-husband before an innocent man is condemned.

"Murder at Glen Athol" is interesting primarily for some of its unusual characters. First, we have a comic relief character (Burtis) who is actually a competent assistant to the hero. Second, we have the character of Muriel Randall, a relatively typical murder victim in the sort of Agatha Christie-style mystery that this film represents... although she's far more aggressive and far more liberated and even sexually charged than anyone who ever sprang from the pages of Christie.

The overall plot is solid enough, and the acting and writing is also pretty decent. There's nothing that'll make you sit up and say "Wow!" (except the presence of the two unusual characters noted above, and you'll only be impressed by them if you've seen a lot of early mystery and horror movies), but everything here is competently done.

With one minor exception. I like mystery movies to play fair, that give the audience a chance to guess who the murderer is while the detective investigates. This film plays more fair than most mysteries of the time; generally speaking, the solution to the mystery is a "cheat"--it's based on something that the audience never had a chance to see, like something the detective discovers off-camera.

In fact, "Murder at Glen Athol" may even play a little too fair, as I guessed who the killer was as soon as the rather heavy-handed hint to when the murder was committed and by whom appeared on screen. I don't mind guessing the killing, and it didn't ruin the movie for me, but it did have me expecting there would be another twist coming.

Perhaps the clues provided aren't as heavy-handed as all that. Perhaps I've just seen waaaay too many mystery movies. For me, the overplaying of the hint of the killer's identity is the one weak spot in this otherwise average movie.


  1. All good stuff as usual, but you forgot to mention that Irene Ware is the most beautiful woman in human history, and if that's not reason enough to watch this film I don't know what is!

  2. You have a point. That was a terrible oversight on my part. :)