Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tonight's Movie: The Mystery of Mr. X (1934)

Nicholas Revel (Robert Montgomery) is an elegant London jewel thief -- rather along the lines of Ronald Colman's RAFFLES (1930) -- who has the misfortune to steal a diamond near the scene of a London bobby's murder. Scotland Yard believes the jewel thief and murderer are the same person, and Revel must solve THE MYSTERY OF MR. X and find the murderer himself if he doesn't want to be charged with a long list of recent police slayings.

While preoccupied with solving the murders and hiding a very hot diamond, Revel also manages to fall in love with the daughter (Elizabeth Allan) of the head of Scotland Yard (Henry Stephenson). Needless to say, Revel's life gets a wee bit complicated, especially when his every move is being followed by one of Scotland Yard's best (Lewis Stone).

This pre-Code film is a very entertaining movie, thanks to a good cast, headed by Montgomery, and an interesting story. It's fun to watch Revel plot how to stay one step ahead of the authorities, and -- unlike RAFFLES -- the film does a good job rehabilitating his character...although the last shot does leave one wondering!

There are some ingenious bits, such as one of Revel's confederates slipping the diamond into a glass of beer in a pub, which leaves Revel in a predicament when a barmaid tries to clear away the glasses and mixes them up; Revel has to find a way to retrieve the diamond without arousing the suspicions of the detective watching his every move.

I did feel that a scene or two might have been missing from this 84-minute film which would have better developed Revel's romance with Jane (Allan). Montgomery and Allan have excellent chemistry, with Allan parrying Montgomery's dialogue beautifully, but I was left wanting just a bit more from that aspect of the film.

Stone and Stephenson were two of Hollywood's best character actors, and Forrester Harvey also makes an excellent contribution as Joe, the cabbie who is Revel's trusted ally. Harvey also appeared as the bailiff in one of Montgomery's best early films, THE MAN IN POSSESSION (1931) -- a role he repeated in the Robert Taylor remake, PERSONAL PROPERTY (1937).

Some sources mistakenly suggest that British actress Elizabeth Allan was Montgomery's wife, who happened to be named Elizabeth Allen. Elizabeth Allan's notable roles in the '30s included playing Mrs. Copperfield in DAVID COPPERFIELD (1935) and Lucie in A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1935). She costarred with Katharine Hepburn in A WOMAN REBELS (1935) and also appeared in CAMILLE (1936). She returned to England in the late '30s and continued to act sporadically, including a small role as Jack Hawkins' wife in NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY (1951).

At the time of the film's premiere, Mordaunt Hall wrote in the New York Times that the movie was "an ingenious pot-pourri of excitement, fun and romance...neatly acted by Robert Montgomery."

Jeremy Arnold wrote in an article posted at TCM that the film was "tremendously satisfying and tightly paced...the kind of movie which almost no one remembers or writes about, even though it demonstrates the high level of craftsmanship, professionalism, and clever storytelling of which 1930s Hollywood was so capable."

As Arnold indicates, the film was made with MGM's usual polish. It has stylish set design; I especially loved the Art Deco lines in Montgomery's flat. Allan's elegant gowns were designed by Adrian.  The film was directed by Edgar Selwyn and an uncredited Richard Boleslawski, who is said by IMDb to have directed retakes.

In 1952 THE MYSTERY OF MR. X was remade as THE HOUR OF 13, starring Peter Lawford and Dawn Addams.

THE MYSTERY OF MR. X has not had a DVD or video release, more's the pity, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has an amusing trailer available here.


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